Think you know what it's like to work at an agency? If you're relying on the outsized characters and sweatshop (or bacchanalian) portrayals you see in movies and on TV, you've been led astray. Having just passed my two-year anniversary at MediaCom, one of the world's largest media agencies, I am amazed at the thoughtful rhythm and culture of the place, and at the richness of my experience. Here are five aspects that have struck me as unique agency traits:
Multidimensional client experiences
Right before joining MediaCom, I was a member of the insights and analytics team at a client company, which gave me a good look at the organization's marketing, selling, supply chain and financial functions. I wasn't sure that I would have the same broad perspective at an agency, but the truth is quite the opposite.
When a client entrusts its media agency with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to build and strengthen its business, that agency must collaborate with creative partners, publishers and data providers in order to be successful. I may not get to see everything that an insider at a client company might see, but there's enough depth and breadth in these interactions to make me feel like a part of my client's organization, invested heavily in its short- and long-term success. Plus, I can work with multiple clients, in multiple industries on the agency side, which is fun!
(Art + science) squared
Data is the raw material of analytics, but breakthrough insights don't leap out of the numbers on their own. Statistician George Box once said, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." It takes both conceptual knowledge and a deep understanding of business context to extract the most relevant information from big data. This is why practitioners often refer to analytics and modeling as "a mix of art and science."
While I've embraced this philosophy since the beginning of my career, what's different at an agency is how I apply my talents. I'm constantly working with KPIs such as ROIs, CTRs and market penetration, but I'm also exposed to the creative ideas that make the media and advertising world so special. I guess that means that if modeling is my craft, practicing it within an agency makes my experience (Art + Science) squared!
Doing great work for current clients is essential, but molding this work into relevant stories also helps win new business – the lifeblood of any agency. Since joining MediaCom, I have observed and been a part of the painstaking detail that goes into preparing for new business pitches: choosing the ideal setting, the rehearsals guided by master storytellers, the sculpting of winning presentations and, above all, the rich insights that can help make a prospective client more successful. Plus, nothing can beat the feeling of a big win – I can still remember how palpable the energy was when MediaCom was awarded the massive Anheuser-Busch InBev account last year.
Oh, timesheets! While not the merriest of tasks, promptly completing one's timesheets is intrinsic to how agencies bill their clients, and I've been impressed by how beneficial the practice is. I personally see an upside to knowing where I am spending the bulk of my time in a given week. I have to stay on top of my calendar, emails and meeting notes to make sure that things don't slip through the cracks. When I view it from this perspective, the exercise of filling out timesheets is no longer a backward-looking annoyance, but rather a future-oriented management tool that empowers me to constantly improve in the areas of resource allocation, project costing and team prioritization.
Reading the world
One thing I didn't count on when I joined an agency is the abundant supply and diverse mix of free magazines and newspapers. Being surrounded by a plethora of publications in which we place our clients' ads, I've been exposed to titles I may not have otherwise picked up, like Town & Country, Audubon and Backpacker. I get a broad and varied glimpse into both pop culture and obscure subjects alike, and it's always fun to come across an ad we placed for a favorite client.
From the undeniable creative energy to something as simple as free magazines, agency life at MediaCom stays fresh and exciting. No two companies are the same, of course, but if I've learned anything from trying on different hats in my career, it's that fully embracing an organization's unique characteristics will bring out the best in you – and make your job more fun and fulfilling – wherever you happen to work.
About the Author
Sriram "Ram" Padmanabhan has over 15 years of experience in market research and analytics. He is currently a partner-business science director at MediaCom in NY, where he works across multiple client accounts. Prior to MediaCom, Ram was in insights and marketing intelligence at Avon Products, Inc. where he led research and analytics for a variety of product categories for the company's North America market.