A Young Creative's Experiences in Today's Ad Agency Business

By Madison Avenue Makeover Archives
Cover image for  article: A Young Creative's Experiences in Today's Ad Agency Business

How much has agency life changed in the digital/social age? Is it fundamentally different, or is it déjà vu all over again? Laura Vancil's (pictured above) agency experiences answer both. Vancil, a young copywriter at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, joined the agency three years ago after graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She was initially a "floater" in the office, working solo on projects. Now she has an art director partner and is part of a classic two-person creative team. Laura shared her thoughts and experiences with Michael Farmer of MediaVillage.

As a new copywriter in 2016, I wrote some banner headlines and fought to get on a couple of good briefs. I was initially put in a silo where we took a digital-first, real-time approach to client briefs, and where discussions tended to be about Twitter copy length and Instagram story formats. This wasn't particularly satisfying.

The agency has since changed its structure, and digital is no longer in siloed teams. It's now part of the way we work, but not the only way we work. With the new structure, we can develop "big ideas" that have digital dimensions. This has provided more opportunity and growth.

Newhouse taught me how to get a job in advertising, but not how to have a job in advertising. Most of the skills I use at my job I've learned from working on the job. I've learned how to present to clients. I've learned about directors and production companies. I've learned how to write a script. The majority of my projects now include writing 30-second TV spots, just like creatives did in the "good old days." I love writing TV scripts more than anything else.

The approval process can be extremely tiresome. There is an internal approval layer and then the client approval layer. Each of these layers has a thousand mini-layers underneath. You learn to fight for the integrity of the creative until the very end. In some cases, it's almost more satisfying to have something approved internally than externally. Our chief creative officer sees dozens of scripts daily. Approval by our CCO feels very important to me.

When the work gets to our clients, there's a more complicated dynamic. Work can easily die in their hands. You might have included a cat in your script, and the client has a weird thing about cats. The cat script dies. If the client's boss's niece doesn't think a script is funny, it might not go ahead. The process is exciting, but it's rarely simple or speedy.

I'm happy to have an art director partner. It's nice to have someone keeping you in check — and someone to bounce ideas off of, or someone to cover for you when you most need it.

Does our work "move brands in some way?" It depends. All of our briefs include a section that asks, "What does success look like?" Sometimes it's an awareness or branding play; other times it's a bit more granular. One of our clients — a hotel chain — wants its communications to boost direct bookings, so we always include "book direct" language in our advertising. In other situations, it depends on the brief or the media buy. A low-funnel banner brief defines success differently from a Super Bowl TV brief.

We have a culture of "disruption" at TBWA, and the agency continues to put a premium on creativity. I love it. I fully drink the Kool-Aid. I see our work and feel genuine pride in it. I get excited when I hear that so-and-so sold-in her script, and that someone else is traveling for a big project. Everyone here is producing all the time. It feels really good.

It's hard to turn off work at night. Hard work is the key to success, so I don't mind the long hours or the all-consuming nature of the job. I also don't have a family, or health issues, or other people to take care of. In this sense, I'm freed up to focus on work. More money would certainly help. If I had a family and children, I don't know what it would be like. Only a few of my creative directors have children. That looks hard!

Mentorship is important. New employees should find a mentor, or someone they like, and latch onto them. Advocacy is so important in this industry. If you can connect with a good leader, you have a better chance of developing.

College graduates should forget about cold online applications for agency jobs. It's a waste of time. Networking is still critical. Get out there to meet people — that's how jobs are found.

When you do get hired, pitch the kind of things you'd actually want to make. I spent a lot of time writing ideas that I thought might appeal to someone else, somewhere. Often, though, those ideas did not excite me personally. It was probably obvious. If your own work makes you laugh or cry or feel some emotion, it will probably have the same effect on someone else.

Someone with my background might find alternative career prospects with consulting firms, but that does not interest me. I'm on Madison Avenue, working with some of the most talented people in the business. I wouldn't trade anything for that.

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