Coming to Terms With the Realities of Working in Advertising

Opinion: And how to leave your expectations at the door

A man sits at his desk; his eyes are covered by a blind fold; Three red disks circle him; the top disk has four heads talking into his ear
There can be a lot of misconceptions you have going into your first advertising job. Getty Images

There is unlimited potential for all those big-game commercials, full-spread ads and viral videos to be credited to you in time, but you’ll soon realize that lessons learned in university lectures and your internship will only scratch the surface of your potential success. Welcome to the wonderful world of creative!

Your first creative experiences will include what makes good work and how to spot not-so-great content and why things work creatively and why they don’t. Mistakes will be made, but hopefully they’re easily fixed and used as a learning experience. With any luck, a mistake won’t have a negative impact on your gig, but hey, that happens, too.

What no one explains to you early on though, are the different workplace interactions you’ll have. Consider these expectations while working your way up the creative ladder.

The line between learning and productivity

A good manager knows how to embrace new employees and guide them on a path toward knowledge and advancement and knows even more so when to let go and trust their team to get things done. You’ll learn what it means to have tasks and assignments delegated to you. While you may be expecting to be involved in all day-to-day activities, jubilant to take on all orders, you’ll likely be managing time between finishing tasks proficiently and learning all the new aspects of your position.

Split time between hands-on creative work and learning from your team amid deadlines. The further along you go in your creative career, the more you’ll understand how to prioritize projects.

Finally having a 9-to-5 job

The ultimate goal is the perfect 9-to-5 schedule, right? Stroll into the office, hit the coffee machine and start your day relaxed, ready to punch out for happy hour. In the creative space, you’re more than likely to extend hours on both ends to meet the expectations of your clients. Of course, that won’t happen every day, but managers and clients expect the work to be complete, which in some cases means staying late or working early before a tough deadline.

I remember my first days in agency life when creative directors seemed to never be in the office. I assumed it was only fair that the lowest person on the totem pole had to work the long 50- or 60-hour workweeks. However, I knew little about the behind-the-scenes action. Travel, offsite productions, business development meetings, pitches—I only saw what was in front of me. Even if you feel like you’re working harder than some of your colleagues, remember the creative industry is always on call.

Team player mentality

The success of your organization and clients relies on a team-first mentality. Whether you’re putting in eight or 12 hours a day, remember there is always someone who is working harder or who is available to help. Evening out the workload will benefit the final product and sanity of the team. Being available to help a colleague, whether or not they’re working on the same client, is one of the golden rules of agency life.

On the flip side, there may come a point where some teammates become too comfortable relying on another colleague. Teams must set a precedent to ensure work is fairly delegated. Yes, it’s OK to help, but once a colleague begins to rely on others too much, issues will arise. Don’t suffer in silence. Ask questions and be on the same level as your team. Understand whether someone needs genuine help or is just too lazy to figure it out.

Only worrying about your team

Every person in the building is on your team, even if you never work on a project together. Once you leave the shadows of your dedicated task, you’ll see the interactions at every level of your organization. Obviously, you always go to bat for your team, but there must be a healthy collaboration between all departments that you interact with. Your manager will act as glue for the team, but you’re just as important as a corner piece of the puzzle.

Eventually figuring it all out

Well, you probably won’t. At least not all of it. The consistent need to learn is how you keep your career from becoming stagnant. Develop processes that work for you and the team, and never stop looking for ways to evolve. You’ll never have all the answers, but that should act as a fire to drive you to do more, if not for yourself, then for your team, company and career.

You’re in for an incredible ride in the creative industry. It will be filled with ups and downs, but each experience is a lesson learned. Don’t let failure or success discourage you from maintaining a positive attitude. Grow, learn and be excited for all things to come.

Chris Moore is the associate creative director of Sparkloft Media.