Creatives are kind of like baseball players: we have careers that judge us on our last at-bat. Meaning, if you tanked at the last agency or sometimes on the last project you were on, you get judged pretty damn harshly.
Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. Look at creatives that worked at the super-sought-after agencies (W+K right now) or those whose work had the rare opportunity to live on in pop culture . They seem to possess a golden ticket, allowing them to drop the name of a project or agency, and get a job anywhere they want.
But for the rest of us, we can't coast along on the coattails of our resume or portfolio. We'll have to prove ourselves to get the fun projects and big opportunities.
Or better yet, we'll need to make our own opportunities. Every chance we get. And you can do it through the work or the culture.
Jump into The Work
Every agency operates differently. But, most hold this one thing true: make the work great.
That means, if you have a great idea or a great solution to a project, jump in. Throw your creative hat in the ring and make an impression based on your insightful work.
Winning the Battle Royale
Every once in a while, there's an "all hands on deck" kind of opportunity, where everyone is put on an even playing field. Juniors, designers, creative directors, ACDs...titles mean nothing, as long as the idea is great. A battle royale where the winner gets the spoils.
This happened to a colleague of mine. It was a Super Bowl spot, the kind that most creatives yearn to have in their portfolio. Now, he was a designer, and a great one at that. Though, not one that you'd expect to come up with the amazing Big Game commercial. But he had a simple idea, one of those stupidly genius ideas that everyone fell in love with. For reasons outside of his control, it narrowly missed being produced. But the point is, he took the opportunity to be heard, and didn't wait for the opportunity to be given to him.
There may be times where you think you can do better, but it's not your project. Well, don't let that stop you...
Here's the risk: you may make some enemies. Usually, people are assigned to a project, but when you appear and thinks that you're entitled to work on it as much as they are, they may get territorial. And, if you happen to come up with a killer idea, then that means that you may be "taking the work away from them."
Don't wait. Make your own opportunities.
Hopefully, creatives put the work before their own ego. But it's not always that way. Just be careful and make sure that you're trying to be part of the team, not break it up.
Define the Culture
In an agency, the work is only half of what makes you valuable. We all hear about "culture fits" and "agency culture" being a major part of the hiring process. The cynic may say that it's a simple copout or a way for them to see if you're willing to work nights and weekends without complaining. But, the truth is that agency culture is one of the most intangible, yet important aspects of our job.
And that means that if you contribute to it, you can prove your value.
Take it When You See It
When I was a senior art director, there was this meeting that the client held every few months. Now, nobody really looked forward to it (even the client), but it was super important. Why? Well, it required presenting lots of work and results and technical mumbo jumbo in front of a stone-faced, unimpressed audience for an hour.
Lucky for me, that was right in my wheelhouse. See, I spent years in college training to impressive the professionally unimpressed. To crack the stone faces of judges and fellow competitors in the speech and debate world. So, when my CD opened up the chance for someone to be a part of that meeting, I jumped at the opportunity. Turns out, it was an amazing opportunity that gave me facetime with some of the big players in our agency and on the client side, which most people would beg to get. It helped me find my place in the agency, and helped the agency see value in me.
Look for those opportunities and jump at them. It may be something small, like helping the CEO on a personal favor. Or it may be something big, like repping your agency at a city-wide event. Either way, use it to show what you're worth.
Make It When You Don't Have Any
But don't be so patient for those opportunities to arise that you miss out on making your own.
There were two creatives on my team. Probably only a few months into their tenure in this agency, but they had a fire in their bellies. They saw a void in our creative group: people just didn't know each other very well. So, they took matters into their own hands, and held a "Creative Department Speed Dating" event. Okay, it wasn't exactly "speed dating," but we used the same method to simply talk to each other for a few minutes a piece. It was amazing. It gave us a chance to meet with people we'd never have chatted with, outside of that event.
And the CCO noticed. He applauded it. He commended them for their creativity and their contribution to the culture. He noticed what they did and it's put them in his good graces ever since.
Don't wait. Make your own opportunities.
Will It Work?
Here's the honest truth, this is all based on the fact that you can pull it off. That your work will win hearts and minds. That your contribution to the agency's culture will shine.
This isn't a prescription for success. It's a guideline for you to prove yourself. It's a way to show that you're as valuable as the unicorn with a stellar resume or portfolio.
You won't be able to coast along, riding the ripples of your past success. But with the right moves, you might be able to make your own waves.