15 Insights from 15 Years – Notes from a PR and Ad Agency Survivor

This year marks Bailey Gardiner’s 15th year. Recently, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on what I have learned about agency life during that time. Yes folks, it’s time to tear back the onion peel and look a bit more deeply into this world of “integrated communications” and agency life. For some of you, this will be an affirmation of what you live. For others it will be a glimpse into a business that is quite unlike what many of you call “work” each day. It isn’t a whole lot like Mad Men portrays it to be (except for the drinking), but it’s sure been a great ride for us.


This year marks Bailey Gardiner’s 15th year. Recently, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on what I have learned about agency life during that time. Yes folks, it’s time to tear back the onion peel and look a bit more deeply into this world of “integrated communications” and agency life. For some of you, this will be an affirmation of what you live. For others it will be a glimpse into a business that is quite unlike what many of you call “work” each day. It isn’t a whole lot like Mad Men portrays it to be (except for the drinking), but it’s sure been a great ride for us.

1. Most people who start an agency are really good at one thing, and that thing is rarely running a business. From hyper-talented creative types to type-A account people (ahem), we rise through the ranks of our agencies and decide it’s time to start our own thing. So exciting. Look! We have clients. Wow! Our first office. Zikes! We’re winning awards. Wait, what? What do you mean I have to spend time on human resources, payroll, health care, legal contracts, the clogged kitchen sink? This industry needs to get better at training its rising stars to be managers and not just good fill-in-the-blanks.

2. People who have self-confidence in presentations will rise to the top. I’ve watched really talented people choke in presentations and it’s not pretty. Get good at it. Go to Toastmasters. Say yes to every presentation opportunity. I’ve also seen lots of people overcome their fear and go on to be outstanding presenters. It has definitely helped their careers.

3. The media need us. They won’t admit it. Ever. But imagine if every PR person in America took a one-week vacation at the same time. The devastation of traditional media over the last couple of years has left journalists stretched thin. They are overworked. They need help. Remember that the next time you pick up the phone to make a pitch. Eventually every writer/editor needs a PR pro to help them. Even if they are in denial about it.

4. You need stamina for this line of work. Agency hours are long. Always have been, always will be. If you aren’t working on a deadline project you’re probably off to a client evening event. We strive for work-life balance but this will never be a 9 to 5 job.

5. This is a service business. Yes, it’s about the creative ideas, the conversion rates, the media buy, the cool technology for creating a new app, but in the end we have a client to take care of everyday. Keep that firmly in your mind and a lot of decisions will be crystal clear.

6. Burning bridges is a bad idea. This is an industry of communicators so leaving a trail of bad juju is gonna catch up someday. We like to gossip too much for it not to.

7. Great writers are hard to find and worth every penny. So much of what we do everyday is writing. Emails, briefs, releases, blog posts, tweets, reports, ads, web copy, the list goes on and on. Be prepared to work on your writing, take critique, rinse and repeat. It’s a noble task.

8. You know how ‘King of the HillDon Draper can be in Mad Men? Um, yeah. One of the toughest challenges we (and many colleagues) have is finding creative talent that know how to play nice in the sandbox. Our current team is terrific. Talented yet not on a high horse. Directed yet collaborative. Not easy to find and worth gold when you do.

9. There aren’t enough young men going into PR. PR agencies are full of young women and it creates an imbalance that while very bonding (and always smells nice) isn’t always good for the creative and strategic service of accounts. Guys, are you listening? There is job opportunity here.

10. People don’t understand what we do. There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between advertising and PR and even after massive amounts of explanation the confusion often remains. I’ve had so many employees tell me their parents don’t really understand what they do. I say let’s keep the mystery, it keeps our secret society all the more special.

11. Interactive integration is the now and it’s the future. We have watched many of our traditional PR and Ad agency peers struggle over the last two years as they resisted this change. Things have changed and they aren’t going to go in reverse. Society and its communication is moving inexorably onto the Internet and mobile environments. It’s incredibly challenging and exciting and I’m glad. Change is life.

12. This business is full of intellectually curious people and it’s damn fun. If you aren’t having fun with it, neither are your clients.

13. It’s also a business about results. Creative for creative’s sake with no positive outcomes other than awards is a fast path to a short-lived agency.

14. Be a counselor without fear. Clients are paying us to help them be better marketers. If you find yourself becoming an order taker or yes person you are letting down your client, yourself and our industry.

15. Most of the people you meet in the advertising and public relations business care deeply. They care about their community, the environment, their clients, ethical work and quality work. That’s why you will rarely see a non-profit or fundraising event without agency involvement. We make so much happen in our communities.

It’s been a gift to work with and meet so many quality people over the past 15 years. I am grateful every day for being in this business.

So what did I miss? I know there’s more. I’d love to do a follow up post with your additional insights.

Autor: Gabriel Catalano - human being | (#IN).perfección®

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