The industry (in all its guts and glory)
The good stuff
The best part of agency life is definitely the people you meet along the way. You might end up meeting some of your closest friends at work. Interesting people who have similar values and most of the time you will find that you work hard but play even harder. You spend more time with people from work than anyone else in your life, so you better hope you work with some amazing people. The best thing you can do for your career is actually getting to know people. When you know someone, it makes working with them a lot easier because you understand them, and the work becomes much more of a collaborative effort.
The work is always a mix of great, inspiring projects and the further you are into your career, the better the opportunities to work on great things. BUT no matter how high you get, there will always be the boring, draining jobs that no one wants to do. Take the good with the bad and hopefully you will find the balance.
Every agency is different in their culture, but it mainly comes down to what you make of it. If you want to be involved in everything then go for it, but you also have the option to opt out of anything you are not interested in. Throwing yourself into the mix with everyone is always a good way to make connections and relationships in a work environment. Always be nice because you never know when you will meet someone again on the long road to the top.
Industry parties are great for networking, even if you don’t know many people going, you should get out there and meet whoever you can. You never know who you will meet and what skills they could offer you in the future. You might meet your future boss or a new supplier. Be open to everyone and every opportunity.
There are not many people who work as hard as we do in our industry. There is an expectation that we are here early and late a lot of the time. Don’t feel as though you are pressured to put in overtime. There are times when it is necessary but other times when you should put yourself first and go home on time and enjoy your life out of work before burning out. In your early years it’s easy to find yourself always having your phone on, but you need to teach yourself to leave work behind when you leave. Everyone needs to switch off and refresh, so they can be more productive when they are at work.
And the not so good stuff…
Every industry has its downside – and ours is no exception. These are some of the big ones:
Agencies work at an insane pace. Late nights (and sometimes, weekends) spent at the office with colleagues, boxes of pizza and coffee after coffee while you work on a pitch or a huge campaign are inevitable. So are daily tiffs, squabbles and politics. The industry is known for its high churn rate.
Coping with the everyday pressures of advertising isn’t too difficult with proper stress management. But sometimes, when you have too much stress, you experience burnout. A good workplace culture will help prevent burnout by inspiring their staff, monitoring working hours and keeping the conversation around mental health and substance abuse open.
“At the top of the industry is a closed loop of white guys talking to other white guys." – Cindy Gallop
Women make up 50% of the industry, but a relatively small number are in top executive positions. Gender bias, while rarely spoken about or acknowledged, continues to affect how women are treated at work, who they interact with and what positions they hold.
The industry has a pretty piss poor reputation on this front. Some have argued that advertising is “institutionally sexist”. Others say that it’s not intentionally so, but there’s clear work to be done. Unfortunately, modern day agency cultures are more entrenched in the Mad Men days than some would like to admit. But things are improving, slowly, and there are many positive female role models for junior females to take inspiration from - both in Australia and overseas.
There is a tremendous talent crunch in the agency world. While not a very new problem — three years ago, WPP chief Martin Sorrell had called the talent situation “criminal” — now more than ever, agency executives, recruiters and students say the system is broken. Salaries are low, driving candidates away.
When there is work to go around, it’s either too temporary or too high level for the applicant pool. Salaries are laughably low. Take data in the U.S., which pits a graduate ad agency executive at $25K, against a management consultant at $70K and a first year lawyer at $125K (Source: 4A’s).
The biggest sign an agency is doing well is not how much money it’s making, but the amount of awards it’s winning. Its annual load of shiny spikes, pencils and lions.
The ‘awards season’ is the Christmas of the ad industry, where all the work that’s been made during the year is entered in the major awards shows – the most prestigious of which are One Show, D&AD and the ‘Oscars’ of the ad industry, Cannes. There are also local Aussie awards shows which are valued among the Aussies of adland, including B&T, Mumbrella, and the AWARD Awards. Most cities have their own annual awards show, including the BADC awards for Brisbane, MADC for Melbourne, etc.
The party culture
There’s no denying adland has a reputation for being party town. You watch Mad Men. You hear stories. Your mum warns you about her friend of a friend of her dentist’s sister who worked in advertising once and said there’s a lot of white powder (that ain’t wizz fizz). And you know what? For once your mum was sort of right…
For the most part, it’s fine. It’s true everyone loves a drink – you’ll find your agency will like to kick back with some bevvys on a Friday arvo (and sometimes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) with a fully stocked bar, and will host parties every so often. But it’s not like you’re going to get fired if you don’t drink!
But we’d also be sugar coating it if we said that you wouldn’t see some ‘shady stuff’ from time to time - it’s a thing that does happen and that you should be aware of.
The Trade Press
Unlike most other industries, advertising is one that thrives on its trade press. From press releases about campaigns launching to agency gossip about people switching agencies, the trade websites are on everyone’s daily reading lists. It’s the way we all stay up to date with everything happening in our local industry, and beyond.
Starting out in the industry, the leading titles are a fantastic way of getting up to speed on which agencies are creating cool pieces of work and winning business, as well as learning the prominent personalities of the industry. The ones to bookmark are Campaign Brief, AdNews, AdWeek, Mumbrella and B&T.
However, because this is the internet, one thing to note is that some of these sites have #formspring vibes, where people leave anonymous troll comments which can often be a bit malicious. Don’t be surprised if, fresh from feeling elated that your first campaign has been posted on Campaign Brief, an anonymous person comments on it saying it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen in their entire life and that it should be burnt.
What’s changing in the industry today?
Normally when you mention advertising to someone a classic TVC comes to mind, maybe the print ads they used to see in magazines, or the billboards that still dress our cities. These old school formats, known traditionally as ‘above the line’ certainly do still exist, but now make up a fraction of advertising revenue.
In the last 10 years the game has changed. Even somewhat recent terms like ‘below the line’ or the ambiguous ‘through the line’ no longer cover the breadth and depth of what the industry sells its clients as marketable communications.
Much like the print press revolutionised mass consumption of information in the 19th century, so too has the internet – and when people start looking for information, an ad is never far off.
Not only do we now carry smart devices that deliver ads every time we use them, now we hand back information to the those ads to further refine how, when and where we are advertised to.
This ecosystem of information to and from consumers means modern advertising is vast, intertwined and constantly evolving, driven by the pace of the technology in our lives; the internet now compared to 5 years ago is a very different place.
Advertising has had to become more agile and reactive to keep up with this pace, fighting for a place in the attention economy. Basically if someone views, listens, likes, searches, researches, is entertained or inspired by any piece of information online, it can be used as an ad.
Today, advertising is no longer limited by the confines of traditional media. New levels of human connectivity have opened countless new channels for creative comms to engage.
So anyways, go out there and make us proud!
Youngbloods committee, 2019.