Have you thought about switching to brand?
For any account handler / client service person looking to scratch an itch in their career path, in particular those working in traditional advertising big agencies, I’d love to give some accounts of my perspective in my career to date.
I’ve been working at Truly Deeply, a strategic brand agency for the past 2.5 years and while the same challenges arise as in a say ATL, digital or more traditional agency setting, you have some great clients, some… let’s be PC and say, tricky clients, the project management, or account management hat you wear is very different. And the beauty of working in a collaborative small environment is if you’re up for it, you can wear as many hats as you want, as long as you can balance them all on your head!
Big bad ass ad agency
I earned the majority of my industry stripes in a traditional, medium-to large integrated, multidisciplinary agency in Ireland. I worked on big global retainer accounts, with bigger budgets, biggest ideas, and more often than not, big egos. Life for me in the agency was extremely fast paced, 100% no excuses, in my interview I was told “There are no mistakes on the Vodafone account”… and there were no mistakes. A rigourous, methodical holy-mecca-of-process document was followed to a tee, and if it wasn’t… good luck to you.
Play hard, work hardest, comrades for life.
Long working hours, extremely fast paced, exceptional creative and execution and an impeccable account management philosophy kept the clients paying their bills, but this pace also breeds an extremely competitive environment, which in turn brings the inevitable clash of egos. A rigorous appraisal process, ensures you’re fully scrutinised across all facets of your daily life meaning you fight tooth and nail for what’s rightfully yours and no one goes up the archaic hierarchal process before they’ve beyond deserved it. We won’t even talk about the politics nor the people who liked to make staff squirm to see “what they’re made of”. You do your time as an AE working on the churn and burn and give blood, sweat and tears and more blood to get that big promotion to… SAE… then some more sweat for the AM, where you still work till 9pm, but on the better projects, like music festival sponsorships, national sporting sponsorships, agency pitches, integrated multi-faceted campaigns, the comedy festival and the biggest most awarded integrated loyalty program in the country.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had the time of my life working in the big agency, I’ve worked on some really interesting, technical, multi-disciplinary projects and juggled so many projects, clients, campaigns, creative teams, management requests, digging colleagues out, pulling them off concurrently that in a way I feel I can handle anything now. I’ve also got life long friends. We bonded in a way that you could only bond with people you’re holed up in a room with for 12 hours a day, going delirious it starts to get funny, you get through it together, you face the tricky management team, together.
I wouldn’t change those years looking back, however I wouldn’t go back to an ad agency again. I strongly believe it’s a critical learning environment for account handlers setting out in their careers. An exceptional learning environment, however you need to learn how to toe the line early on, for micromanagement is an understatement. Once you accept this fate, you’ll begin to flourish and they’ll take their eyes off you, you’ve proved you can do it. The training and focus that’s instilled in you gives you the tools to take on any campaign, any project, any boss, any industry. The work hard / play hard mentality has given me many amazing, not to be repeated memories, but also instills a sincere work ethic and a “let’s get this shit done” attitude that helps you to thrive elsewhere.
But I wouldn’t go back! Here’s why I love working at a brand studio.
Everyday is completely different.
Clients I work on from a day to day basis are government, FMCG, packaging, not for profit, mobile apps, finance, startups. Each project comes with a specific need and it’s never one size fits all solution. So we roll up our Gorman shirts and get stuck into a different category with different challenges each day.
As an agency that places a huge amount of our energy in helping our clients to either a) enter the market or b) pivot their thinking to a new direction, regardless of their category, core to our philosophy is:
Understanding what the business stands for, truly digging deep into defining their target audience in order to position the brand around their needs, crafting an authentic, differentiated, strategic proposition to unite staff to walk the talk, and to stand out from the clutter of the competitive environment.
We get to really shape the businesses we help to build. Thinking from a brand point of view opens so many doors, we help to build a rock solid, differentiation foundation that informs future business decisions, that informs who you hire, that informs what type of culture you build. It’s so important.
