Having found my first job at an agency at 41 years of age, I’m an extreme outlier. These days most get into the business straight out of school, whether a university with an ad program or an ad school. That glorious time of shiny, thick hair, the ability to drink till 2 and then drag your ass to the office at 8, and health insurance is like, yeah whatever.
Before my first agency gig as a copywriter, I got acquainted with the ad business when working at a big university’s marketing department where I met graphic artists and designers and began perusing CA and One Show Annuals.
Once ensconced in an agency, I started paying closer attention to the business. It became clear to me that the ad business was interesting, fun, crazy at times, wildly subjective, and lucrative.
It was also a place where an English major could make a living, not to mention artistically inclined souls who could draw or paint or make things look lovely. Without getting into the account service side of the show, why not go into the business if you have a creative bent? None I suppose — but with some caveats.
1. Plan on finding another career after you turn 45ish or older. The creative side of the business is ageist. Finding a copy or art guy who’s over 45 is pretty tough. This is just a fact. Don’t believe me? Check out this, this, or this.
But when you’re 25 or 28 or thirty-something, you’re thinking about getting ahead, getting into CA, winning a One Show Pencil, and making VP or SVP money. Nothing wrong with that. But if you are pursuing this career, start your plan for the day when you get laid off — because odds are you will be. Several times.
Oh, you’ll be told the account you’re on was lost or the client was looking for “new” directions or overall billings are going away — and so is your job. You’ll be told it’s got nothing to do with your age. You’ll be shown a list of people younger than you (with less experience, talent, and moxie, too). In this pile of bullshit, there may be a kernel or two of truth — enough to keep the lawyers happy anyway.
2. Save like crazy. Advertising can be pretty lucrative after you put in some time as a junior and “leadership,” the account people, and your creative bosses decide that you have what it takes. But when the day arrives that the account you’re working on goes away and they “have” to let you go, you will need savings to lean on. But don’t plan on spending too much of what you saved.
If you’re lucky (or not depending on your POV) you will get old. Sixty or 70 or 80 something. Money will be tight since you’ll be spending more and more of it on healthcare. And we all know where those costs are going.
3. For writers, you need to get really good at actual writing. Grammar and knowing how to write for laypeople will matter when you are freelancing and forced to edit your own stuff and aren’t being paid to be charming or fun or entertaining — when the money comes from being straightforward, simple, and often painfully obvious without being a bore. So, when those long-copy gigs show up, grab them. That 200-page website? Grab that, too. Sometimes getting good at what you don’t like doing will serve you well. It’s called work for a reason.
For art folks, never pass a chance to make a table or chart, clean up a photo, edit the leadership team’s annual video, organize and graphically present mind-numbing statistics, work with multiple-paged documents, and know all the Adobe Creative Suite like you programmed it.
4. Do something else. Advertising draws people to its hallways for the money, the coolness, and all the glib, stupid shit one takes from Mad Men. Life at most agencies can be a crushing grind lots of the time and a total blast some of the time. I'm guessing the same holds true for almost any profession.. A career is a long time. Choose wisely my friend.
© 2019 John Hofmeister. For my other take on the business, check out this. And I am in the habit of recommending the guy’s blog. Check it out.
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me.