Remember Mad Men? You know, the AMC show inspired by the term those suave ad men on Madison Avenue coined back in advertising’s hey-day. Mad Men gave viewers a glimpse of what life might have been like for those mad, creative, money-hungry ad men and their families in the 1950s and ’60s.
I used to totally binge-watch Mad Men in “preparation” for a job in the ad industry. I wanted to be like Don Draper — minus the infidelity, smoking, and excessive drinking. In Mad Men, Don Draper is a well-known, even feared creative director who always knows just what the client wants. But when I actually entered the ad world, I realized the game has changed … a lot.
Gone are the days of creative directors like Draper arriving to work dressed in designer suits, drinking whiskey all day long in their big, corner suites. Gone are the days of switchboard operators and segregated offices … and thank goodness for it! Today, the ad industry is a tantalizing, chaotic blend of some of the world’s most creative, witty, and thoughtful artists, strategists, and business experts. We work tirelessly to create the messaging and imagery consumers see all day, everyday, everywhere they look.
I’ve worked in advertising for a few years now, but the fast-paced, cutthroat, always-changing industry still manages to surprise me. Here are eight of the most surprising things I’ve learned so far:
1. Being yourself will bode better than any career advice you got
The career advice I received in college was always the same. Keep your resume to one page, typed in 12-point, Times New Roman font. Don’t show your tattoos at interviews. Arrive 15 minutes early to everything. On and on and on. None of this is bad advice, but it’s not evergreen advice, either.
In the ad world, creativity is key. To compete in this field, you have to stand out from the pack and prove your creativity even within the confines of an 8.5x11” resume. The times I tried to adhere to a more conventional, arguably outdated approach to my career, I never got the job. When I decided to show off my personality, update my resume with a fun (but still legible) font, and sport jeans and sneakers in the office, the better the outcome.
Long story short: Having a polished resume and a killer LinkedIn profile doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in for an advertising gig. Your personality, portfolio, and experience are what will land you a job. Proceed accordingly.
2. You have to account for every minute of your time
At ad agencies, and even at some corporations, you are responsible for logging the time you spend working for clients. Most agencies track time in 15-minute increments, but I’ve worked for some agencies that track down to the single minute. It might sound overwhelming at first, but you’ll get the hang of things pretty quickly. The trick is noting what time you start a project and what time you finish, so the agency you work for can bill the client for the right amount of money. You’ll become obsessed with the clock.
3. And you will work around the clock
Speaking of time… what they don’t tell you when you sign on to work at an ad agency is that you’re also signing your life away. I’m kidding… sort of.
Most of us know going in that the ad world can be dizzying, and it doesn’t slow down once the clock strikes 5:00. In the ad industry, you’re at the constant beck and call of your client, which makes finding work/life balance challenging, to say the least.
4. Agencies & corporations are more different than they are alike.
The differences between working for an ad agency and working for a corporation are real, vast, and many. I started out in the agency world, assuming it’s where I’d fit in best, because I’d heard rumors about beer taps, office pets, and flexible dress codes. The rumors are true, and they’re often what entice us to try “agency life” on for size. At an ad agency, you can expect to move fast, field constant critique, and probably sit in an open floor plan.
In the corporate world, things tend to move a little slower than they do at agencies. Most corporations employ hundreds or thousands of people, which means projects don’t fall on your shoulders alone, and you can expect a longer deadline and the freedom to work at your own pace. Wherever you work, there will always be nights you feel like Robin (above). Hang in there.
5. Inspiration can strike from anywhere
It’s not easy being both creative and strategic all day, everyday. Burnout is real. And many modern ad women have it — which makes it difficult to create unique, engaging, and profitable campaigns that blow the socks off consumers and the C-Suite alike. Inspiration can come from everywhere, but sometimes, it feels like you just can’t find it anywhere.
One of my favorite places to look for advertising inspo is Pinterest. Believe it or not, Pinterest is chock-full of new and old ads alike, serving up a hefty dose of inspiration no matter what you type in the search box. Next time you hit a rut, check out Pinterest to get your creative juices flowing again.
6. The client is always right.
I’ll never forget the time I described a product as “infallible” … only to have the client tell me “infallible” reminds them of the Pope. I was so proud of my headline, but I had to change it. Big sigh.
Just as the customer is always right in retail, the client is always right in advertising. Even though your client recognizes they need to hire a professional to help them advertise their business, they still tend to think they know best — no matter how much research you cite to back up your ideas. Don’t take their criticism personally. Instead, start developing a thick skin.
7. You will run into former coworkers again.
The best piece of career advice I’ve heard came from Catherine Smalley, who advises never to burn a bridge in this industry—especially in Minneapolis—because you never know who you’ll end up working with again.
The Twin Cities are small … and the ad industry here is even smaller. Considering how frequently creatives jump ship and join new teams, you’re bound to run into a former friend or foe again somewhere down the line. You don’t have to love them, but you have to be able to work with them. Keep your comments to yourself and keep the peace at work. You’ll thank me later.
Taking the Industry by Storm
The ad industry today looks a lot different than it did during the Mad Men era. Staying creative while appeasing your client may not be as easy as Don Draper made it look, but I think if you can make it in the ad industry, you can make it anywhere. So get out there, be yourself, and take the advertising industry by storm. The world could use some more MadWomen.