How To Survive & Thrive At An Advertising Agency – My Guide

Advertising is an interesting and dynamic industry. It’s a place where individuals are categorized as suits and creatives. It’s a place where these two different categories meet under one roof to do right for their clients. As a young suit in the industry, I have quickly realized that the turnover rate in this industry was not exaggerated. Every month I’ve heard of someone, somewhere leaving the industry to join the client side or join the competition. Some say it’s due to burn-out… I’m a huge fan of the advertising world and have loved the first few months of my time here. I’ve been waiting to write this post as I wanted to get a few projects under my belt before sharing some thoughts and insights. Specifically, I’ve quickly realized that this is a tough business that requires some tough people. Luckily for me, I work at a place with some of the cities brightest, toughest and most creative individuals I’ve ever met work on a daily basis. While I’m still young in the industry, I think I can provide some insight on how to survive within it. If you’re a seasoned veteran then please. Feel free to share some of your thoughts in the comments…Here goes nothing…

The Morning Routine of a Modern Ad Man

Advertising | Digital Marketing | Ross Simmonds For me, everyday I wake up is a new opportunity to do some great work. That said, I’m not going to pretend that everyday I wake up I’m super excited to go to the office and make magic happen. It just doesn’t work that way. There are some days when you’re excited to get to work and there are others where you wish someone would carry you to the office door. If the majority of your days are the former, you’ve passed the first test. The morning is one of the most important times of the day because it can really make or break the next 12 hours (billable and non-billable alike). Understanding that sometimes you really cant shake a crappy mood we have to understand that we can definitely influence  how the rest of our day goes. Here are a few things that I’ve done in the past few months that have made my days in the agency world less stressful and more enjoyable.

  • Make Your Bed: This is a quick and easy way to start your day with productivity. When your bed is made, everything in your room looks a bit neater. When I make my bed in the morning I feel immediate satisfaction as not only am I being productive but also effective and well disciplined. If things are going to be crazy when you get too work, why not ensure that when you get home your bed looks nice welcoming.
  • Grab some Grub: As many times as we hear it, not often do we listen. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and needs to be skipped as little as possible. With a hearty breakfast you will be able to fill yourself with the nutrients and and energy you need to start your day. Not a breakfast person? Well here are five of my favourite breakfasts that you’re sure to love if you want to cook’em.
  • Feel the Burn: There’s nothing better than a morning work-out to get the blood flowing and adrenaline pumping. Waking up and going for a quick jog to get the heart rate up or doing a few sets of push ups is an easy way to wake up the body and feel productive. The quicker you can get the blood rushing the sooner you will feel the sleepiness disappear.
  • Chug some H2O: Not only are there health benefits to chugging back a tall glass of H2O on an empty stomach, it’s a quick and easy way to wake up. If you’re going to be hustling your butt off all day at the agency you might not get a chance to drink a lot of water throughout the day. Understanding the importance of H2O consumption, the taller the glass in the AM the better.

These four things have essentially become my morning rituals. While they’ve been key to getting up on the right side of the bed the day doesn’t end on the commute to the office.

The Productivity of a Modern Ad Man

Advertising | Digital Marketing | Ross Simmonds Productivity has become a blurred concept across the advertising industry as many of us struggle to productivity. Generally, the debate is between effectiveness and efficiency or quality and quantity. While many people have their own opinion on what matters most to them and what their agency actually values, I believe a solid mix of all four with emphasis on quality is the best bet. My idea of being productive is focusing on a task until it is complete and doing it to a standard I’m proud to put my name on. While multitasking is encouraged at most advertising agencies, multitasking is known to decrease productivity. As technology makes it easier to do multiple tasks, Generation Y is more likely to not be overwhelmed with a long to-do list. That said, it doesn’t mean that their productivity will not decrease just the same as someone who is overwhelmed. Here are a few things I’ve done to manage my tasks…

  • Handle the Important Tasks First: Before you get into the office you should know what your most important task is for the day. When I get to the office I never go straight to my email but instead I spend an hour working on what I already know needs to be done. Once that’s taken care of I go to the in-box and begin scheduling my time for the rest of the day.
  • Ignore the Panicked: Some people will believe that everything that involves them is high priority. These people are difficult to work with but are found in almost every office setting. If I’m working on my highest priority task, I’m probably not answering an email while doing it. Typically, the people who are always panicked are the ones who are unable to manage time or clients effectively. While it’s great to help out a colleague, it’s always better to take care of the things that directly impact you first.
  • 15 Minute Prep: A schedule is a beautiful thing if used correctly. Most schedules allow you to place a reminder on each event and you’ll get a ring or a buzz to let you know what’s coming up. It’s never a good feeling to get a call from the receptionist saying that a client is here to meet you when you forgot all about it. Placing a reminder on your calendar for events and tasks is a great way to prepare yourself for the the next thing on your plate. I have a reminder set to go off 15minutes before hand to ensure I have time to do any administrative work I may have forgot about.
  • Be Willing to Unplug: The most visited website at the average office is Facebook. Sure, it’s a part of the job for some but for others it’s simply a distraction that slows down productivity. Whether you waste time on Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube or Facebook – You’re still wasting valuable time. When I have a tight deadline that relies solely on what I can put down on paper, I turn off the internet and make magic with hundreds of keystrokes and a little thing called Word. The first few times you do this you will find yourself minimizing word and opening up firefox to be surprised with a 404 message which immediately reminds you to stay on task. Unplug and you’ll see a significant difference in your work habits.

