Why Creative Agency Life Is Only for the Dedicated

Don Draper unquestionably glamorized life in an advertising agency. Truth is, it’s not all high-rises and high balls. As Globe Runner Creative Director Brett Dougall will tell you, it takes quick wit, tough skin, and a strong work ethic to make a career out of your creativity.

Think you have the chops to navigate life in a creative agency? Here’s a candid taste of what you can expect.

What are some of the ideals newly minted creative hopefuls have and how are their expectations of agency life different from the reality?

Young creatives are slapped in the face with agency life when they first walk in the door at any agency. Hard deadlines, long hours, and late evenings are our mantra. Poorly written creative briefs are commonplace, taking rounds and rounds of feedback to get to a working concept. “Start over… have you thought of this?… there are no bad ideas here…try it this way…go back and think outside the box!” These and other monochromatic sayings can blind the creative energy right out of any young, inspiring art director or copywriter.

In essence, everyone’s trying to push their creative minds to be different than the next – striving to make their own mark in this game called advertising. I remember when I was a young Junior Art Director with absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had some experience, but up to that point I’d never taken an art direction or graphics design course, never been to a press check, and no idea what a PMS chip was. Literally, no clue. Like most young creatives, I came into the agency world like a new baby, with absolutely zero concept of what was in store. To make headway, I had to learn from the ground up. The only thing that I knew at that time was that I had a passion for it and wanted to learn – learn everything I could in a short matter of time. If I was going to succeed in this industry, then I was willing to do anything to be my best at it.

How much time would you say creatives spend creating vs performing administrative tasks?

I feel that all depends on the size of the agency. Being a CD doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for answering the phones or making sure the company is making money. But even the administrative work is part of what keeps this creative wheel turning.

The best agencies that do great work, larger or small, work together as a team and appreciate what everyone brings to the table; not the hat you wear to it.

Is it difficult to deal with your creative work being scrutinized and picked apart by a client and how do you remain confident in your ideas?

Our work is always being critiqued – by everyone. One has to take it with a grain of salt and know that it simply comes with the job. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what they do and do not like. It’s rare that any creative hits a home run right of the park on the first swing.

If a client or peer critiques my work, it gives me the opportunity to see the project in a different light. It gets me to another way of looking at the project or design and helps push the idea further. People will see things differently, and that helps. However, if one really believes in their work, and one can sell the client on the rationale, the story on why this design or concept works best, reasons to believe and how it will influence a consumer to buy, then stick to your guns. Design is half the battle. Selling your work is the other.

What advice do you have for dealing with difficult clients?

Honestly, the advice that first comes to mind is to, well, listen to them.  I’ve had my share of difficult clients. I’ve come to learn that if and when clients are being difficult, it’s time to sit across the table and simply listen. Let them vent.

Yes, you might get griped at or get an earful about how frustrated they are with the agency, but in the end, if we listen to them, we can resolve the issue(s) and make sure the client-to-agency relationship doesn’t diminish.

What is the future of storytelling, branding, design, etc?

I saw a table sign in a local coffee shop and it said, “No wifi… have a conversation!” It stopped me in my tracks and made me think. As we all have come to live in a world of “insta-gratification,” we have so much power at our fingertips. We can get what we want, how much we want, and when we want it, all within minutes, if not seconds. Answers, groceries, photos, dates, health, entertainment – anything and everything. Artificial intelligence has made all of us artificially inclined to have face-to-face conversations.

An image is worth a thousand words. Instagram has proven that point, taking our stories, adventures, and life milestones then turning them into three-second photographs only to get lost in the digital world.

I’ve told clients before and tell our clients now that consumers are yearning for that untold story.

When they pick up your product, they feel good about purchasing it because of the story behind it. Where it comes from, where it has been, and where it’s going. Be it an award-winning, fourth-generation dog food company, a number one locker manufacturer, or a liquor brand that’s 200 years of tradition, when the consumer decides to purchase your product, they are purchasing the story behind that product. It gives them a reason to believe and makes that consumer feel good about spending money for it.

As for the future of branding and design, it’s up to us, “the agency” to tell that story in a creative, compelling, and timely fashion. We are in the communication business. Let’s communicate again.

Is all that creative rocket fuel burning a hole in your pocket? We’re always looking for new talent to join our mission possible task of launching the most successful digital marketing campaigns in the cosmos.


Image: @Jon_Hamm Instagram