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July 1, 2009
So You Want to Be a Creative
I recently spoke to a group of graduating seniors majoring in both graphic design and advertising. Most seemed eager to begin their careers, but for the most part, had little to no knowledge of what to expect. The following are a few things that I have learned over the years that may be helpful as you begin your career as a creative in advertising.
1. Know your strengths –
Hopefully by now you have a good idea of what you are good at, or at best, what you enjoy. It might be graphic design, illustration, advertising design, copywriting, media or interactive development.
Each discipline can lead you down a different path, and while some jobs will allow you to dabble in several specialties, it’s a good idea to never promise more than you can deliver. That being said, the more you have to offer a potential employer, the better.
2. Know your Market –
Working in a small or large market can greatly affect how you market yourself. The bigger the market, often means the more specialized you will need to be. Many large agencies will have a specific need, and could care less that you can make sculptures from dried macaroni. On the other hand, smaller markets and agencies generally mean smaller budgets, which will require you to wear many hats. This can be appealing at first, but after a few years of turning water into wine, the need for additional support will become evident.
3. It’s not art, it’s advertising –
At first glance, it would appear that being a graphic designer or a copywriter is the same as being an artist. But it's not – a fact lost on many young creatives that end up hating their profession, as well as the clients they serve. This is not to say that I do not consider my profession to be creative - it is. But it's just not art. We are in the business of selling products and delivering messages, and seldom does a pretty picture alone get the job done.
4. Agency, In House or Freelance?
There are benefits to each of the career choices listed above. Agency work tends to be the most glamorous of the three – providing opportunities for growth, team collaboration and increased exposure. It is also the most stressful, often filled with tight deadlines and long hours.
In House work is the most stable, but can be monotonous, as you work in a bubble on for the same client, day in and day out.. The wild card of the creative world is the freelancer. Freelance has many perks, such as flexibility, and the option to do the work of your own choosing, but the lack of a dependable paycheck and being on your own can get old quick.
5. Be Selective –
I know this may sound a bit egocentric, but it’s not. You need to be interviewing your potential employer, as much as they are interviewing you. By taking the time to learn about a company’s history, corporate culture, work and leadership – you can identify if they are the right fit for your career goals, as much as if you are right fit for them.
6. Be prepared, realistic and ready –
I see it every day – recent graduates with poorly put-together books, resumes with typos, and expectations of a corner office and the keys to a ready-made career. Few seem to understand the process of learning the trade, or the responsibility that comes when someone entrusts you with the future of their business.
If you want to show that you’re serious about joining a team, then offer to intern – for free. The education you will get and the experience gained will be priceless, and it might just end up landing you a job.
In conclusion, the most important advice I could ever offer someone looking to land a creative job in advertising, is to love advertising. This industry will eat you up and leave you jaded if you don’t have a passion for what you do. It is filled with difficult clients, insane deadlines and impossible tasks – but none of that will matter when you come up with that one idea that makes people stop and pay attention. 

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Michael Russo has more than 10 years of creative and branding experience with a vast array of clients from coast to coast. As an award-winning art director, copywriter and designer, Michael also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Louisiana.  In addition, Michael is a member of the American Advertising Federation, the AIGA, a voting member of the Recording Academy, and a Silver Council member of the International TELLY Awards.

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