Communication is Essential

Advertising | Digital Marketing | Ross Simmonds You would think that in the communications business that everyone would be great communicators. While I don’t want to paint the industry with one brush, there are tons of people who have great difficulty communicating with clients and colleagues. When I was running my own digital shop I quickly realized that I had to rethink the way I wrote emails to clients and partners. When trying to get to the point in emails, the recipient would sometimes call back wondering if I was upset because they took my tone as being assertive. This was never the case. I’ve since tried to adjust the way I get to the point and it has resulted in happy clients and colleagues. Email is typically the most frequently used communication tool at an Advertising Agency. On a daily basis you can expect more than thirty emails in your inbox, minimum. If you are receiving more than that then you’re simply having an average day. Writing countless emails can be a bit exhausting and even drain on your effectiveness to do your work (See #2 Under Productivity). With this type of communication being the primary method of dialogue here are three things that I found useful after reading ways to get better at dealing with emails.

Email Communication

  • Write A Better Subject Line: Not everyone in advertising is a copywriter, leaving many of us to struggle with headlines or subject lines that can grab attention. As Penelope discusses in here post, I like to use descriptions in my posts to ensure that the recipient knows immediately what I want. For example, If I’m writing a client about a deadline that is creeping up I would use a subject like; REMINDER: Deadline for Project X. A subject like this makes it clear for the recipient and sometimes doesn’t require opening to understand what’s inside.
  • Use Headlines for Long Emails: Similar to what I would do when writing a long blog post, I use headlines for long emails. This makes it easier for the reader to scan through the email instead of spending twenty minutes deciphering line by line for the key messages. It’s also important to ensure that the headlines are descriptive enough to summarize the key points in the copy that will follow them. Now you don’t want a 200 character headline but one that nails the point of the following paragraph is ideal (Similar to what I’m doing here).
  • Don’t use Email for Everything: Dealing with a sticky situation is about as fun as a bad rash. Especially if you think the other party is the one responsible for the sticky situation. Instead of sitting at your desk and crafting up the PERFECT response with the hope that they will miraculously take the blame – Give them a call. And if they’re in your office, walk over and talk face to face. At most, it will be a five minute conversation where one of you accept a damaged ego and thus resolve a minor misunderstanding.

This last point about not using email for everything is extremely important. And while it’s extremely important it’s one that many people don’t do throughout their career. I see people who have been in the industry for twenty years in stickier situations than before simply because they didn’t pick up the phone to call. In theory, this is probably the best communication advice I can give you. It works. But even though I’m reiterating this fact to you in this post, I don’t always turn to the phone over the reply button. It takes a lot of effort and most importantly, self control to be able to change your behavior. If you are self-disciplined and are willing to make the effort you will slip up once in a while but gradually see great improvement not only in the number of calls you make but your relationships within and out of the office. Another thing I feel is necessary in an advertising agency is an act called OVERcommunication. Tom Peters said that this was the act of reiterating a reiteration of a reiteration. This is the act of ensuring that colleagues and clients are always in the loop when a hiccup takes place in the process. If you’re slowly finding some budget creep on a project, wave a red flag. Communicate this with stakeholders, clients, partners and anyone who could benefit from this information. The sooner you can do this the better, waving a flag early presents you with the best opportunity to make an educated and well thought out decision.

Avoiding Burnout at an Agency

Advertising | Digital Marketing | Ross Simmonds You will quickly realize that at an  agency, you are expected to work a lot of hours. It isn’t rare that you will find an ad man working 60-80 hour work weeks. It’s easy to burnout and find yourself stressed or simply overworked. Some of the brightest in the business end up leaving simply because they can’t find that perfect work-life balance. While it’s important for the people above you to be aware and manage overwork, you need to do the same.

  • The Power of No: If you’re already working on so many projects that your bandwidth is running low, the word no will be your best friend. At a certain point, you have to begin taking and not taking projects strategically. If you feel a project could be done by anyone in the agency then it might not be worth taking. If a project comes along that requires some strategic thinking and will help further your career, take a lesson from Sir Mix-A-Lot and jump on it.
  • Stay Active: Reading does for the brain what working out does for the body. If you’re stuck at your desk all day for 8-10 hours and don’t take time to get exercise, sooner or later your health is going to take a hit. While a brown paper bag lunch is key to a healthy diet, exercise is key to keeping your sanity and preventing long term health problems. Whether you stay active by going to the gym or playing Ultimate Frisbee, these recreational activities will keep you sane. Also, realize that sometimes you’ve got to skip the peanut butter burger and go for something healthy. A healthy body is is a great way to keep a healthy mind.

So there you have it. That’s my personal Guide to Surviving life in an Ad Agency. I still have a lot to learn but these are a few things that have kept me trucking and doing some cool work over the past few months. If you have any suggestions or advice I’d love to hear them and I’m sure others would just the same. Just comment with your response and if you want to share this post, by all means, feel free.

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