By: Zach Sterman  | 

An Overlooked Career Option: Advertising the Advertising Industry

Advertising is an industry that is entirely overlooked around here. On a campus filled with aspiring accountants, bankers, doctors, and lawyers, pursuing a career in advertising is like facing the backside of an elevator. It’s not done often. Yet it can and should be on the career radar of this college. We’ve got a healthy supply of marketing students – not that you need to be in marketing. I’m a political science major – and advertising belongs in the consideration set. I’d like to tell you why.

This past summer, I was lucky enough to work for a advertising company called Young and Rubicam. The New York City office fielded hundreds of applications and took on a huge class of 64 interns for a 10-week paid internships program that spanned departments such as data analytics, human resources, new business and copywriters. The company has over 180 offices in more than 90 countries with an excess of 18,000 employees. And this is just a subsidiary for a parent company whose revenue exceeds 14 billion dollars. Not quite Goldman Sachs, but nothing to sneeze at. The reason I tell you all this is to show that while it doesn’t get the same fanfare, advertising is a serious industry with huge companies and opportunities. So let’s get into what a job at an ad agency looks like.

Agency Life

So what’s it like? There are a million and one different types of advertising teams, companies, and positions. Speaking from my own experience, I’ll tell you about how things look at a large agency.

The work culture is awesome -- and it needs to be, because advertising is a creative business. If we are to be creative we need a casual, open, expressive atmosphere to stimulate and channel our creative flow, right?

In practice, what that looks like is an open-floor plan (no cubicles and few closed offices), a totally casual dress code, and cool art splashed on the walls. The offices include tabletop games in the halls (shuffleboard, ping pong, pool) and awesome happy hours on the outdoor balconies. That attitude doesn’t stop with just the physical workplace and amenities. The office had a total non-corporate feel. The environment is one where employees feel free to speak casually, joke around, and hang out. At the end of the day, they enjoy the work that they do they do because making ads is artistic, expressive, and super cool.

Not only that, but when you work at a huge agency you usually get the chance to work with more than one brand. You might be working on multiple brands for one company (if Coke is the client, you might be working on ads for both Sprite and Fanta – two of their products). You also might be working on two or more entirely separate companies (think Coke and WalMart). Point being, things don’t get stale. You aren’t married to one brand or client and you don’t have to do any one thing for too long.

I have just one negative to share about the large agency model: departments and bureaucracy. If you’re looking to analyze the data, develop the strategy, write the script, and direct the shoot you’ll want to look into some smaller operations. At a big agency you should expect to be one member of a team committed to just one of the steps needed for a given ad, brand, or company. To demonstrate: A team of data analysts do the research and establish the target audience, which is then run by the clients and passed along to a team of strategists who develop an angle, which is then run by the clients and passed along to a team of creatives who come up with a concept/script/artwork, which is then run by the clients and then finally turned into an ad. So yeah, I was one of several people contributing only to the second step of that process. And did I mention that my strategy department worked exclusively for the Latin American region of just one large client? There are a lot of people in a lot of departments working on different stages of a long process. Of course there is something nice about working with big teams for a big machine, but it sure does make you feel small sometimes.

What Makes an Advertiser?

The field has a wide range of roles that suit many different skill sets. There are creative positions for artists and expressive minds. There are data analytic positions for those who like numbers, account executives for the business savvy, human resources for those with interpersonal skills, and on and on. What I will say is that the common denominators for nearly all positions are strong communicative abilities and a creative sense (and I mean just a sense. You don’t need to be dreaming up alternative universes for most of these positions).

What Students Should Consider?

The brass tacks – of what I think students or graduates should be thinking about when they look into this field:

1)   Rewards come slowly - As I said, at a big agency you’re a small player in a big game. Ads are a large team effort and can take as long as 2-3 years before coming to life. Be patient or be elsewhere.

2)   You get to have fun and be creative – Most jobs just aren’t fun. Happens to be this one is. Making commercials is like making movies without the fanfare. You create entertaining, often meaningful content for lots of fresh brands. That’s pretty cool.

3)  While the hours aren’t that crazy, neither is the entry-level pay – it wouldn’t be proper if I didn’t get to the bottom line. No, you don’t have to work insane hours. You’re not going to work 15-hour days or get home at 2am. However, you also won’t be making top-dollar at entry level.  If you’ve had interest in a job in marketing this likely isn’t news to you, but if your alternative is a job in investment banking take heed: this doesn’t pay the same way at the basement levels.

Do Research and Reach Out

If any of this sounds appealing to you then look into it! It is a field that seems to sometimes slip from the sights of our undergraduates, but I think there is a lot to like and many young professionals who could benefit from some information or exposure to the world of advertising. If you’re one of those people, use Google or reach out. I’d love to talk about it.