By Lucy Marino, Executive Director, Marketing and Creative, Robert Half Many people are familiar with the stereotypes of creative agency life: It’s fast-paced, high-pressure and extremely competitive. But not as many know how working at an agency can be professionally enriching. If you’re a graphic designer, production artist, copywriter or other creative type, I believe there are many compelling reasons why you should consider joining a creative agency.
As a creative at an agency, your day will vary immensely. In the morning, you might contribute to a tech company’s marketing plan and a celebrity’s influencer campaign. By the afternoon, you might be knee-deep in a Fortune 500 retailer’s rebrand and a public library’s social media strategy. These organizations and personalities are a sampling of an agency’s wide variety of clients. Of course, it can be challenging to juggle them all, but it is also stimulating and exposes you to new sectors and professionals. Even for agencies specializing in certain industries, you’re likely to encounter variety. For example, if you work at an agency focused on healthcare, you could support a mental health startup for teens, a disease-specific foundation and a medical device company.
You’ll gain new skills and knowledge with each client you work with and campaign you work on. For example, agency colleagues might help you deepen your expertise in your core skill, such as design, while increasing your understanding of other areas, such as influencer marketing, brand strategy and blog writing. You might also attain soft skills like pitching an idea with confidence and building consensus among a team. Due to client deadlines and demands that drive the fast-paced nature of agencies, you’ll likely gain proficiency in these skills quickly. Most agencies will continuously encourage you to level up through hands-on and external training because it directly benefits the work and the clients, who keep the business humming.
Most creative agencies consist of niche specialists who know their domains inside and out. They often have a visceral understanding of what concepts emotionally and visually connect with consumers and a history of cracking tough creative challenges. As a result, top brand directors and chief marketing officers turn to them for their expertise and insights. And if you’re at a reputable agency, you can pick their brains, too — on how they solve a thorny artistic or copy conundrum, keep a wellspring of ideas flowing, or collaborate with challenging clients. Whether you observe them while you work alongside them or they explain something to you directly, you might use some of what you learn for years to come.
The intensity and innovation that define creative agency work will benefit your portfolio. After time at an agency, you’ll have a greater variety of work and accomplishments to consider showcasing. You might also have more confidence around what work you add to your portfolio, knowing it has already passed muster with other creatives.
Seeing your agency work out in the world — whether in a visually stunning ad or compellingly crafted article — is not just a short-term thrill. ​​Being able to say, “I was part of that,” or hearing a client’s heartfelt appreciation can also be professionally and personally fulfilling, spurring you forward. And if your work is part of a campaign that creates buzz in the trade press or nominations for industry awards, you will get noticed.
If all creative agencies had the same tagline, it might be “work differently.” Although the interpretation would vary across agencies, what it usually looks like today is fewer layers of management, less formality and more flexibility with work arrangements, such as working hybrid or fully remote. It also looks social. To strengthen connections between coworkers and foster cohesion, many agencies make a point to bring employees together for fun events, whether in person or virtually.
When you work at a creative agency, you are at the vanguard of creative innovation. That’s because agencies don’t survive by staying abreast of the latest design and marketing trends. They stay in the game by encouraging talent like you to create and shape the trends that help their clients stand out. They often invest in the industry’s newest technology, software and tools to enable you to ideate and implement more effectively. These investments increase your skill set, making you more marketable.
If you wince a little when hearing the word “networking,” you might value how easy it can be to expand your professional and social circles by working at a creative agency. Instead of attending events and conferences to make new connections (although you should do that, too), you’ll already be interacting with many people working on the same campaign as you. Most will consist of partners, suppliers and vendors outside the agency. These professionals from brands, studios, media platforms, ad tech suppliers, production houses, event planning companies, market research firms, and others will get to know you and your work and vice versa. Cultivating this broad range of relationships will feel natural and authentic as you go about your everyday agency work. If you nurture them, they will help you grow professionally throughout your career.
If you’ve ever perused in-house creative job openings, you’ve probably read these words: “Agency experience preferred.” Hiring managers at companies and other agencies often include this phrase because they believe if you’ve worked at a creative agency, you’ve already met many of their requirements. For example, they might assume that you’ve elevated your creative chops while successfully handling a plethora of competing priorities and clients under pressure. Many will prize your hard-won experience and expertise. If you want to explore working at a creative agency, get started now by checking out our open creative positions. Follow Lucy Marino on LinkedIn.