Rachel, I’m at a bigger agency. Help!
It's a whole different world with new demands
December 8, 2005
Four days ago I started at a big interactive agency, part of an enormous full-service agency, as a senior project manager. I’ve always worked for small companies and agencies, and this job is a shock to the system, to say the least. Suddenly it’s all about answering to investors and the parent company and making sure that we watch out for laws that came about because of Enron, etc. It’s really intense. I totally feel like a fish out of water and a bit overwhelmed. Well, more than a bit. Can you give me some advice as to how to survive in this new world of mine?–Suddenly Small in NYC
I talked to industry veterans who have worked for both large and small agencies, and they say the best way to survive and get ahead is to align yourself with the right people, those most passionate about their work.
Find the group within the agency that is most driven by great work and get close to them. Try to get involved in the accounts with the most nurturing client relationships. That is to say, clients who most value great work.
“You’ll be trying to carve out your own creative culture, protected by clients who back you and sing your praises,” says Britton Upham, who formerly worked for a large agency, the Richards Group in Dallas, and now is director of account service for McGarrah/Jessee, a smaller agency in Austin. “That’s your insurance. But it won’t be easy. It’ll require some calculated steps, some reputation-building first, and ultimately your plan coming together.”
Remember that going to a new agency, large or small, is an adjustment. It’s figuring out the most important things about your new agency that you have to become comfortable with.
Simmy Sussman, a media consultant with Sussman & Morris Associates in New York, says you’ll have to get used to the idea of answering to investors.
“That is a big part of working in some companies, pleasing the masses,” she says. “The shareholders are to be pleased. You work for them. But think about moving forward. Each day you should be moving toward a goal–new tasks, new thoughts, new opportunities. It’s all part of getting acquainted with new rules of the road.
“Evaluate what this position was to do for you in terms of experience and learning. If you see that, and if you understand all this as it was outlined in your original interviews, well, here it is. You asked for it and got it. Make the most of this opportunity.”
If you’re in a position where you don’t have much control over what jobs/clients you work with, even after you’ve built a reputation, you’ll have a tougher battle.
Upham says that a culture created by a conservative and fiscally fear-based senior management will guide the motivations of your bosses. If you find yourself in that environment, keep your integrity intact.
“Stand for something,” he says. “Stick to your guns, until they start filtering for themselves what type of jobs come to you and which ones, out of ˜non-frictional efficiency,’ go to others. If ultimately they find your creative and strategic integrity too cumbersome, well, it’s probably time for you to go anyway.”
In short: Know what you want and try to build it by seeking out alliances with people, inside the agency and out, with like values. Be the exception. Client successes will go a long way in insulating you from of the less attractive aspects of working in a large agency. So win there.
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