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March 10, 2009


The work

Entry-level positions on the business side tend to come in two forms: the management training-type jobs, and the administrative assistant jobs. Some agencies hire recent grads into positions with titles "assistant account executive," or "assistant media planner" -- these are management track positions, and generally involve some kind of formal training program. Other agencies make entry-level employees start out as administrative assistants -- these usually lead to promotions and management-type jobs, but they are heavy on administrative drudgery. "If you don't want to be someone's secretary," warns a staff assistant at a large agency, "apply for a job with a training program, and make sure you find out exactly what your job will entail when you interview."

The best thing about the creative side of advertising is the variety. Says one copywriter at a New York agency, "I work on something new every day. There is very little monotony. One day I'll be writing the back cover copy for frozen dinners, and the next I'll be working on a poster for an in-house promotion." Our contacts also like the fact that advertising "is a very young business."


Our contacts at major advertising agencies admit that "it's not the most racially diverse business -- 90 percent of the minorities in an agency are either in support positions or in the mailroom." And while there are not too many minorities on the account side, there are even fewer minority creatives. "There are some Asians, mostly art directors," one source says, and hardly any blacks or Hispanics." The reason for this, notes a black creative, is that "in general, minorities don't know very much about the profession. And there are few minorities in the industry, so that means minorities have fewer contacts in the industry." In addition, one black creative points out that "some minorities are reluctant to fight their way into a lily-white industry that doesn't even pay that well. Smart minorities would rather fight to become bankers and lawyers, so at least it would be worth the money."

Openness to gay employees "depends on the agency and the clients." As one source remarks, "It really varies, down to the specific department and account. It's impossible to generalize."

The male-female ratio is a different story. "Women have definitely made an impact on this industry," remarks one male account executive, "at least on the account side." Advertising agencies tend to be open to flexible scheduling when it comes to employees with children, so "you'll see a lot of women coming back after having children. Some even work part-time." In creative, "women are more likely to be producers than anything else," reports a female art director. "It's very common to see a male copywriter/art director team with a female producer." As far as art direction and copywriting, "there's an abysmal number of women." Many women complain that female creatives are not given a lot of respect: "Some men are suspicious of female creatives," one woman notes. Adds another, "I've seen instances where they wouldn't have a female copywriter work on copy for feminine products."

At the highest levels, "men are still the majority," notes a source, "but women are definitely able to make it to high levels." Women like Sherry Lansing are opening the road for women in the upper ranks and acting as mentors to younger counterparts. Women in the industry emphasize the importance of networking when it comes to getting ahead. "Other women know what you're dealing with," notes a producer, "and they'll share what they've learned -- it's the same thing men have been doing in the business for years."


Hours can range from "35 to 40 max" to "50 hours on a regular basis." "Some weeks it'll get up to 75, during a crunch," notes an art director, "and I've had to work weekends -- but it's pretty cyclical." One contact in the new business department of a different agency reports similar hours. Work in creative "tends to be cyclical," says one contact. "Either you're busy beyond belief or you're taking long lunches to go see matinees. As long as you get your work done, you're pretty much fine." "If you work late one night," adds another, "they don't mind if you come in a bit later the next day. And if you want to work outside the office once in a while, that's fine too."

Competition/moving up

"Advertising seems to be a business full of people who sort of fell into it," remarks a recent entrant to the industry. "There are a lot of liberal arts grads in advertising who never really intended get into advertising, but now they're here." However they get there, they have the opportunity for successful careers. "The career path in advertising is actually quite promising," claims an advertising insider. "Whether you move around (which is typical for the industry) or stick to the same company (which hardly happens), opportunity abounds." Notes a creative, "I have the potential to make a very good living doing work I love, and working closely with a team of people." "If you're good at what you do, and you're good with people," adds an account coordinator in a health care advertising firm, "it's not difficult to get ahead." There is not as much competition between co-workers as one might think. "We're here to please the clients, and agencies really try to foster teamwork,"says an insider.

Compared to other industries, advertising does have a pretty high turnover rate. People usually switch jobs every one to three years -- more so early on in their careers. According to insiders, "you usually stay in your first job for at least a year, maybe two -- depending on whether or not you get promoted." Advertising professionals on both sides move to different agencies for more money and for higher positions. For creatives, most say that "more than three years at one agency, and you might as well be dead." This is not a hard and fast rule, however. "Sometimes there's a turn of fate, and you move up because someone's left the agency, creating a space for you to move up." "In that case," one creative director notes, "you might stick around longer." "Basically," one art director explains, "headhunters will start calling you one day, asking if you're happy; and maybe they'll mention an opportunity that you're looking for." Industry insiders recommend maintaining relationships with headhunters, even if you don't need them all the time. "Recommend a friend, or just tell them you're not interested right now, but remember, you might be the one calling them one day."

Big agency vs. small

"The thing to remember is that large agency equals corporate life, with all the good and bad baggage that comes along." Smaller agencies will require you to "juggle more responsibilities, as your job will probably encompass work from more than one 'department.'" For creatives, "working at a small agency first will allow you to be as wacky as possible. You can afford to try the crazy stuff early on, and move on to the boring but stable work at a larger agency when you've got a family to support."


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