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March 10, 2016
Your Career Ought To Be One Long Lunch and Learn
You have to keep training — or you’ll get soft

There’s a meme going around LinkedIn that says:

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”
CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

I’ll bet a good amount of cash that conversation has never taken place. Not in an ad agency, at least. Because there is always more talent than jobs — and replacing people is simpler than developing them.

So do ad agencies have an obligation to help their people stay on top of trends? How do you keep your skills and knowledge fresh?

I was freelancing on-site at an agency recently when I saw something I hadn’t seen in years: An actual “lunch and learn.” It’s true, some agencies make an effort to keep their people updated. Many don’t. Sadly, as I peeked in the door, all the lunch and learn attendees were surreptitiously checking their phones, looking for urgent emails that needed their attention.

While we live in a world where it’s easy to be self-taught and self-trained, it isn’t easy keeping it up with all you ought to know. It’s a reality that the disruption (ugh, that word) affecting other industries pervades advertising too. We don’t do our jobs the way we did 10 years ago, or even 5.

No one can afford to fully develop their skills early in their career and then relax. For example, copywriters today need to know about the nuances of every medium they work in. I recently heard an industry veteran lament this year’s Super Bowl TV ads on the premise that, “five years ago, all the writers of the spots were working on banner ads.” I don’t know if he’s correct about that, but the art of writing a great commercial — or a great anything in advertising — is a skill that’s learned and honed, not something innate.

So as a writer, I have to know the ins and outs of writing for all different media. That’s “table stakes,” as they say. To be even more valuable, I need to know how to shoot and edit little videos. A little design in a pinch. And a little coding knowledge if possible. All of this, on top of learning all I need to understand my clients, their customers, and their collective needs.

The good news is that if you want any kind of training, it’s available, and often cheap. It used to be knowledge was a precious thing you paid to acquire. Recently, I learned some cool Photoshop tricks that saved me hours of time. All I had to do was ask someone in my Twitter feed and do a quick Google search. If you have the spare time and the discipline, learning new skills can be pretty easy.

The ultimate truth is that no one else is responsible for your training: You are. And few other people, least of all the CFO of your company, care about your track for development.

In the ad industry, there’s a cruel irony as well: In big ad agencies and companies, where job roles tend to be more tightly defined, there are more resources and opportunities for training. In small companies, where people often do many different jobs and need a variety of skills, there’s less organized training.

Continuous learning is work. It’s part of the job. Or it should be. Keeping up with new trends or industry technology is a must do, in addition to the work you’re paid to do. But working on those hard skills also impedes on all that other stuff we were taught to absorb as ad people — movies, art exhibits, books concerts — what one former CD of mine called “filling the well.” Because in addition to all that training and day-to-day work, you need to actually, you know, take the time to enjoy life.

If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself working in an organization that offers chances for learning and training, take advantage of it every chance you can. It’ll make you a well-rounded professional and it shows your company that you’re interested in more than a paycheck.

And if your agency won’t do lunch and learns, at least go eat lunch outside. The fresh air can be creatively refreshing. I’ve learned that, too.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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