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Do You Even Deserve a Promotion?

5 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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Titles are tricky things. Sometimes, it only means you get to update your LinkedIn bio. Other times, they carry way more responsibility.

Promotions may come with raises. Usually they do. However, title-only promotions are pretty common in agencies that want to encourage growth for their employees, but don’t want to affect cash flow.

I've taken a look at how to ask for more money. Now, it’s time to see what a title bump can bring you. Because while money makes the world go ‘round, it’s good to know where you stand in that world.

Just remember, money and title don’t always appear together. They might, but actually, it’s pretty common for them to come separately.

So, whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to get a promotion in your current agency, you need to know why money and title don’t always come in pairs.

What’s in a Name? Or a Title?

(Because I don’t want you to miss this, I’m going to put this quote here, but keep on reading to the end, trust me.)

If you want the job, you need to do it for a year before you get it.

If there was no such thing as a title, what is it that you’d want out of that position?

What is it you’re looking for? Do you want to lead people? Do you want more creative freedom and autonomy? Would you like to get more respect from others? Maybe you just think you’ve been around long enough and should be recognized for your seniority.

Let’s get on the same page. These are the agency creative levels, and what they usually entail:

  • Intern = I need experience.
  • Junior Art Director/Copywriter = I finished my internship and am ready to work on real projects.
  • Art Director/Copywriter (“Mid-Level” is implied) = I am dependable for support on major projects.
  • Senior Art Director/Copywriter = I’m a strong creative, needing a little guidance.
  • Associate Creative Director = I’m starting to manage others, as well as lead major projects.
  • Creative Director = I’m a manager of teams, overseeing several major projects.
  • Group Creative Director (sometimes) = I manage a full account with several projects within it.
  • Executive Creative Director = I lead entire departments, am a master of my craft, and all the work goes through me.
  • Chief Creative Officer = I’m responsible for the overarching vision and creative path of the agency.

Each one takes anywhere from 2-4 years experience to make the jump (more, when it comes to the higher positions). However, don’t be fooled into thinking that longevity is the sole requirement.

Moving On and Moving Up

In my post about "The Top 5 Reasons You'll Quit Your Agency", a promotion was numero uno. The basic reason was because to move up in an agency, there needs to be a vacancy above you. Sometimes that aligns with your plan, but most of the time, it’s easier to move on and find a new job looking for someone to fulfill that title.

The title you're looking for is not going to be a secret. You’ll almost always know the exact title of the position you’re applying for. However, it’s up to you to understand what comes with that title. At some agencies, a Senior Creative might lead a team. At others, there may be no different in responsibilities between a Mid- and Senior-level creative. Make sure you clarify before you accept.

I wouldn’t expect a title change once you’ve already applied to the job. They’re looking for a specific position and that’s what you applied for.

How to Get that Promotion

At one of my last agencies, I was hired as a mid-level art director. I was told that I was close to being senior, and they said that after a couple years, I should be promoted. However, after two years, I was still mid-level.

So, after my second annual review, I told them, “When I was hired, you said after two years, I’d be promoted. What’s holding me back?”

After telling me that nothing was, I responded, “Well, I’m either doing something wrong or you are. What can I do to make this happen?”

Okay, so I might’ve been a little blunt. But the secret to being promoted in title is simple: be patient, but be persistent. Now, that doesn’t mean just wait for it to happen. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you want a promotion, you need to ask for it. But don’t be pushy. Ask them what you need to do to get there.

Asking to be promoted is easy. But can you earn that promotion?

Go to your boss and say this:

  1. Ask them what they see your role as in the next year at the agency. (Be prepared to tell them what you see it as.)
  2. Tell them you’d like to advance in your career at that agency.
  3. Ask them what they feel that position requires. Plus, which of those things you’re doing and which you need to work on.
  4. Discuss a timeline for how long that would take, then stick to it.

It’s up to you to do whatever you talked about. If you fulfill what they asked of you, then you held up your side of the bargain. Now the ball’s in their court.

But fair warning, they don’t always deliver.

Promotions are a Nightmare

I’ve gotta be honest with you: getting a promotion within an agency is difficult. Upping yourself one level in the creative chain is somewhat common. Two is slim to none. Three...nearly impossible However, there are assumptions that come with any promotion.

Usually you start at a certain position. That position may be what you held at your last job, or it may have been a step up. Either way, you usually spend 2 - 3 years at that current position, at that current agency. Then, you start to ask for a promotion.

This makes the agency think two things:

  1. This person wants to stay and grow with the agency.
  2. This person might want to leave and needs the title boost to find a better job.

The thing is, it’s usually the latter of the two that happens. Take a look at the Top 5 Reasons You'll Quit post and it will make more sense.

A Creative By Any Other Name

You’d be surprised at how much people simply want more responsibility. But without earning it.

You need to evolve as a creative to expect your title to evolve with you. If you’ve stayed the same, calling you something new isn’t going to make you better.

Money or Title

So, which do you want? Is it money? Is it a title bump?

Many people think they want one, but the other holds their secret desire. There’s nothing wrong with wanting one or the other, or both. But be honest with yourself and you’ll find it much easier to get what you want.

Thanks for reading!

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