Looking back - What would you change about your career in advertising?

As the economy is in termoil and agencies and brands begin looking inward, it is also a time for individuals to be reflective on what they have done, where they are and where they want to go. It's a question I ask myself as I try to figure out what is the next step for me in my career, and I know I'm not alone. Maybe it's because we work in an ever-shifting business that is always basing hires and fires on winning new business or that many ad folk are willing to move to wherever the best opportunities are located, but there's something about a perspective on looking back on where you were before you look forward. So I posed a question to ad folks I follow on Twitter, as well as some others to find out the answer to this question.

What is one thing you would do different in your career if you could start over?

And, I got some very interesting responses.

Mark Wnek, Chief creative officer of Lowe NY, AdAge columnist: I would have started my own agency very early on.

Alex Bogusky, CCO/Cripsin Porter + Bogusky: I’m pretty sure I have made one ill-advised decision after another. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Luke Sullivan, CCO/GSDM Idea City: I wouldn't worry as much about what the ad judges thought of things, like I used to when I was younger. I SO wanted to score in the ad books and I think that wasn't a great idea for a couple of reasons. First of all, it limits your thinking. Before you put pen to paper, you are skewing your thinking to what other ad people might judge as good -- rather than doing what you think is the right thing for the client. The other reason why it was probably a bad idea is I beat myself up so much about it. Don't get me wrong, the shows are great. I love looking at the books. But don't judge yourself by them. I did, for years, and I always came away thinking, "MAN, I suck."

Tim Brunelle, Copywriter, CEO/HelloViking: One thing I'd do different: Develop and nurture client contacts much earlier. Build the rolodex for the future.

Tom Christmann CD at www.cfpnyc.com (@cliffbot): not sure id do anything differently. it all seems necessary now. maybe freelance for a year, which i never did.

Evan Brown (@strawberrycough), Copywriter/ Sid Lee, Montréal:
1. I would've skipped the 'break into advertising by going the freelance route,' advice a well-meaning person gave me. I wasted a year doing that, with not much to show for it except for a few happy probono clients, and a lot of advertising agency doors closed in my face. Literally.
2. I would've gone to a portfolio school a lot sooner, like directly out of college. Had I known portfolio schools existed, I most certainly would have.
3. I would've been more assertive during my first two years. I was a quiet sponge when I first started, and kept my mouth shut around authority so as not to offend anyone lest my dream job be taken away from me. As a consequence I think I was taken advantage of way more than your typical junior would have been. The trade off however, is that because of lazy creative directors, I produced a shit ton more than I should have. Still if I could do it over, I would've put the law down a bit.
4. I would've learned the worst thing you can do for your career is to be impatient. I've seen a lot of impatient people jump ship when they should've stayed and paid the consequence for it. and i've been guilty of impatience with other people i have worked with. rightly or wrongly, it doesn't matter. there are better ways to deal with the daily struggle. That was a hard lesson to learn but I would rather have learned it early on than to be categorized as being "difficult to work with." No one needs that.
5. Finally, I wish I would've signed up for frequent flyer miles when I started instead of waiting an entire year and a half. I don't know what I was thinking there.

Annika Mayer (@a_mayer), Copywriter: Only 1 regret: turned down job offer fr no.1 agency (still the best) for an offer fr no 5 or o agency - who went bankrupt 1 yr later. And one more regret: all those non-/under paid pitches. Never again! Unworthy. Bad for agency AND client.

Alison Driscoll (@alisond), Copywriter/Digitas: I would have paid better attention in my computer classes...the more you know about internet-y stuff, the better.

@hmargulies, Copywriter: I think I would've been more critical of the first step I took in the ad business. Often, the 1st step determines your career trajectory.

Simon White (@purplesimon), Freelance Copywriter: I'd have started it a lot earlier than I did. And charged more too. And learned to draw better. Probably more, I'll let you know ;)

Darrell Whitelaw (@darrellwhitelaw), Integrated art director and visual designer: keep prelaw as my major =)

Kelly Marks (@kellimarks), Copywriter: internship! And start trying earlier. It IS who you know, and I knew too late.

John Fountain (@Fountainjohn), Copywriter: I wouldn't have spent so much of the 1980's in a bar.

Niclas Strandh (@deeped), Creative planner and social media strategist: I just did it. Sold my part of the agency and started by myself to work with marketing I believe in.

Armando Crespo (@ArmandoCrespo), Art Director: learn web/interactive design/programming sooner :)

Anon: 1 thing I'd do differently, avoid working at big companies, too much bureaucracy getting in the way.

Anon: I would have been more outlandish, taken more risks, been less afraid.

So, Adland peeps, we've got some interesting insights. And now we open the question up to you: What is one thing you would do different in your career if you could start over? Leave your answers in the comments below.

BIG THANKS to all who responded.

AnonymousCoward's picture
caffeinegoddess's picture

I'll add mine to kick these comments off since I didn't want to put my own in the article.

Start and maintain networking earlier. Also I would have done an internship in London in college.

Dabitch's picture

I wouldn't have turned down the "freelance" (unpaid) at Mad Dogs and Englishmen. I had some crazy idea that I needed to be paid - but looking back I think I could have had a great time and learned a lot, so what I should have done is gotten some sort of weekend or night job to make ends meet. I considered it but didn't have the balls (or family nearby to sponge off of).

Neo's picture

I'd try not to envy the awards. I took bad jobs at agencies that were terribly hip, instead of good jobs at agencies that were not.

kamari's picture

I wouldn't be such an annoying know-it-all. Students come out thinking they have it down pat, and know everything there is to know, and that they know exactly what they're doing and I did. But my attitude prevented others from listening to my legitimate concerns and input. A little humble goes a long way. Besides, you can learn something from everybody and they'll never teach you if you are stuck up.

caffeinegoddess's picture

That's a good one kamari. I think that's also just the hubris of youth. The more you experience the more you learn you don't know it all. ;) But to your point, always being willing to learn and listen goes a long way.

Dabitch's picture

Yeah I have to agree with that one as well. I might have been right all the time (ha!) but what I needed to learn was how to convince other people that I was. In some cases I needed to shut up, and other I needed really to stop being so shy and say what I meant. Also, moodboards help everything. ;)