5 Tips for When You’re Starting Out in Advertising

By Chris Vega, a Stanford graduate, Creative Resident/Copywriter at BBDO and the recipient of the 2017 Young Innovator Award.

Getting your first job in the advertising industry can take a lot of work. It can feel overwhelming having to navigate the complexities of agency life while also trying to make a name for yourself.

Whether you’re just starting out or you have a couple years of experience, you can make your life easier by remembering these 5 tips.

1. Look out for yourself
A lot of companies aren’t great about having reviews and making it clear what you need to do in order to get a promotion. That’s why many agencies have the reputation of not being able to retain talent. This effect is even more pronounced when you look at diverse talent. Unfortunately, a lot of people will tell you that most major promotions and raises come from moving to another company.

The main takeaway from this is that you have to look out for yourself. It’s easy to expect HR or your supervisor to have your best interests at heart. While they might, you can’t depend on anyone but yourself to look out for you. That’s why you have to keep a journal of your accomplishments. Every big project you complete. Every time a superior compliments your work. Every notable thing you do outside of work. Make a list of everything you can count as a success. When it comes time for you to make the case for a promotion, you’ll have a list of specific reasons why you deserve it.

2. Have friends in all places
The vast majority of jobs in any industry come from connections. Yes, sometimes you can blindly apply for a job and get a response. More often than not, jobs get filled through referrals or recruiters reaching out to people in their networks.

The best way to set yourself up for success is to make friends across the industry. Stay in contact with friends from school, previous jobs, or job-related organizations. Go to industry parties or events and talk to people. If there’s a club or networking group around you that you can join, check it out.

Most importantly, don’t be the annoying person obviously trying to make a contact so you can ask for something later. Just try to meet and stay in contact with people who seem interesting.

3. You have options
This applies to almost every part of your life when you’re starting out in the industry. You don’t have to live in the most expensive part of your city. You don’t always have to say yes to every single project if you’re completely swamped. You don’t have to stay at your company forever. It’s OK and actually a good idea to start looking for jobs before you actually need a new job.

Just remember, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Before you assume that you absolutely have to leave a job to progress, make sure you ask for what you want, whether it’s a raise or promotion. And be explicit about it.

4. Doing enough isn’t enough
Don’t just do what’s asked of you. If you want to see something happen at your job or in your industry that’s not already happening, don’t be afraid to be the one to initiate it. If you think it would be great to have an event that brings your team at work together, do it. If you have a great idea for a way to make your company better, pitch it to the appropriate people. If you want to start an organization or have a side gig, find the time to do it.

In general, try not to be boring. Instead of just wasting your free time, find a productive way to use it that will make you stand out at work and during job interviews.

5. Follow your fear
If public speaking scares you, do it as much as possible. If someone asks you to work on a big project but you’re not sure if you’re ready to tackle it, do it anyway. If you’ve been at your job for a long time and fear asking for a promotion, start the conversation.

That said, don’t just go into a situation unprepared and hope for the best. If you’re afraid of something, put in the extra effort to prepare yourself as much as possible. Just remember it’s OK to fail on the way to succeeding.

If you’re starting out in advertising or you’re interested in writing, concepting, or creativity, check out the Rock Star(t) Onboarding Series: Shortcuts to BIG Ideas.