#agencylife – prep school for adults

AMC_MM_7B_Promo_EveryEpisode_NostalgiaI recently resigned from my job in an agency after 6 years. You can read more about how and why I made that decision here.

It’s been an incredible journey, and I wanted to reflect on exactly what it’s like to work in an agency, because it’s certainly different to anything else I had ever experienced. In fact, before I worked at Weber Shandwick I didn’t even know agencies existed! (such a novice…) 

So where to start? When I was studying for my masters, I remember saying to a friend that it was pretty sad to study so much and then end up forgetting most of it later down the line. Her reply was, “It’s not about what you learn, it’s about a methodology”. To this day I find this so poignant! And I genuinely believe LSE prepared me for the professional world extremely well.

In the beginning I thought a degree from LSE was the holy grail, guaranteeing I could get any job. Later, I realised what it really meant was that you were able to work in a certain way. That you’d be able to apply certain reasonings and methods to work and be a certain “type of worker”. Today, I feel like my time at Weber Shandwick has brought me the same thing: a methodology. A way of working, of behaving as a professional, a set of codes and expectations, a measure of quality…

In 2017 I was working on our award-winning campaign “J’ose contre la fibrose” with a partner agency – 87seconds. At that point in time, as I was experiencing being a client, I realised there most definitely was a Weber way! And it had crept up upon me without my even noticing. After that, I realised that across the network there was a similar way of working, an understanding of how we serviced clients, and similar levels of speed, quality etc.

Before I ramble on too much, I’d like to say that I believe my time in agency was a great fast track for my career. It was a way for me to learn as much as possible, at a high level, and fast. I met some very smart and talented people enabling me to learn from the best. The end result is: today I feel extremely well prepared for my future career. Working in an agency (at Weber) is like gaining twice the experience: my 6 years there count as 12! I’m really glad I got to do this, even though ultimately I decided agency was not for me.

Here are the top things I learnt working in an agency:

  1. Adaptability. When you work in an agency no 2 days are the same since you have different clients, different projects, all happening at once. You therefore have to learn to adapt, and fast, so that everyone stays satisfied and you don’t lose your mind.
  2. Speed. With several clients and only 5 days in the week, you need to learn to be fast. Not only that but often clients expect their projects to be the priority. So if you have several who are all the priority, you need to learn to be fast & efficient to be able to deliver.
  3. High Quality. Like I said I worked with some very smart and talented people. Just like at LSE, when you’re surrounded by talented people you learn to up your game. I really believe that for most projects I worked on, we were always devoted to giving it our best and the bar for best was set high. (of course, there are always exceptions for those sceptics reading this)
  4. Client servicing. I was a total newbie so I had no idea what a client facing industry was like. Six years in agency really taught me what that meant: how to anticipate their needs, understanding how they set priorities, understanding their business, their products, and their priorities… Understanding we should make them feel like they are our only client at all times. And it certainly isn’t easy!
  5. Knowing myself. In the past 6 years I’ve been through a lot, and when I say this experience has left me well prepared for my career it’s not just on a skills level. I have become a much more confident person and have learnt so much about myself: what I like, what I don’t like, my boundaries, how to manage up down and across, what kind of professional I want to be… It has pushed me out of my comfort zone time and time again… Today I feel much more confident as a professional and ready to take new challenges head-on.
  6. Working hard. I’m not gonna lie, you work hard in agency. Real hard. And thanks to the non-stop environment I learnt how to juggle multiple clients, big workloads, tight deadlines, and more. Now I know how hard I can work and how to manage those situations.
  7. Resourcefulness. In the past we’ve joked with colleagues about how #agencylife changes your perception of real life. But it’s true! Working in an agency teaches you to be incredibly resourceful. Google becomes your best friend. Have you really considered all options and explored all avenues before you ask someone for help? I don’t mean this in a negative way either, I believe being resourceful is a key skill which gives you greater independence.
  8. Pro-activity. Much like being resourceful, pro-activity is an incredible skill. It can happen that you will get thrown in the deep end, and your colleagues may not always be available or have time to give you a full download. Not even that, but your clients are relying on you to help them in their jobs, with their projects. Pro-activity is an insanely useful tool which allows you to get more done, faster.
  9. Prioritization. With many different clients, projects, notwithstanding your personal life, your career path, the people you manage etc. etc., suffice to say you are juggling a lot of balls. And sometimes clients (or colleagues, or others) need to understand you just cannot do it all at once. In times like those, it’s incredibly important to know how to prioritize so that you don’t lose foot. It’s also important to know how to communicate your priorities to others, or ask them to help you priortize.
  10. Being a manager. This was the first time I became a manager and I truly loved it. I learnt about how to teach, how to mentor, how to share knowledge. I also learnt how to coach and motivate, how to help the people you manage but also set expectations… And I also learnt about how to help and manage my colleagues regardless of whether we were in a manager/direct report situation. Because regardless of what the job vacancies say, work experience is also knowing how to deal with people.

What about you? Have you ever had an experience you felt put your career on a fast track? What was it?

PS. The hashtag #agencylife (which you can follow on Twitter or Instagram) seriously cracks me up and has some good home truths about what it’s like.

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