You’re constantly learning about business
Working in brand, you need to understand all facets of the business in order to put forward a recommendation or strategy to shift the business. That goes right down to the business model, learning where the business has come from, and vision for the next phase of growth. I’ve had invaluable conversations with clients, sponging information from them on their ups and downs in business, in particular business owners within FMCG (in particular food), education, restaurants, not for profit, retail, consultants. I’ve heard first hand from them how they’ve become successful, where they fell and got back up and it’s really inspiring and insightful.
There’s more respect.
One of our core values at Truly Deeply is Value & Respect, this should be table stakes for any business but through my experience in the advertising industry this doesn’t play out as much. Respect comes in many forms; respect for our clients, respect for the work we create, respect for our name, but importantly respect for ourselves. And ensuring our clients treat us with respect also, this dovetails right down to realistic timeframes for projects and not associating ourselves with brands or projects that don’t align with our belief system. I’ve found in previous agencies that respect really stopped at the client, everything was focused on the client and “yes we can do anything you want” attitude, when really it’s about, “Are they being respectful of us with this request?”. There was much less emphasis on ensuring staff were treated with respect. Working on a brand project is a huge undertaking for a brand manager or business owner. You can’t afford to cut corners and the process needs to be treated respectfully with realistic timeframes for the optimum outcome.
Working with the small guys is more rewarding.
Of all the projects and campaigns I’ve worked on, the ones that have given me the most job satisfaction and personal satisfaction are the smaller businesses, where we truly help to influence the success of the brand. The best outcomes are where clients inheritantly understand that brand and business success are intrinsically linked. Helping to successfully shape a brand you are passionate about, that is standing for something they believe in and your client is someone you really admire, who’s out there taking a chance, is so much more satisfying to me than rolling out campaign collateral with the brand manager who nips home at 5pm expecting to see three concepts in the morning! (we do work with the brand managers also by the way!)
Additionally the smaller guys are either 1) entering an already flooded category, they have to be bloody compelling to stand out, or else they’re creating a new category which opens a new fascinating door of unknown outcomes.
No Free pitches, no 2am presentation finalising, more respect.
There’s no free-pitching, an accepted normality in the advertising world that has the industry by the balls. Having to present 3-4 fully considered, ready-to-press-print, didn’t-sleep-for-three-days integrated, ideas, design solutions, timelines, budgets, all ready to, show reels, theatre, you name it is ludicrous. Ad agencies spend tens of thousands of dollars on pitches they may be 1 in 5 of a chance of winning. On the contrary in brand and core to Truly Deeply’s philosophy is, We don’t just get into execution without fully understanding the environment, the category, and defining what the brand stands for first, otherwise we’re practising hypocrisy. We do the research and methodically decide on which direction the project should take.
You can be part of building what a brand stands for, something compelling with a bit of heart!
We say this a lot, but today 75% of consumers are no longer loyal to one brand, people shop around, fast forward ads, shop online to get the best deal and test the market. Consumers are also a lot more sophisticated and conscious of the brands they want to associate themselves with today, meaning brands trying to enter the market or change tact to remain relevant need to work even harder to get noticed. We typically work with brands who are second in the category or challengers entering the category, which is the most interesting position to be in. We spend a huge amount of time at the beginning of a project researching the category, talking to stakeholders, their audiences, in order to truly understand their position, what needs to change and where they could go. We use this information coupled with an in depth collaborative brand workshop to craft a differentiated brand proposition that will both resonate with their desired audience, – they feel this brand is “for them”, but also pivot the business to a new dimension, away from the rest of the category so that they stand apart from the pack. Working with businesses who have a challenger mindset is really exciting, they’re willing to take calculated risks and make bold decisions, but it has to be underpinned with logical strategy.
You’re constantly learning about new industries and the nuances playing out in each one.
In the past year I learned about robotic milking techniques, how local council operates, what health insurers need to do to stay afloat in an industry saturated with competitors and regulations, and helped to define and position a support service for the LGBTIQ community.
