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Lessons learned from working at an advertising agency

I have been client side for my entire career and although I would love to work at an agency, I have not had the opportunity to until recently. I spent the past month with a local agency learning more about client acquisition and pitching while helping them with their social media presence and content.

I learned a lot during my time there and tried to take more comprehensive notes when I heard something that made me think more closely about client relationships and the creative process. Some of my favorite takeaways were:

Your creative is only as good as your client.

Since the client has the ultimate say in what pieces get approved, and what direction to take, they can adjust advertisements. While this helps the creative team get more feedback about the client’s end goal or can help drive the direction of the campaign, it can negatively impact the amount of creativity allowed into a final cut.

Being on the client side, I thought our role was to help direct spots or photography in the direction we thought best for recipients. In the future, I will keep in mind that letting creatives do their best work may not be what I expected but may be what a brand or advertisement needs.

Open up creative thinking before adding constraints.

Creatives think big. Not always tactically minded (and for good reason), their best creative comes from dreaming up possibilities. By not understanding what’s possible or not, they can ideate and then figure out how to make it possible. Adding constraints too early can hinder free-thinking.

I liked the idea that creativity happens within constraints. If you look at innovations (especially reverse innovation) and successful ventures, they invent something that allows them to succeed in the environment they are subject to. Especially in developing countries, innovations can be created with plenty of constraints like no electricity, no running water, and minimal education. However, speaking with the team helped me to understand that creative ideation and entrepreneurship may have two different processes.

Under-promise and over-deliver.

I have heard this piece of advice several times as I work with freelancers or have spoken to others in marketing. It works well in sales too, especially when it comes to pitching clients, so they understand the potential realities of their situation and then can be more taken with the outcome.

It’s a great tactic that level-sets expectations and leaves customers happy with you when you get back to them sooner, create a greater affect, or surprise them with a better outcome. 

What have you learned from spending time in a new environment?

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