I need ad agency career advice
March 15, 2012 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Ad agency/career filter: I'm 24. Sometimes I love my job, sometimes it stresses me out so much that I want to leave. An opportunity to move on has presented itself and now I'm panicking.

I work in a non-creative role at a small agency in the burbs of a large major city. It is my first job out of college, I've been here for two years. A lot of people I work with are great; others, not so much.

It's a pretty poorly managed and disorganized shop - a lot of clients have dropped us in the last few months and a lot of people have been laid off. That said, I've gotten an amazing opportunity to learn a ton of things I probably wouldn't have learned at a major shop; conversely, there's also a lot of important things that I have NOT learned because we're so scrappy and unorganized (for instance, billing - pretty important, right? I understand none of it). On top of that, they pay me outstandingly well for someone with my low experience level - likely a result of poor management, and possibly as a way of trying to "trap" me here because they are so understaffed.

For the hell of it, I sent out my resume to some contacts that used to work with me and have gotten a response from another independently-owned agency in another suburb on the other side of town. They want to set up an interview. It's bigger and it looks like they do better work. Awesome!

...Except I'm not feeling awesome. I'm starting to feel trapped and anxious. Like leaving one small suburban agency to go work at another small suburban agency is being...really unambitious. Like if I leave this place, I need to leave for something big, like a big world-renowned agency in a big city like NY or SF.

My questions:

1) From what I understand, the career path of people in advertising tends to be to start at big national agencies when you're young and get it on your resume, THEN move on to bigger/senior positions at smaller shops as your career progresses. Is it ever the reverse?

2) Should I even move to this other agency if given the opportunity? They do good work and have great clients, but likely won't pay me as well as they are at my current job. I'm trying to figure out if moving on to somewhere else "for the hell of it" (as opposed to following my dream of being at a big agency in a big city) is a good idea.

3) If the other agency made an offer, how bad does it reflect on me to my friend/contact if I interview and turn the offer down? How would one go about doing that? What if I accepted the offer but then decided to start searching for another job in, say, NY after a few months/a year if I'm not feeling it? Does the short stint look bad on my resume? Will large shops be put off by my only experience being in podunk agencies?

I really would love to hear advice from people who have worked in advertising longer than I have. I set up an email at advertisingcareeradvice@gmail.com for anyone who would rather message me.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Like leaving one small suburban agency to go work at another small suburban agency is being...really unambitious.

Why? Plenty of good things are being done outside of the big agencies and outside of NY and SF.

If you haven't applied or searched NY or SF yet, you may be months or even years away from getting there. In the meantime, your current firm is downsizing and losing business. It sounds like a pretty smart move, even if it's short-term and just to get a different experience or to avoid getting cut from a firm that's dying.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 12:18 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Moving frm a job you have, especially your *first* job is always wraught with anxiety, and that's normal. But you sound like you have sized things up and know what to do, just are nervous about doing it. As the above stated - moving to a decent shop that is a little bit bigger and better run is another stepping stone. You're still young and have lots of time to get to a big agency if that ends up being what you want to do.. but getting some more insight/experience in another workplace wll do you good and give you more perspective.
posted by rich at 12:22 PM on March 15, 2012

Yeah, seriously! Go to the new agency for about two years, and then pack up and head for NY or SF if you still want to. You may not—and that's ok, too.

I got my start at three small agencies in Atlanta. When I was 26, I moved to NY. Now I'm at Big Agency, doing Big Work.

It has worked out totally in my favor.
posted by functionequalsform at 12:25 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I spent a lot of time at small agencies and only recently moved up to bigger ones ( this is all in NY) and I kind of wish I had done it sooner. I really liked the groovy do-everything pace of the smaller agencies, so that was great, but if my goal is to get into senior management then it's going to take me a bit longer to do that I think than if I had gone the other way around.
posted by sweetkid at 1:02 PM on March 15, 2012

And here's an opinion from the flip side of functionequalsform: the guy that never made the jump.

I'm underappreciated but reasonably paid in a small agency, and am so caught up in the Comfort Trap that I have started to kind of hate myself: I'm better than the agency I'm at, but too geographically far away from the major cities to ever make the contacts I need to transition to a "better" one.

I've got an unemployed wife, a paid-off house, and a car. We get by fine on what I make, but have no safety net or cushion that could cover an on-spec move to see what else is out there.

I spin my wheels for 50 hours a week, getting some grinding satisfaction at occasionally driving through clever work in a place where conservative clients demand numbingly mundane creative.

I'm almost 40. Every day I wake up and I walk to work and I have no idea of how to get out of this loop; how I can find the courage to ditch everything on a financially ruinous gamble, or somehow make contact with the people I'd need to far, far away from me to make a shift that would guarantee some sort of safety.

You're 24. You seem single. Please listen to me: get the fuck out. You deserve to give yourself every chance to do whatever the hell you want in life, and a couple of weeks of uncertainty, or even a few years of discomfort, will be more than worthwhile down the road.

I chose relative comfort and relative ease, and never made the big leap.

I chose wrong.
posted by TheFlak at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

I don't know anything about your industry per se but would be wary of taking this job with an assumption that you might want to move in a few months. That would be ok I think but what if the next place (the third) actually has some unforeseen problems? You may feel trapped there because you don't want to look too job-hoppy. It sounds like you should prob take this one for a range of reasons but unless it's actually bad I would suggest against planning a quick move. I think you get a couple of opportunities to do that and you fon't want to waste one on a company that is mostly a good gig. Give it a while- 2/3 years in my profession but prob different in yours. Someone else can advise on that. I doubt it's 2-3 months though. Safe that kind of job hopping for a really bad gig!
posted by jojobobo at 1:57 PM on March 15, 2012

2 years at your first agency is decent for the ad industry. I would totally move to get experience with different clients.
posted by dripdripdrop at 2:45 PM on March 15, 2012

OK, here's the thing - you don't have the job yet. Just an offer of an interview. And that's the beautiful thing. You do not need this job. You aren't even sure you need it yet.

So take the interview. You get to interview them as much as they're interviewing you. Accepting the interview places you under no obligation to take the job. You may find it's a totally awesome place to work. You may find it's a scary place. You may make some contacts for the future. Whatever the case, interviewing is free and I've always found it to be worth it. I've always had my best interviews when I was in a position where I did not need the job.

Go see what's there and if it's for you. And also, trust me, taking a pay cut to change jobs is not necessarily a bad thing. Good luck.
posted by azpenguin at 8:41 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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