Starting a Career at a Marketing Agency: 8 Things I Wish I Knew 16 Years Ago

Amanda Gregory  /  Apr 21, 2014

A few months ago, I was talking to my friend about the craziness of being a working mom. She said – “the days are long, but the years are short”.  It struck me that the same holds true for a career working at marketing and advertising agencies. It’s hard to believe I have been in the business for 16 years. Throughout those 16 years, I wouldn’t say I’ve learned it all, but I’ve learned a ton. Here are some of the things I wish I could have told myself as I was starting out as an account person at my first advertising agency in Chicago.

  1.     Get there before your boss.

Really. I remember my parents telling me this and thinking it was kind of silly. What I didn’t realize then that I do now is this. Even if you’re the most junior person on a team, or if you’re totally caught up on work, showing up early sends a very clear message. You’re here, you’re ready to work, and you’re dedicated. Actions speak louder than words.

  1.     Leave after your boss.

Why?  See #1. But the other, more subtle reason is that at marketing agencies, evenings are when things happen. New business pitches are created after 5pm. Brainstorms happen over beers and pizza in the conference room when it’s dark out. Advertising is by nature a business for night owls – it’s when creativity happens. Embrace it.

  1.     Be prepared.

Know your calendar. Know what you’re walking into each day and each week. If this isn’t something that comes to you naturally, use an app like or Sunrise. Start thinking about the next big client meeting and what you can do to help your team prepare for it. Start the deck. Find some applicable stats. Look for some inspiration for your creative team. The more you do these things on your own initiative, the more the team will depend on you and look to you as a “must attend” in meetings.

  1.     Be the hands and feet

It doesn’t matter where you went to school or what internship you had before you got there. If you are the most junior person on the team, you will be making copies, ordering lunch, and taking notes at meetings. It’s part of the job. The sooner you embrace it the better. However, the more you’re doing the above, the less your team will be thinking of you as the person who orders lunch – they’ll be thinking, “So and So is too busy for that – we have them helping create the deck right now”. There will always be someone who is good at doing. You want to be good at doing AND thinking.

  1.     You have feet and a voice. Use them.

We are all so conditioned to text or email instead of walking over to talk to someone.  Face time is huge. We build our relationships in person – not over text. The other added bonus? The more senior people on your team get hundreds of emails, and maybe as many texts every day. The chance that your question will get lost in the shuffle is much higher if you email or text someone instead of pop your head Into their office.

  1.     Don’t assume you have a seat at the table

This is a pet peeve of many of my peers. Also known as entitlement.  Many junior people think they automatically should have a role in client meetings. This can be a hard lesson to learn. Especially if you contributed to a big presentation. Why do the other guys get to go to the meeting? Well, for a couple of reasons. The more senior people probably know more about the business. They might be better able to think on their feet or to present an idea – or simply have had more experience demonstrating that they can do so. Or, quite likely, they have the relationships with the client. Many times it comes down to this – clients are more likely to buy ideas from the agency counterparts they trust. Relationships are key (let’s talk about that in another blog).

  1.     Get exposure

One piece of advice that I was given when I started at a large agency was this. Agencies can be siloed – by client or by function. Get yourself exposure to senior people outside of your direct team or department. Volunteer to work on a new business pitch or to help out on a new agency initiative. Get involved with your local chapter of the American Marketing Association or local Ad Club – many agencies are members or will pay for your membership. While outside clubs may not necessarily help you make relationships inside your organization, you will make friends and contacts there – and those could turn into a new job opportunity in the future.

  1.     Embrace the moment.

Just remember: you won’t be the lowest person on the totem pole forever. Especially if you do the above. But when you embrace it and enjoy the moment, it can become fun.  And look around. Some of the people you’re working with may become lifelong friends. I can certainly say that’s been the case for me. I am lucky enough to say that about my first friend at my first job from my first day of work as an official adult. Through layoffs, agency moves, too many vodka gimlets to count, city moves, weddings, and babies we are still friends 16 years later.​


While I wrote this with my career in advertising and marketing in mind, I think this advice holds true for anyone starting out in most industries. Hard work, confidence with a dash of humility plus being proactive and prepared are all highly desirable qualities in any team member. Good luck and go get ‘em.



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