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January 15, 2003
The Top 10 Things You Need to Know If You Want to Spend Some Serious Time in Advertising

For those of you considering getting into the advertising/communication business, here is some very straightforward "advice," although that may be a bit over complimentary. It's based on my three decades in the agency business, plus a few more in broadcast. Please keep the following in mind:

The more I learn about this business, the more I realize that there is a lot more to learn.

Once you feel you have it figured out...that you now are the teacher, get out.

In the meantime, it's a career that you'll find constantly challenging and rewarding. There will be no boring days.

10. You'll spend less time "creating" than you think you will. This does not mean that you won't get a chance to express your creative energy in all areas of the agency in which you develop your career. (Each discipline within the agency requires truckloads of creativity.) But, sound thinking skills, part-time psychology experience, personal relationship development, time management discipline, and an ability to build a team (on both sides of the agency/client relationship) is going to cut into your creative time. The trick is to not let those other requirements obliterate the reason you want to get into this business.

9. The more you've done, the more you'll do. This sounds strange, but here's the deal. The more "life experiences" you've had (and I'm talking about the more mundane stuff, not the kind of thing that makes the nightly news or your college year book) the more easily you'll be able to understand your client and your client's customers. If you've never worked in retail, it's going to be harder to understand how people make their buying decisions. If you've never done manual labor, the less likely you're going to be able to understand why pickups have become the number one selling vehicle. I call it "projectability." The more you've done prior to getting in this business, the more successful you'll be at understanding the paths to your clients' successes.

8. You'll end up knowing more about more businesses than you ever thought you would. Want to be successful in this business? Then understand what makes your clients successful. This isn't just a career. It's an ongoing MBA program.

7. Caring about the first impression you make will make a real difference. We're not just focused on how neat, composed, polished, and articulate you present yourself. All of that counts: big time. Realizing you're in the business of making good first impressions is something you never want to lose. You make a first impression on your client. You make a first impression for your client on his or her customers. We're all too busy. We make judgments in seconds. You're evaluated in that same instant. Our clients' marketing messages are subjected to the same snap decisions. Don't forget that.

6. You can't die on every hill. Embrace your principles, your values, and your professionalism. But get used to the idea that you don't have the intellectual and emotional reserves to fight every typeface, illustration/photo, or copy-inflection battle. Yes, sometimes the other person IS right. Imagine that.

5. You should be a coach and confidence-builder rather than a judge and critic. Anyone can find fault. Far fewer can inspire great performances from themselves and others.

4. Be a problem-solver and people will think you're brilliant. There's not a person more valuable to a business than someone who can solve a problem. Sometimes client issues aren't resolved with a different TV spot or ad. Improve your clients' business success and you'll have a long (and well-rewarded) career in this industry.

3. Beware of becoming a dinosaur. This is an industry that thrives on energy, invention, and change. What worked last year won't work this year. Stay current. Embrace technology. You don't need to be a geek. But you certainly don't want to be a geezer. Can you find comfort in being permanently uncomfortable because things are always going through change?

2. Good communications skills are "number one." Or in this case, "number two." Of course, this means you have to write well. You have to verbally articulate your team's brilliance. But this is more than being polished or slick. Polished and slick are bad. Being able to communicate meaningfully, eye-to-eye across the desk, in terms that mean something to your client and your team members, is critical.

1. There are only two kinds of people in the advertising agency business: Those who love advertising and those who love the business of advertising. Any successful organization needs both. Look at the most successful and you'll see a good balance of the two. Learn to appreciate what the other side of the equation brings to the relationship. Express your respect and admiration for "the other side." The other side will love it. You'll find building an excited, intellectually rewarded team that understands the value of their contribution is truly one of the most profound benefits of a long career in this mostly wonderful life experience we call advertising.

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As the president of Bailey Lauerman, located in Lincoln, Nebraska, Jim Lauerman has built one of the Midwest's premier shops by relying on superior client service and nationally recognized creative. Bailey Lauerman is definitely an agency to watch. 

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