In the last few years, there has been a growing sense of disillusionment about the advertising industry.
The "smart ones" are leaving the industry for supposedly better prospects with tech platforms such as Facebook, Google and the likes. Meanwhile the "talented ones" are putting their creative juices to more appreciative fields, like film-making or writing "best sellers".
The "ruthless ones" are moving over to the dark side and becoming clients, while the "entrepreneurial ones" are starting something on their own. The ones left behind are desperately networking with the above-mentioned to jump ship the moment the opportunity arises.
Within a week or less of being in their new role, all of them take every available opportunity to disparage the ad industry. They complain bitterly of the hours, lament nonstop about the lack of creativity, bitch in soft tones about fellow colleagues and praise in loud voices about their new jobs like they just signed a billion-dollar Hollywood movie deal.
I started my career in advertising by chance rather than choice, and I worked in the industry for 15 years- never once regretting, and forever grateful. Did I have my share of unreasonable clients, pompous creative directors and nasty traffic managers? Of course yes.
Did I do more work for supermarkets and ATM booths than work that made a difference to clients’ business? Totally! Did I spend my weekends checking colour proofs and Friday nights waiting for copy approvals? On more occasions than I care to remember.
However, I am still so happy that I took up my first Account Executive job, because most of the good things in my life, including my current job as a consultant, have all been thanks to this industry. The top 5 things that a career in advertising offered me:
Jack/Jill of all knowledge
Working in an agency usually involves working on different accounts. From insurance to FMCGs and IT to automotive, you need to learn about each industry you work in within a few weeks, or sometimes days.
You gain the ability to absorb material very fast and learn to appreciate varying viewpoints while still have your own point of view. You learn to listen to problems and offer solutions that no one has ever considered before. You acquire the art of distilling complex and lengthy information in to an insight, a headline or a call to action and learn the difference between the three.
Life management skills
Whether it’s keeping calm in a crisis (which in this world can mean the client changing the brief a week before launch, or finding the CD and the intern in a compromising position in the IT room), you are a master at dealing with it all.
So when your six-year old informs you about his Literary Character Day Parade the day before, you don’t panic like mortal parents. You jump into action, put your acquired resourcefulness to good use, and create the most kick-ass costume ever. Or if you are besties with your art director, someone else does it for you.
You learn to manage all kinds of timelines. An ex-colleague asked her wedding planner for the CTP (Critical Time Path) for the wedding planning and proceeded to give an hour-long lecture of keeping to deadlines and pre-empting client needs. The wedding planner took notes.
Working in advertising teaches you to deal – whether it’s dealing with a new job (which you probably got because of the skills the advertising job taught you), or with your mother-in-law, who like a fussy client never thinks what you do is good enough.
Culture of creativity
Working in advertising allows you to understand the importance of words and visuals and the magic created when they come together.
You constantly strive to make things better. There is nothing more invigorating than coming up with ideas as team or letting inspiration strike, just about anywhere and fishing out your phone (or desperately looking for a napkin in the good ol’ days), to jot down the thought. You are surrounded by bright, creative people who will challenge (and sometimes infuriate you), but rest assured, never bore you. If you are looking for a way to stay young forever, work in advertising.
Friends for life
Except for my family and childhood friends, the majority of my friends are from the industry. Some of my closest friends are the ones who I started my advertising career with, and over the years the repertoire had grown.
CDs, planners, fellow-suits, project managers and even clients, you name it and they are all on my friend list. Not just Facebook friends, but real friends that I still meet regularly. We share a similar wavelength and are like-minded. Whether it’s the jokes, the pop culture references or exchanging war stories, there is no one like advertising friends.
If you have worked in this industry for a few years, you will naturally gravitate towards this crowd. You can spot them at a distance in boring events and they are always the "cool kids" who are having a ball at any party- no matter how lame it is. Hell, they know how to create their own party, no matter where they are.
But perhaps most importantly, they simply get you.
Fun, Fun and did I mention fun?
Besides your hen night (which was probably organised by one of your ad friends), what are the truly great parties that you can’t forget - primarily because you can’t remember most of it? Chances are they are the parties with your advertising friends. Who are the friends you turn to when you need to blow off steam or simply shoot the breeze? Who do you enjoy hanging out with, no plans, no agendas?
Who can you sit with and reminisce about crazy times and still laugh at the same stories?
It may be the annual Christmas party, a brainstorming session or an early morning pitch presentation, any situation can be made fun.
And yes, when you forget to have fun, its time you should quit (and join a bank).
Some years ago, a graduate approached me for an advertising internship opportunity. I explained that the pay would be next to negligible, the days would be long and the work would be hard. I advised that salary comparisons with banker friends would lead to depression and there would be constant complaints from friends and families about your working hours.
I was then innocently asked, "Will you be telling me the good things about advertising?" I laughed and said, "It's bloody fantastic! You will either love it and thrive or hate it and not survive. But you will only endure if you have the passion, love for solving problems, enthusiasm for seeing your work live in print, video (or on screen) every single time, desire to learn and get better. And the passion to do it all again, over and over."
For everyone who has ever left and thinks they are in a better place, good for them. But for heaven’s sake, acknowledge what this industry has given you and appreciate what you have learned here. And if you can't, just go for drinks with your old ad buddies and remember those totally fabulous times which simply cannot be recreated outside the ad world.
Raise a toast to the advertising industry and wherever you may be now, remember where you came from.
The author is Seema Punwani is principal consultant at R3.