As a former mid-size agency employee, I’ll give you my take – via the next few posts – on what it is like to work at an agency. You need to know that every agency will have its own culture and structure so these learnings come from just one perspective.
I can share that while I never one bit felt like I was in Mad Men, agency life is not dull. You’ll get exposed to a lot and if you aren’t sure what industry you are looking for or where you want to go with your communications career, it is an excellent place to start to determine where your interests and strengths are. Here are just some characteristics that are useful in an agency environment:
Creative Demand. There is never a “typical” day. You may be brainstorming campaign slogans one day for a food industry client and social media strategy another day for a government organization. This keeps things interesting and also encourages a constant flow of creativity.
Flexibility. Many agencies have different practice areas (health care, government relations, consumer brands etc.) and employees are part of one area but serve multiple clients at one time. One day you may have to be up to your ears in health care policy while the next day you may be involved in developing ideas for how to market a robot vacuum. This requires you to be nimble and transition from one subject matter to the next with ease. You need to be able to display knowledge in the respective subject matter like you have studied it for weeks. Except you had 20 minutes before the meeting with the client. It’s fun but it’s challenging.
Loads of Initiative. Your job is to make stuff happen. Show initiative internally and to your clients. You are providing services to your clients. This means you need to develop a constant flow of ideas that form themselves into strategies that you get to sell and eventually execute for your client to make them look amazing. You need to be one step ahead of your client and their thinking so that they remember that they need you do help them do their work well.
Know how to say you don’t know. At some point, you’ll have a client ask you something and you won’t have a clue as to what the answer is. That’s okay but be prepared for how to answer this well. Don’t pretend you know. Don’t lie. Don’t make something up. Say that you’ll consult with your team and get back to them with the information. Say that you’ll do research to determine the best solution. Say that your dog ate the answer. Don’t over promise. You’ll come back strong and armed with the right and true information and everyone will be better off.
Hours + more hours. Settle in because you are in for some serious hours. As an intern, I was not allowed to work more than a set number of hours per week (pure bliss) but the moment I became full time, I was in for the long haul. It was hard, but it’s also when I learned the most. Dive right in and soak it all up. You’ll learn a ton.
Agency life can be rewarding. It is often challenging and it is never dull. It was the best place for me to launch my career because of the exposure to so many different types of projects.
If you are considering work at an agency, speaking to friends who have worked at agencies (everyone’s experience will be a bit different) and getting an informational interview is always a good start!