My Original Misconceptions About Agencies

January 25, 2016

The end of January always reminds me of senior-year college stresses. Maybe it was the finality of my last real winter break or my last syllabus week, but two years later, January still sticks out clearly in my mind as that “whoa” moment. The realization that my last four years had been preparing me for my future job in a few short months. But I had no idea what that job was going to be, or how I was going to get there.

Many of my friends in other majors already had jobs lined up since the beginning of fall semester or were locked in for grad school, making the final semester of college a nice breeze. For me? Au contraire. We journalism/PR/advertising kids were playing the fun game of sitting and waiting for summer internship applications to pop up.

There was a faint division between students in my college classes – those dead set on the crazy networking path for agency life, and those who had plans to work on the client side. At this time, I was part of the latter group, totally convinced that I would never work at an agency in my life.

Why and how had I come to that conclusion? It’s hard to say. Part of it was likely intimidation by the competitive nature of agency internships, but a major reason for my stance at the time was because of my misconceptions about agency life and careers.

Misconception No. 1: Agency people aren’t nearly as invested in a client’s programs and overall success.

I was convinced that people working at agencies didn’t get as jazzed about projects as someone who worked internally for the company. I thought that the only real way to have a stake in a company or brand’s success was to live and breath it from the inside. This all changed when I attended the Student Advertising Summit (SAS) that February and listened to two speakers discussing client/agency relationships. It was a man and a woman who spoke about their awesome branding for Caribou Coffee. The woman had a contagious energy; she was deeply proud of the work and so collaborative with her male counterpart – and to my surprise, she worked for the agency. It turned my entire vision of my future career on its head.

That woman was Melissa Bertling. And in a totally fun, full-circle storyline, she joined the Fast Horse team a few months after I started as a full timer. So thanks, Mel — I literally wouldn’t be here without you 😉 And Minnesota soon-to-be-grads: don’t miss out on this year’s SAS!

Misconception No. 2: You have to choose your exact agency role and path from the get-go, and good luck crossing over down the line.

Project management? Account management? Strategy? Planning? Media relations? HELP. Once I started digging into agency roles, I felt more lost than I was before, and I was terrified of making the wrong move and being stuck on a career path I didn’t expect. How was I supposed to know what I wanted to do at an agency if I had never worked at one before? That’s what drew me to Fast Horse. Starting as an intern and now throughout my associate position, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a bunch of different projects without fear of being siloed into one role. People here often say we get to “wear many hats.” I love it, because I’m constantly learning and shaping what interests me the most.

Misconception No. 3: It’s impossible to get a job at an agency one day if it’s not your first job out of college.

I remember people asking again and again at networking events what the odds are of someone who starts on the client side to get a job at an ad agency. Answers varied, but the very notion of that scared me. If a really cool job opportunity pops up, but it’s not at an agency, am I closing that door forever? I was convinced that an agency was only going to see value in agency work. Today, I often see the opposite. I have a number of coworkers who come from different sides of the industry — former journalists, brand managers, retail marketers, and more. The diverse backgrounds make us much stronger as a whole, as different experiences and skill sets that come together to bring projects to life.

What other myths or misconceptions have you disproven in the agency world and beyond? It’s funny how two years of experiences can completely change your outlook on a topic, field, career and future as a whole. And it makes me excited to discover new perspectives in the years to come.