What You Don't Learn in the Classroom

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Not too long ago, when I was still a student and preparing to submit my final exam in Sales, my professor told me I should not work in advertising because he didn't see me succeeding. That was a tough blow to take.

Today, I work at the biggest and best media agency in the world and I am thriving.

What my professor didn't understand is that advertising is about so much more than our classroom exercises focused on selling a product or making commercials: it's about strategically shaping a brand's image.

Why would my professor assume I could not succeed? Misconceptions!

Below are some common misunderstandings versus the realities of life at an agency.

Misconception: There is only one type of agency: a creative ("advertising") agency.

Reality: There are many different kinds of agencies. The two major classifications are creative and media, but others specialize in areas like social, search, data and content creation. Many people inherently equate advertising with a creative end-product, but they forget agencies that put that product in specific environments to ensure a target audience sees the right message at the right time.

Creative agencies use research and insights to develop messaging that they hope will motivate a consumer to buy a product or use a service. Traditional media agencies place the messaging supplied by a creative agency in appropriate environments determined by analyzing consumer habits, analytics and marketplace conditions, and forward-thinking agencies like MediaCom actually have divisions that are developing creative from scratch, just like "advertising" agencies do. You really have to investigate individual shops to understand their beliefs, capabilities and talents.

Misconception: Advertising revolves around glitz, glamour and parties.

Reality: It's true that perks like parties, cool offices and lots of vendor freebies come with working at any agency. Those benefits are sporadic, though, compared to the hard work and long hours that you'll put in. As in any profession, you have to be dedicated to succeed. I have never worked as late, or met so many smart people. "Work hard, play hard" is the true promise of agency life, which leads us to our next misconception…

Misconception: We are all Don Draper.

Reality: Not all client or agency executives exploit human weakness in order to create product demand, let alone drink during office hours. While we all wish we had some of Don Draper's creative brilliance, most days are filled with calls, meetings and emails. But every once in a while – when you come up with an amazing idea – you may feel a little like Draper.

Misconception: You're just a number.

Reality: It's scary to think that you'll be just another employee in a sea of people. The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. The secret to standing out is to raise your hand. Agencies provide many opportunities for you to take part in national and worldwide competitions, training courses and cool programs that will help you meet new people and deepen your professional experience. If you want to be noticed… participate! With 500 other people in the building, saying "Yes" sets you apart. Getting involved in something, whether it's writing for the company blog, joining a volunteer committee or working on new business pitch, builds your personal brand and helps you stand out from the crowd.

There are many common misconceptions that influence people's judgement, but understanding the reality will help guide you to the agency that is best for you. There are a variety of career tracks, so it is important to understand not only your strengths but also your weaknesses. Both will shape the way you break into the industry and how well you succeed.

Learning takes place both in and out of the classroom. Find your way with the support of family, friends and teachers, but don't forget to listen to yourself.

About the Author

After graduating from The George Washington University School of Business in 2012, Stacey Minton returned to New York City where she ran B2B marketing initiatives for a small wire and cable manufacturer. She later transitioned to a small agency focused in the pharmaceutical space. Stacey joined MediaCom in 2015 as a Communications Planner and has participated in an Executive Lab Series and the Cannes Young Lions competition. When not at work Stacey explores NYC and volunteers with a local cat adoption organization. During football season, she cheers on the NY Jets with her fiancée and two cats. The cats are named after Olivia and Elliot from Law and Order: SVU.

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