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May 17, 2010
It's Not You. It's Your Agency

Here’s a story that’s all too familiar. I promise it’s not autobiographical.

Once upon a time there was an advertising creative who was tirelessly working nonstop at a big agency. Nights. Weekends. He practically lived there. None of his work seemed to go anywhere despite the endless hours. He had lots of promise, yet no one saw to it to mentor him or lead him in a direction where his work could improve and benefit the agency. Then agency cutbacks came, and one day he was gone. No one spoke of him. It was like he was never there.

Fast forward a year later. Different agency. The same creative is presenting to a group of 50 or so fellow creatives at an internal creative department meeting. People are applauding his work. There’s laughter at the right times. The higher-ups voice their approval. They praise him for his hard work and infinite patience in dealing with a demanding client. They go on about how they look forward to seeing what he and his teams (he’s an ACD now) will accomplish in the next few weeks.

What happened? How can one person be virtually invisible in one place and a glowing presence in the other? Did he read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" or take some business presentation course? Improv classes? What?

All that happened is he simply found his voice in the right place. The bird in the cage found a way to fly. It’s not such an uncommon story in advertising. The size of the agency may be a factor, but not always. Plenty of big agencies are stifling to young creatives, yet some encourage growth quickly. Plenty of small agencies let young creatives take the reins early, and others let you know quickly that the inner circle’s in charge and keeping all the big assignments to themselves. Meanwhile, that coupon offer better be on my desk in 10 minutes, newbie.

In other words, it may not be you. It may be your place of work. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. Plenty of shy, quiet high school students became extroverts in college. Plenty of average college students earn straight A's in grad school. Why should ad agencies be any different? One can do fair-to-okay work in one place and rake in the awards in another.

If you have to ask yourself why you haven't met the client in person, why you never get asked to present ideas internally, or why your briefs feel like the same assignment, you’re not going to get anywhere at your current shop. However, if you know the client by name or you find yourself jetting off to Miami to present your work at some national sales conference, you’re on the way up, my friend.

As the job market continues to thaw (hear that, job market?), there’s the hope of repressed advertising people escaping from dead-end advertising jobs. In many cases, wherever they end up will be better than where they’ve been. This hope for a new beginning, in a place that allows growth, is the essential for an industry that needs creativity not only to flourish but also to survive.


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Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.

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