‘It’s all about margins’: Confessions of an agency millennial

Every year, a new crop of wide-eyed recent college grads make their way into the world of advertising. While some stick around and end up climbing the corporate ladder, others get rudely spit out.

In our latest confession, we catch up with one of the latter: an ex-agency millennial who spent three years in a market research agency until being unceremoniously fired. We interviewed this person who has no plans of continuing to work in advertising, offering confidentiality in exchange for candor.


Did you always want to work in advertising?
I had a liberal arts degree so I was interested in research positions in general, not just advertising. I stumbled upon advertising by accident. I didn’t know much about the industry beforehand but that wasn’t an issue at my agency, because they train all incoming analysts. So as long as you’re willing to learn, you don’t have to come with a specific skillset at the entry-level.

You were recently let go. Did that catch you off guard?
I spent three years at my agency. The hardest part for me was that I had been there for quite a while. I’d been exploring other industries on the side, because I realized it wasn’t for me. But it’s still a blow. I think only certain kinds of people are cut out to work at agencies. You can’t be soft-spoken and can’t not speak up like me. You have to be OK being the client’s bitch.

What do you mean?
You’re always catering to the client’s needs. If a client comes to you on a Friday evening and says we’re changing everything, no one in an agency says no. Even if they know it’s not feasible to completely change everything by Monday, they won’t say no. I guess it’s because when you’re part of a holding company, you have to chase profits.

What were some of the other things you took away from your agency experience?
I’ve only worked at one agency, so I don’t know if this is widespread, but there’s a lot of politics. There are huge communication gaps. It’s very ironic because you’re in the business of communication and yet there are communication gaps. When you’re in the agency business and are working for clients, you’re at their beck and call. It is all about margins. The upper management is always thinking profits and revenue and how that reflects on them as far as the holding company is concerned. And the younger staffers are the ones doing the work and not getting valued.

What was it like as a lower-level employee?
Agencies need to start valuing their younger employees because if they don’t, why would they stick around? It works both ways. Older employees are also struggling because they haven’t been able to cope with things getting more and more automated.

Were there any positives?
You do develop a lot of friendships and relationships. And learn a lot of interpersonal skills and get to work across a breadth of industries. There’s also plenty of opportunities to move around in different departments within agencies these days. I’ve come to terms with the fact that it just wasn’t for me. I’ve learned a lot from the experience and am happy that it happened. I’ve just become more clear about the kind of life and career I want to have.

What do you wish you had done differently?
You can figure out pretty early on if agency life is for you. Like I said, a certain personality type thrives in such a high-pressure environment. I wish I had interned at an agency before because then I would’ve known or molded myself to be more fit to be in an agency. I would encourage people to get internship experience to get a sense of the dynamics.


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