Square peg, meet round hole.
June 7, 2010 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Some career advice needed, specifically as relates to the intersection of advertising/marketing, interactive, and art direction. (long)


How do I reconcile two skillsets that are rapidly diverging, specifically in advertising


Full copy:

I need a bit of a hand navigating a difficult career path, here. First, a little background:

I have been working in advertising/marketing (specifically interactive) for eleven years, now. I have experience with a variety of types of client, ranging from financial, consumer package goods, pharmaceutical, communications, health and beauty care, and femcare.

I came into the industry as a jr. art director, worked my way up to art director, and then a curious thing happened: Flash gained some traction. My agency at the time needed one of the AD's to pick it up and I stepped up to the plate, feeling it would be a useful skill to learn. My knowledge of how to develop in Flash grew with the tool itself... from strict timeline work to AS1, to now using OOP design patterns in AS3. If I may toot my own horn a bit, I really am quite good at it, and I really do like bringing designs to life -- from the animation to the functionality.

Here's the problem: At my current agency, the rich media team is looked at strictly as part of the dev department, and is completely divorced from any part of the creative process. I basically like the agency (and there are in fact a few points that make me very loyal to it), but this balkanization of departments is a big issue for me on a personal and professional level. Having been there for three years now, I feel frustrated to not be using any sort of conceptual skills that I worked to develop, frustrated at not having any creative input into my own work, and frustrated at having poorly comped and storyboarded work lobbed over the fence at me by jr. AD's fresh out of college who don't trust my design judgment because I am in another department.

Compounding things is the fact that there is presently no attractive career path for me at this agency. Since I am classed as being in our dev department, the only path upward is purely technical. Since the agency doesn't really appear to value high-level input of developers, the ceiling in that path is quite low. It caps out before the director level...forget about anything higher.

When I started in this industry, I wanted to eventually path into creative direction. Here, that option is essentially unavailable to me.

For the sake of reference, my eleven years roughly break down to the following:
  • 5 years as AD (including some while also working with Flash)
  • 4 years as strict multimedia development
  • 2 years as hybrid -- predominately Flash, picking up art when needed, concepting new projects, under the creative team
At no time have I ever been on such a divergent career track than I had charted. I spoke recently to our VP of creative about taking on more of a creative role and he seemed very open to the idea, though he did balk some and hedged around how hard it was to change seats after you've been pigeon-holed at an agency. Since that conversation about 3 months ago, I've been tossed a single bone...and it was really more of a production job.

They did however, talk to me about the possibility of switching back over to the art side of things. As a Jr. AD.

Now, I'm not too keen to take that. I haven't been a junior anything in 10 years, and that not only be resetting my progression from a position of seniority, but would slash my salary by more than half. I honestly think it's a bit of an insulting lowball due to the general disdain our agency has for the dev team, but I can't exactly counter it since my design portfolio is out of date at this point. I tend to not think it's a valid assessment of my value in that capacity, as I have been offered ACD roles at the agencies of former colleagues in another city as recently as March. Alas that I am locked into a mortgage and can not relocate. It feels more like a round dismissal.

Also mentioned was the possibility of creating a new role. That's intriguing, but a bit scary. The economy is fragile, and new roles seem like they get cut easily. I'm not opposed to it, however, I just need to make sure I have some sort of concrete value to add in such a role.

I suppose taking on freelance design work would help some. It would give me something recent to show, so I'll get on that...but I am going nuts in the meantime.

One more facet: I have recently taken on the mantle of point-guy for multimedia accessibility in our agency. Not that somebody else could not fill that role, but it's not a terrible spot to be in, and I have helped play a significant role in turning around a large client's perception of us as an agency by working hand-in-hand with their accessibility people.

How should I navigate this?

What could I bring to the table as a new role? I feel like it's beneficial to have people around who speak the language of both creative and development -- especially when so few developers these days come from a creative background, and so many designers working interactive have no real clue how to design for interaction and animation.

Should I instead seek out another agency? I really don't want to start over elsewhere if I can fix this where I am.

Should I remain where I am? I'm not happy! I like my work and love my teammates, but I see no future and don't feel valued at a high level.

This situation is causing me no small amount of stress. What would you do?
posted by kaseijin to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: For what it's worth, I am also doing iPhone/iPad and WordPress development presently... so it's not strictly a "I have a single tool" issue... but rather an "I really don't want to just do development" issue.
posted by kaseijin at 4:56 PM on June 7, 2010

It sounds to me like you'd be a good fit for a role that deals with overall project management, user experience, and information design. Does the agency have project leads for those positions? It seems that sort of position would have you in the initial design phase straight through to development. Since you've already taken point on dealing with accessibility issues as well as working on interaction development, much of the job of the UX lead is already in your basket. Arguably, this is already your job, but codifying it by putting on the title might help get you a seat at the design table, as well as expand your duties to encompass the creative side of the projects.
posted by thebestsophist at 7:12 PM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Over 20+ years, I worked at 2 large agencies. I started in IT, but ended up in a supervisory digital marketing strategy role after wearing multiple hats for many, many years.

My quick take on your situation, and the likely outcome is this...

In my experience, large agencies don't know what to do with self-starters that end up wearing many hats. You are a square peg, and they really only have round holes to fill.

As you've no doubt noticed, the digital workforce is becoming more and more specialized. And, someone with your highly marketable Flash skills is most valuable in the current production role (that you're not very fond of).

I've been out on my own for a bit more than a year now and really couldn't be happier. I earn quite a bit less than I used to, but the happiness factor is off the scale. I get to do whatever I want to do, or whatever needs to be done.

I think someone with your skills, and I've worked with many folks in your exact position, would be quite happy at a small agency where you could continue to wear multiple hats & also get to tap all your skills.

If you have some sales skills, and a good understanding of interactive marketing, you might do well partnering up with a coder/sysadmin type, and the two of you could rock the world. The iPhone skills you're developing are in very high demand.

Good luck. MeMail me if you wanna chat sometime.
posted by bricksNmortar at 12:04 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Create your own role, in the long run that really helps. Integrate your strengths with others needs. That will help
posted by bostonman at 9:03 PM on June 9, 2010

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