Advertising and media agencies have a culture all their own (No. Mad Men doesn’t exactly do it justice). To mark and celebrate my sixth year in the industry, here are six things I wish someone had told me when I first started out – all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into:
1. Never delete an email.
Scratch that. Never delete ANYTHING!
I completely despise clutter. In every aspect of my life beside my shoe collection. At my previous job, I had formed the habit of de-cluttering my email and permanently deleting things I didn’t need. This must have worked pretty well for me at the time since I don’t recall a single instance where I deleted something only to find out that I actually needed it.
In my agency life, I’m pretty sure I learned this lesson by day three. Because we work with clients and large number of internal teams, every communication is important. If you delete anything – an email, the first version of a deck that is now in version 34, the raw data you used to create those pivot tables on slide 12, the conversation in which you asked an account director for clarification on something and they responded with “No problem :)” – It WILL come back and bite you in the behind. Save every version of everything. Get an archive when you reach max storage capacity. You will also find that folders will become your best friend. It is completely fine to have over 100 folders in your inbox. Easy access!
2. If you screw up; tell the truth
Scratch that too. WHEN you screw up, tell someone!
You will screw up. It’s inevitable. I can only hope that, for your sake, it’s not large enough to completely destroy your morale and/or get you fired. As soon as you discover what you screwed up, tell someone. Preferably someone who can help you escalate it up the chain of command without making you look/feel like a complete idiot. Acknowledge your mistake and make every effort to fix it. You will probably screw up multiple times. But the good news is, it will pass. You will learn and grow from every mistake. And you will make it in this industry – provided you do not commit a cardinal sin like grossly over-spending on a client’s budget.
3. Start everything NOW. Murphy’s Law is so real it’s scary
Before advertising, I used to work on educational development programming at a University, where we had a full year to plan each program or conference. Everything was impeccably laid out. We even wrote a full script per slide for each training deck along with detailed outlines for each segment. This is not the case within the advertising industry and I cannot stress that enough. You will churn out a completely ridiculous number of slide decks per week/month on top of all your on-going projects and client deliverables. When you first start out, it will be difficult to stay on top of things simply due to the sheer volume of “stuff”.
When you get a request for something – a deck, a report, a new campaign plan, an email that requires a one sentence response – get to it immediately. Trust me. If you don’t, it will either slip through the cracks or you will do it at the last minute and kick yourself every time for not starting on it earlier. As you work through each piece, you will realize you need so much more information than you have. The only problem is you won’t have enough time to gather all the data you need and everyone else will be too busy putting out their own fires to help you. When those three deadlines approach simultaneously. Everything that can possibly go wrong will absolutely go wrong. And since you’re a rookie, you won’t be well equipped to handle that level of insanity. So, even when you’re unable to complete something, make sure you at least get started. Rough notes, outlines, quick emails and lists of questions will ultimately become your best friend.
4. You really should save your work on the network drive
Stop saving your work on your desktop or anywhere else on your personal computer. Just stop it! One day, your computer will crash. And you WILL cry in front of the IT guy. Everyone who walks by will see you crying. Those who don’t see it will hear about it – including the client whose good side you’re only just starting to get on.
Everyone I worked with at my first agency job remembers when my computer crashed and I lost the most important presentation of my career along with all the raw data 24 hours before we were supposed to fly out for the client presentation that would determine if we would keep the business. Save redundantly. Learn this one from my experience. Just do it.
5. Double, triple and quadruple check EVERYTHING; small details really are the most important
This one seems pretty self-evident but you’d be surprised how often it gets missed. It’s not the glaring mistakes that cost you. It’s those tiny little ones that you could easily have avoided if you just paid more attention. Proof-read every email before you send it out. Look at each piece of creative before you start trafficking. Double-check every single campaign setting before you go live. Even after you’re live, check again. Don’t rely on vendors to check your work.
When it comes to reporting, check every cell. Make sure your numbers actually add up and that they make sense. Delivering sloppy reporting is a huge no-no. Don’t be the person whose work a supervisor has to look over five times before it’s accurate and presentable. No client or supervisor wants that and you certainly don’t want that kind of reputation.
Attention to detail is extremely important in this industry. It will make the quality of your work better, help you stand out and get you that promotion.
6. Keep a personal log. You’ll never remember why you did something
We are constantly changing tactics, adjusting targets and modifying campaigns. I have zero recollection of why we decided to exclude these regions three months ago or why we made these ad copy changes. As soon as anything changes with conversion volume or efficiency metrics, someone will ask “So why did we do that again?” At this time you will pull out your handy personal change log where you record every significant change you make along with the client, date and expected results and produce a completely rational answer that will make you look super on-the-ball. Then you will smile to yourself and be really happy you read this post.
What are some of the things you wish you had known when you first started out? Please share in the comments section below.
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