A Tale of Two Ad Careers

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland



obscurity-chart There are two paths of an advertising career: one leads to fame, the other to obscurity. I don’t know anyone who comes into advertising who doesn’t seek recognition. We yearn for affirmation. This isn’t narcissistic. It stems from a need to please and solve problems. But that’s a topic for another time.

The pursuit of a noteworthy advertising career soon becomes one of two things: the greatest job a person can have, or torture. For the sake of simplification: fame or obscurity.

How you arrive at one of these two destinations isn’t as obvious as one might think. Most people who graduate with an advertising degree believe they will find several opportunities available and that their first job will catapult them to the top of their game. The opposite is usually the case. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, most ad jobs are risky to a successful career. It is a rude awakening to learn that the job you’ve taken is everything but what you need. The logical response is to take another job — typically to the same result.

The person’s third job is the catalyst that determines the rest of his or her career. Let me repeat that in more personal terms. Your third job will determine whether you will have an advertising career of fame, or one of obscurity. And here’s why. Your first two jobs will last one to two years. This means that you must have samples of your professional experience in your portfolio. If the work is terrible, you are terrible. Unfortunately, all the legitimate reasons in the professional world will not overcome this judgment. The wrong job is a terrible job because it makes your work terrible.

There is a simple way to avoid such a fate. I will write more about that at another time. Until then, remember this: You must control your advertising career. You must consider what it is you truly want, what truly makes you content in your work. You must define those companies that can provide this contentment. You must purposefully design your portfolio to be the most appealing prospective employee to those companies. And when you arrive, you must make the most of the opportunity they supply. This is controlling your career. When your career controls you, you take what you’re given and just accept it. If you do so, get used to anonymity.

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