Letter to a young planner
Recently I interviewed fresh-off-the-farm college graduates for assistant media planning jobs. I was
struck by their earnestness. Too many years ago I sat on their side of the table. In retrospect, I was totally ill-prepared for the vagaries of agency life. Perhaps I can help these newbies survive
advertising in the 21st century.
- Eat the free food. The agency environment literally reeks of free food. Vendors are always giving presentations and providing food. In
this business, the more you earn, the more other people will buy you lunch. Snag whatever the EVPs don't take. Please wait until said vendor has actually left the room, though, before grabbing the
food. Only then should you meander up to the buffet and dig in. Take an extra soda and stash it in your desk for later.
- Use big language, but not so big that your
boss from Cornell gets intimidated. Incorporate important-sounding media jargon into your vocabulary. Words like skew, paradigm and strategy say a lot while saying nothing
at all. It is imperative that you say "Net-net" and "At the end of the day," when dealing with account managers. Speaking their language will remind them that you are on their
team. If confronted about a poorly performing campaign, remember the phrase that saves, "We are working on optimizing that." Refer to social media often and with gusto. If you don't know
much about social media, that is okay; neither do most experts.
- Make friends with the support staff. The mailroom will give you the free swag sent to executives
who have left the company. Accounting will someday hold sway over your expense-account checks. These are not glamorous jobs. We have rep lunches; they have TPS reports to file in triplicate. However,
the agency ceases to function without them. Plus the it guy will replace your keyboard when you spill the aforementioned free soda on it.
- Do not to be the first person to
leave at the end of the day. Let someone else run screaming through the exit doors before you. Your boss will think you are a super-motivated go-getter. Study the stock market for your 401k
or, if you must, start writing for MediaPost. Ask to help your boss at 3 p.m. Just asking will put gold stars on your Delaney card. Offering to help at 5 p.m. is a hollow offer.
- Forget casual every days. Contrary to the public's opinion of our industry, appearances really do count for something. I suggest dressing up for work even if you are
allowed to wear pajamas and tank tops. Maybe I am just old-school, or perhaps I am simply too cheap to replace my fine wardrobe. Still, nobody ever lost a promotion for looking too dressy. You
don't have to wear Don Draper's woolen suits every day but try to look presentable. I strive for casual but classy (sans tie). I secretly fear that by not wearing a cravat to the 2001 NBC
Upfront I started the sloppy trend.
What media agencies lack in pension plans they make up for in unrestricted Internet and free coffee. This place is better than Starbucks!
Understanding the hyper-caffeinated advertising ecosystem means understanding politics. My most salient advice: Blame mistakes on whoever previously occupied your position. Even your most egregious
errors can be explained this way. I hear Ogilvy blamed Mather well into the 1970s. Advertising is a tough industry; mistakes do happen but don't over-think them. Follow this advice and you, too,
could become a vice president of Interactive Media.