Here’s a snapshot of the projects I’ve helped to shape and brands I’ve helped to build over the past few month
An ethical milk brand
Revolutionising the dairy industry worldwide with a vision for a kinder way to produce dairy, that puts the welfare of the cow and her babies as priority. Did you know what a bobby calf is and that cows love a back scratch after being milked?
An industry leader in the low carbon industry
We helped to define a brand who is catalysing opportunities for businesses and connecting industry leaders in the low carbon environment. Would need an entire blog to talk about learnings on this one. I also learned about how to restructure a failing business model and the intricacies of working with Federal and local government.
An app, which connects musicians together…
…based on their musical preference, geography and playing ability. Vampr is a platform for bands who need a bandmate for their next gig, or for guys and girls who play in their bedroom and just want someone to jam with. We built a proposition and brand to get these guys “playing together”. It’s pretty cool.
A mentoring and support platform for people who identify as DSG (Diverse Sexuality and Gender)
We’re building a brand to connect with a community to educate and support one another and accept that everyone is different, and that’s ok. StartOut is a mentoring platform to support these people as they figure out who they are in a supportive environment. This is a passion project for me.
3D printed surgical implants
We’ve helped a brand who’s advancing patient recovery outcomes, and revolutionising surgical procedures. Yep they’re now 3D printing implants, that fit perfectly into patients based on their unique data.
So it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Crafting the Why
In each of the above examples and with all of our clients, before we get to the design process, we help to extract and craft a genuine why behind their brand. Outside of making money and becoming successful, what are we bringing to the lives of our audience, what’s our legacy? Why do we give a shit? People can naturally digress to the what, the functional, our job is to work through this and build a genuine emotional connection to the audience. This is the best part.
You brought a tear to my eye!
One of my favourite presentation moments in my 2.5 years, is probably my favourite client, which we’re just about to launch, so can’t talk yet but after brand strategy guru and all round legend Pete Singline read our client back their proposition, they got really emotional. They couldn’t believe how well we had interpreted what they stood for and articulated it in a way they couldn’t never have done. The emotions come from a real place, as this is their hard earned cash, it’s a passion project and these people are in it for the right reason, and we nailed it for them. It’s really emotional to be a part of that and be their sounding board, the person they come to for some advice. I feel connected to the success of this brand.
Collaboration, not competition.
A truly collaborative environment allows you to shine together. There’s no room for divas, lazy people or big competitive egos. Working in a place that nurtures collaboration, is healthier for all parties. No one can go it alone, we have a really supportive environment where if we don’t know, we ask, and as an agency we also lean to peers to collaboratively deliver on a project if the deliverable is outside of our core skill set.
Culture is really important.
Helping brands to define what they stand for and a culture they want to build, means we truly know what type of culture we want for ourselves. A huge amount of time, energy and budget has been allocated to culture at Truly Deeply. From weekly snack day traditions, to yoga classes, day trips, staff surveying, mindfulness sessions, we have an open door, non hierarchal structure that understands that happy staff are productive staff. And we have a glass of rose at the market on Friday… it doesn’t hurt.
So that’s why I get up in the morning.
Working in brand, you can get a number of curveballs thrown at you, have to dip into many different industries, some of which you haven’t a notion about, nor are interested in (finance for me!) but at the heart of brand is uncovering what makes us different and giving businesses the tools to rally their staff to live their brand day in day out. I truly revel in the success of my clients and believe that I have had a critical part to play in their success, as I’m part of a brilliant eclectic team with different strengths that battle it out amongst ourselves to arrive at the best solution for our clients… it’s a friendly battle, we’re just passionate.
Plus sometimes I wear space pants to work and no one bats an eyelid. You must be your true self and not follow the pack… you won’t catch me in no business suit.
If you’d like to chat about jumping career, and learn more about brand, I’d love to meet up or have a chat. I’d also like to know your thoughts and experiences.