As a junior, especially at a large agency, it can be hard to find opportunities to show everyone what you’re capable of and get on the radar of the people who give out the good assignments. Here are a few paths to getting noticed:
- Write radio. Not many people care that much about radio. That’s a good thing for you. It’s one of the rare mediums where you can write an entire campaign, often get it approved without rounds of presentation, then work directly with the talent on production. Some of my favorite campaigns from early in my career were radio campaigns. It’s a writer’s playground. And art directors, you can get in there too.
- Offer to work on the most painful client. Every agency has at least one client that is a total pain, for whatever reason. See if you can take on more responsibility with that client. When I first became ACD, I took one of the most difficult clients we had and the agency was happy to let me have it. I learned a ton being thrown in the fire.
- Pitches. Get on the pitches. One of the best places to get noticed are those terrible jump-ball pitches where a dozen teams are throwing ideas on the wall. Often, you’ll get late nights, but late nights with creative directors in the room. Throw ideas into the mix and be willing to help out with whatever’s needed.
- Manage the interns. A great way to try out creative direction is to take an intern under your wing (or more than one). Years ago, I started the intern program at my agency and brought on six talented students. People would comment on the “small army” that followed me around. In the end, I probably learned more from them than they did from me.
Creatives are not always (one might say rarely) natural salespeople. Most have to learn how to effectively sell their work. But one of the last things they learn to do (if ever) is to sell themselves. It’s unfortunate, too, because interviews, job offers and negotiations are some of the most important conversations you will have in your career. You need to learn how to talk about your work, talk about the challenges you overcame, tell stories about how you approached problems and what you learned. And then once an offer’s on the table, you need to know what to do with it.
When I was running a creative department, it was shocking to me how few creatives actually negotiated when it came to a job offer. Or for those who did, how one-dimensional the negotiation was. I’d say (very unofficially) that 60% of the offers we put out were accepted or passed on as they were. No further conversation about the offer itself. Maybe another 30% would counter with a higher salary, usually ending with an agreement that was somewhere in the middle.
There’s a great post on Medium by Haseeb Qureshi about the rules of negotiating a job offer. He’s coming from a tech industry POV, but I agree with everything on his list.
You may be uncomfortable negotiating, especially if you’re a student or it’s early in your career. You probably feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. And at some point, the stress might feel so great that you just want it over with. Even if that’s true, don’t short-change yourself (don’t be unrealistic either!). The rules outlined in Qureshi’s post can help make sure you hold some of the cards. Even as a junior, you are an asset, and you have something that is of value to a company. As he points out, this is a business relationship. As a business, the agency want to maximize the value they get from it. As a creative talent, so do you.
Some good advice from a couple creatives I really respect.
This is a part of an ongoing series that asks, “If you could go back to when you were just starting out in this business and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”
I’m biased. Jon Lancaric is a good friend of mine. He also happens to be an incredibly talented writer, director and creative director. He’s put in time at DDB, Mother NY, Chiat, Media Arts Lab, Google, Apple and more. He has won multiple Cannes Lions, among other awards. This was his answer.
Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be brave, take chances, and who challenge you to push your creativity beyond what it looks, feels and sounds like today. Relationships take time and energy. Spend them on the good ones, not fretting about the bad ones.
I’m starting a series of posts that ask a simple question: “If you could go back in time to when you were starting out in this business, what one thing would you tell your younger self?”
For the first one, I asked Luke Sullivan the question. Luke is an incredibly talented, wise, respected and beloved writer and creative director. He’s the author of the canonical Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! He currently teaches and chairs the advertising department at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Here’s what Luke said:
“The one thing I wish I coulda done different when I was a young ad geek, is to have shut up and listened more. Even if you’re fairly talented, just behave like like an apprentice oughta and learn from the journeymen and masters who surround you. I would tell me to quit gettin’ so bent out of shape every time one of your ideas gets axed. Deal with it. That’s how it is in every creative business. 98% of everything you ever come up with will die. The answer is to deal with it, shut up, sit down and come up with another idea. As they say, the best revenge is a better ad.”
If you’re fresh out of portfolio school and looking for work, take the time to read #The50 Things Every Creative Should Know by Jamie Wieck.
The ones I wish I’d known:
#30 Read contracts
#34 Embrace limitations
#36 Boring problems lead to boring solutions
The ones I wish the juniors whose books I see knew:
#9 Curate your work
#11 Make your work easy to see
#13 Time is precious: Get to the point
#39 Justify your decisions
Read these. They’re full of really good advice for people working in a creative industry. It’ll take you 90 minutes to get through both of them. The first (Steal) is about how the work of others can help you find your voice. The second (Show) is about connecting with others by sharing your work (your process of work, not just the finished product).