Big Agency Dreams; Small Agency Realities

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BART CLEVELAND: I had a phone conversation with a young art director recently who wants to take a very positive step in her career. She works at a small agency in a small city and has been there a few years. She is obviously industrious, talented and passionate. Her dream is tightly focused on doing great work at a large agency with clients that have big budgets.

She’s not completely wrong, but even if she achieves her big-agency dream, will the outcome be as she hopes? Chances are it will not.

I remember Alex Bogusky saying that since the beginning, he and Chuck Porter have done things the same way they do them today, but until they got to perform on a national stage with the American Legacy Foundation’s “Truth” anti-smoking work, advertisers didn’t pay them much attention. So it makes sense that this young one wants to step on to a national stage. But there ARE smaller agencies that regularly make it into the national spotlight -- agencies such as Vitro Robertson, Core, BooneOakley, Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy, and my old agency, Sawyer Riley Compton. These and other smaller agencies yearly appear in our best shows.

Large agencies offer great opportunities and, for a precious few, have catapulted people into the stratosphere. But viewing it as “the only way I can make a name for myself” can be a frustrating path to take. Granted, if a person wants to do great work one must go where they’re doing great work. However, I exhort the young ones in this business to broaden their understanding of where that opportunity can be found.

The number one reason a young person should have multiple plans to achieve success is that the “great big famous agency” has a long, long line of people who want in. They have alliances with the ad schools to hand pick the few prodigies who are graduated each year. In short, the supply exceeds the demand. If you are a “diamond-in-the-rough” your chances are slim to be given a shot. I’m not saying don’t try to make it into these places. Just keep your mind open to other potential ways of making it.

Alex Bogusky didn’t go to a great ad school. I doubt the famous agencies would have taken a look at him when he was first entering the business. Obviously he didn’t need a big fancy agency to build a successful career. The same applies to all who never give up on fulfilling their dreams.
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