Five Things Advertising Newbies Need To Know |

Five Things Advertising Newbies Need To Know

You’re fresh out of school and itching to be a part of some boundary-pushing advertising. You can’t wait to put all that learning into practice and you’re on your way to making your mark in the industry.

That is, until you get your first job at an ad agency. That’s when things come to a screeching halt. You find yourself being the official note-taker in meetings. Refilling the coffee pot. And photocopying everyone else’s stuff. You’re getting passed around from one person to another, and all of them are just trying to “keep you busy”.

You’re getting passed around from one person to another, and all of them are just trying to “keep you busy”.

Congratulations. You are now officially paying your dues. And it sucks. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating, because you know you can do so much more. But realizing that this isn’t going to last forever and having a plan will help set the course for your career and maintain your sanity. (The latter is not guaranteed.)

Here are five important things you should know when starting your advertising career:


Most new advertising grads want to work for the “big agencies”. Anything with an acronym will do, really. TBWA, DDB, JWT, Y&R, whatever. But with the economy still recovering, small-to-medium sized agencies are thriving thanks to their ability to be nimble and cost-efficient for their dollar-conscious clients. What’s more, they provide the perfect opportunity for newbies to cross-train and experience a broad range of roles in an agency. They are dynamic and non-traditional and provide a totally different experience when compared to their mammoth counterparts.

Most new advertising grads want to work for the “big agencies”. Anything with an acronym will do, really. TBWA, DDB, JWT, Y&R, whatever.

Do your research on the ad industry in your market. Follow agencies and creative shops on Twitter. Subscribe to their YouTube feeds. Fan them on Facebook. Understand which agencies you want to work for and why. And remember, just because one doesn’t work out for you, doesn’t mean others won’t.


Today, at your fingertips, you have access to the largest knowledge network in history: the internet. There is no excuse for not being resourceful. Become a master of the interwebs. Don’t understand something? Chances are, there are videos, tutorials, articles, discussion forums, presentations, FAQs and white papers. If someone asks you a question, it’s fine to answer with “I don’t know” but just be sure you finish with “but I’ll find out”.

Persistence and inquisitiveness go a long way. Remember the old saying; where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just know that some things may take a little longer and a little more patience than others.


Advertising agencies may vary in size and structure, but chances are, you work with some really creative and intelligent folks. If you don’t take the time to understand what they do and how they do it, you may be hindering your ability to win friends and influence people. Advertising is a relationship business, and it starts from inside the agency. Pay attention. Observe. Ask questions. (Not too many, though. Don’t be a pest.) Respect other people’s time. And most importantly, LISTEN.


If you’re really passionate about advertising, get involved in the industry. Volunteer for local organizations and attend as many industry events as you can. You’ll meet people from other agencies and start to build your network. (Trust me, it will come in handy down the road.) Stay informed and up-to-date by subscribing to local, national and international advertising blogs. If your agency has a training budget, use it. Never stop learning.


Working in advertising isn’t easy. It’s a volatile industry. Clients and budgets come and go. Agencies shrink and grow. People get laid off, even the good ones. And it will probably happen to you at some point. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how many times or how hard you fall. What matters is how quickly you can pick yourself up.

Jenn Wallis joined the advertising industry in 1999 and has a strong foundation of client-side, freelance and agency experience. She currently works for Fusion Communications Group as an Strategic Account Manager. In her spare time, Jenn writes a blog ( about the advertising industry. She has also volunteered for the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS) since 2003 and more recently, worked with a talented team of volunteers to launch F Cancer. Living in Vancouver, Jenn is a lover of scotch, television commercials and the smell of freshly printed brochures.

  • Yay Jenn! Nice one hun! 🙂

  • Johnson

    Great post, really enjoyed this!

  • Susan

    Thanks for sharing your experience working in the ad business Jenn. I found it quite interesting.

  • I would add several others, in no particular order. 1) Start with the the knowledge that advertising, marketing and selling are part of a continuum. They all have to work together, or none of them work. 2) Advertising is the art of persuading people that you have a solution to their needs. It does not mean fooling them with baloney. 3) The agency is unlikely to help you learn to do anything. Too many consider it lost income, not an investment. 4) As was pointed out, people get laid off, as budgets change. Especially in large agencies, you are a cog in a machine, and considered equally replaceable. That’s why they rarely invest in their employees training. 5) Most advertising, as done today, is only rarely effective, except by accident. It is part of your _job_ to educate the client on how to advertise most effectively. _You_ are the expert, and they probably don’t know anything about how, or what, to do. They want an effective message, and are not just spending money.
    If you see the client as a cow to be “milked,” you may stay in business, but it will catch up to you at some point.Your reputation, as well as that of your agency, is your only source of income. If either, or both, get a bad one, forget having a career. Business leaders are getting smarter, and won’t be fooled indefinitely. If they don’t see expected results, they will go to another agency. Which means layoffs at the one they leave.