So, you want to work in advertising?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today's Globe & Mail has an article about the most and least stressful jobs in today's market. Smack dab in the middle of the most stressful list, along with commercial airline pilot and surgeon, is my role: advertising account executive.

I'm surprised that it made the list, but not that it qualified for the dubious honour. There's this perception about the advertising industry that it's uber cool, laid-back, and fun. That we advertising folks collect insanely high paycheques while goofing around, playing air hockey and watching YouTubes all day with the occasional break for an alcohol and/or pot-fueled brainstorming session. This is only partially true. We spend some time schmoozing at glamourous parties, snorting coke off a stripper's tatas, and sleeping with our clients, too.

All kidding aside, the ad industry involves a lot of work and a hell of a lot of stress. Every client wants to feel like they are the one and only company you deal with. They need to feel the love--they are trusting you with their brands and their (significant) marketing dollars and you have to treat them accordingly. You're managing enormous budgets, ridiculous deadlines, and a team that can include creatives, suppliers, and outside vendors, all with very different personalities and objectives. You have to keep everyone informed of every step in the process, make sure the project is rolling along smoothly, deal with any number of emergencies that crop up, and all the while maintain a veneer of having your shit one thousand percent together.

Picture a duck swimming on a lake. On the surface it's gliding along, no sweat. Under the surface, the duck's feet are frantically paddling. This is how an ad exec feels 24/7. (Okay, maybe not 24/7, but certainly not 8/5). The hours are long. The paycheques are unimpressive. There is no glory--the creatives get to enjoy any of that for coming up with the big ideas and making the ads look pretty. The "suits" are generally regarded as unimaginative whip-crackers who have to play the heavy on every project, have zero personality, and restrict creativity by enforcing budgets and timelines. It's largely a tiring and thankless job, one that's super hard to turn off from when the workday finally ends.

"So why work in advertising?" you're probably wondering. There are plenty of great things about the industry. I'm lucky to work at an agency that's doing some awesome forward-thinking things, jumping into social media with both feet, and working with some very diverse and cool clients. I have fantastic coworkers and lots of opportunity to contribute creative ideas and suggestions. If there's something industry-related I'm interested in learning more about, I have that option. Blogging and Twitter-ing are encouraged. There's always a ton of food left over from client presentations and meetings, so even though I won't get rich doing this, I won't starve to death.

The thing I love most is being able to contribute strategically to something that could change business for a client. It's really satisfying to see a client's business grow or to read about a campaign that's gotten lots of recognition. It's nice to build a relationship that involves so much trust a client will essentially put their business in your hands.

I agree completely that advertising is one of the most stressful jobs around, but you can approach it in a way that helps you cope. It's not brain surgery. Ask yourself: "Is someone going to die if this idea bombs?" If you keep that in mind, have fun, know your client's business, stay on top of things, and show some initiative, you should be able to deal quite nicely.

The average ad exec agency "burnout" occurs after working in advertising for three years. If that happens, consider one of these careers which appear on the Globe & Mail's least stressful jobs list:

-Computer systems analyst
-Software engineer


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  1. I couldn't have said it better.

    It is especially stressful for us right now due to the economy. Budgets are being cut which means we have to do the same (or more!) with less, and some of our colleagues are getting laid off so we have to pick up the slack, too.

    And the glamorous parties are becoming fewer and farther between :(

    I need to read that article and become a historian like I always wanted to, anyway.

  2. You had me at "free leftover food"

    Sign up sheet? Where's the sign up sheet?

  3. Ginger...I know you can relate! I haven't been to a glitzy party since September. Horrors! :) We seem to be retaining our clients pretty well and getting some new business wins but it would be nice to have a bit more of a cushion, for sure.

    FB...seriously, SO MUCH food. You've heard of the Freshman 15? We all experience the Agency 15 (or more). Within the first year I started working at an agency I gained 15 pounds without even realizing it!

  4. figures that I don't really want to do anything on the less-stress job list :)

    I interned as an admin. assistant with a marketing firm in undergrad. one of the most interesting and challenging jobs ever-- but SO hectic. I was constantly working double the hours I had been hired for; there was just so much to do! but in the end, seeing that final marketing product and knowing you helped... it was pretty rewarding.

    so... where is that job where they play air hockey and watch YouTube all day? cause I want THAT one...

  5. I have given you an award! Check out my blog! :)

  6. This is perfect - I'm just going to send people to this blog when they ask me what I do.

    Thanks for saving me the time I'd otherwise spend trying to come up with something that would be vastly inferior to this.

  7. I gave you a lovely blogger award today!

  8. @Sarah it's a hectic field for sure. Air hockey and YouTube FTW!
    @Renee & Lindsey Thank you ;) You guys are too kind!
    @Kiri don't you find it impossible to explain to people what your job involves? My parents still don't know what I do...and no one understands why I'm stressed :)