When I started writing for an advertising agency, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard about the high stress and late nights. I’d seen Mad Men. But as a young writer a year out of college, I figured I might as well jump right in and channel my inner Don Draper — with a little less boozing and womanizing, of course.
Obvious cultural references aside, I’m so glad I jumped. In my experience, agency life is pretty rad, especially if you’re looking to jump start your professional career.
Agency life moves fast. Really fast. Granted, this isn’t the case for all agencies or all projects, but most of my projects have started at a dead sprint. The only way to keep up was to learn fast, and work faster. Then all of a sudden the project’s over, and you have just enough time to take a breath before you’re thrown head first into the next task. Though it’s stressful sometimes, the speed is exhilarating and keeps me on my toes. The pace also makes you hyper aware of your limitations. I learned, very quickly, how to budget my time and prioritize in a high-pressure setting.
The pace of agency life bears a work-hard-play-hard culture that attracts some of the sharpest people I’ve ever met. They’re always thinking; always cranking out amazing work. As a junior writer, it’s intimidating, and it can be overwhelming.
But more importantly, it’s motivating to be surrounded by smart people with more experience — it sets a high standard that makes your work better as a result.
And when it all gets to be too much — well, that’s where the play-hard part of the equation comes in.
Since hours at the office can get long, and no one wants a hangry employee, there’s always free food somewhere. It may seem trivial, but let’s be real — free food is the tops. From coffee and snacks to lunch meeting leftovers, the freebies can really add up. And if you’re a recent college grad or (in my case) recovering from a cross-country move, any help counts.
At a big agency, you’re exposed to a wide spectrum of projects and clients on a daily basis, whether you work on them or not. If you play your cards right, you could end up working on some seriously big projects for brands with huge reach, which is really valuable experience for your portfolio or resume. Plus, it’s just freaking cool.
Someone told me once that people who work at agencies are just gluttons for punishment. We throw ourselves into our work, create something we think is awesome, only to be torn to shreds repeatedly in review after review. We come in early and stay late. We lose sleep the night before a deadline. We work through lunch. We drink too much coffee. We say never again. But we always come back.
I haven’t worked at an agency long enough to claim that this is always true, or a good or bad thing. Obviously, there’s a give and take. But I can say that there’s a unique sense of camaraderie that comes from rallying together to get it done. It’s addictive. Maybe I’m naïve, and maybe I did, as one of my coworkers said, “Drink the Kool-Aid,” but I love the rush of it all.
Sure, working extra hours makes it hard to maintain a work-life balance. And yeah, working through lunch isn’t always fun. But if you’re like me and you want to learn from brilliant people in an environment that demands your A-Game every single day, then agency life is worth a shot. Plus, there will probably be snacks involved. And everyone likes snacks.