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What is it like to work at an advertising agency?

So many movies and TV shows build this near-perfect image of advertising agencies. What’s it really like to work in and for one?

Answer by A Quora admin: Stephen Hunt,

I had the interesting position of working for an advertising agency for ten years as their head of IT. That made me both an insider (I worked there, was at the meetings, knew the successes and failures) but always an outsider (I wasn’t part of the core creative/marketing business). So I can probably share a couple of interesting bits from that perspective.

Agency work is unlike any other business I’ve been involved with. They tend to work hard / play hard. When there is a pitch the next day they pull all-nighters, but then don’t show up until 11 for a week after. There is a lot of stress, because when the economy declines the first thing many companies do is reduce the advertising budget, and there is a lot of competition. Some of that competition does a job completely different from your agency, but that distinction is often lost on customers.

Furthermore, customers want to control a process that they  know little or nothing about, and have no problem telling you that your idea sucks. My agency did a lot of peer-review, so if you were on the creative side you spent a lot of time justifying your ideas to your peers as well, which can be both intimidating and exhilarating.

An agency has an amazing range of people working within it, from button-down “suits” who are the front-line sales people, to sandal-wearing “creatives” who are the main product. In between you have artists and computer graphics, print production, design, along with the usual accounting and technology support groups. If you join a big agency it might include specialized interactive, PR, or directing marketing groups. So the Christmas party is a collection of people whose jobs, in many ways, differ wildly from each other, but who all have the same goal in mind.

When you get a new account you get to learn someone’s business from the inside out. You have to understand what makes them distinctive, what exactly they are selling (often not the product in the catalog), how the owner wants to be perceived. It’s a steep learning curve and it happens with every new job.

In the meantime your non-agency friends will berate you for “going to the dark side”, and your spouse will give you that “you’re responsible for this” look every time your kids see an ad for the latest toy and start making demands. But you can be reassured by two things: advertising is an essential component of a free-market economy, and over time advertising exactly reflects the society in which it was created. So really, you’re just making history. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket.

What is it like to work at an advertising agency?

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