The college years are some of the best in our lives. We are young, broke, and happy. As wonderful as college is, when you’re ready to join the rodeo, you have to remember that school is mostly theory and little practice. Your first job will be your first step toward finding out what you’re really made of.
In my case, advertising wasn’t my first choice. I'm an industrial designer by trade, but at some point I realized I was more passionate about the fast-paced world of ideas and finding meaningful ways of talking about a product, rather than designing the product itself. So, I moved to New York and applied for a job as an Art Director at an ad agency.
Now, with years of real-world experience behind me—and with plenty of input from my agency colleagues—here are the 10 things you need to know before you start your first job in advertising.
1. PERCEPTION IS REALITY
What better way to start in the ad world than by promoting yourself? You are your own brand. And just like any brand, you should do your best to be top of mind. Create a list of your strengths and find a way to market them. The saying “fake it ‘till you make it,” exists for a reason, there’s no shame in not knowing some things. Take on new challenges, do your best, and learn from your mistakes.
2. A DOCUMENT OF GUIDANCE
What problem is this project solving? How will we measure success? What are the key deliverables? All of these questions are answered in the brief. This document is the basis of every project—The blueprint. If your team doesn’t provide one, ask for it.
3. A BRAINSTORM INCLUDES MORE THAN ONE BRAIN.
It all comes down to common courtesy. When someone is talking, listen. Apply the basic rule of improve by always responding with “Yes, and…,” It will help build better ideas and move the ideation process along. When it’s your turn to share you thoughts, don’t force them. One more thing, once you share your idea and everyone starts talking about it, it’s not yours anymore.
4. BIG IDEA V.S. EXECUTIONS
To create work that is effective, there needs to be a big idea behind your campaign. It’s a rookie mistake to put the cart before the horse, and start thinking of executions way before having an overarching concept. Go over the brief and think of a big idea that can sum up what you’re trying to say. Think of Nike, everything they do ladders up to “Just do it.” The Nike Fuel Band, at its core, is a representation of that key concept. When it’s time to think tactics, make sure you know what you stand for.
5. DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
Let’s get something straight, creativity is subjective. The world is not against you, and neither is your creative director, the account team or the client. Share your ideas, be ready to defend them with facts and learn to let go.
6. KNOW YOUR PARAMETERS
Stay current; make sure you keep up with the latest trends, technologies, and advertising campaigns. You need to know what the competition is up to before putting pen to paper. Also, take time to understand the channels where your ideas will be living on.
7. THE ACCOUNT TEAM IS YOUR NEW BFF
During the school years, it was rare to even hear mention of the account team. But in the ad world, these people are a direct connection between your work and the client. It’s in your best interest to have a good relationship with them. Understand that when they feel they have contributed creatively, they will push harder to sell the ideas to the client.
8. LEARN TO SAY NO
Advertising is not a 9 to 5 business, and you will have to put up with long hours—especially the first couple of years. It’s fun, it’s rewarding and it’s also exhausting. In order to have a healthy work-life balance, you should know your capabilities. Be realistic, and raise the red flag when you have to. Never overpromise. Missing a deadline is the worst thing you can do.
9. STAY BUSY. HAVE SIDE PROJECTS
Don’t put all of your creative energy in your work. If you have some “downtime,” use it for something other than watching cat videos. Work on your personal projects, spend time on your hobbies (Don’t have one? Get one), learn a new craft, anything that will help liberate your brain and add to your creative arsenal.
10. NETWORK. IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
Make time for a drink with your co-workers. Be strategic and build relationships that will push your career forward. Start with the classroom. Your classmates will be your colleagues one day. Whatever you do, always avoid burning bridges; the advertising industry is smaller than you think.
Now go, take over the ad world, and have fun.