I’ve worked at agencies across the spectrum, from large creative-driven shops to fusty direct response firms to healthcare-exclusive agencies to single proprietorships. My role is copywriter, though I also have held ACD (Associate Creative Director) and Creative Strategist positions.
Overall, working at an agency is awesome. I know it’s cool for creatives to diss on agencies, because many of them have greater aspirations (screenwriting, commercial directing, fine art). Many get extremely frustrated with clients and account folk, because they tend to provide input that dilutes the creative appeal of their work. And their likelihood to win awards; awards are HUGE in the ad biz.
I talk about awards because creatives who work at account-driven shops often bitch about their jobs, the perks notwithstanding.
Agencies offer many perks, starting with the physical office space itself. Usually, it’s architecturally stylish and/or interesting. One agency I worked for had seven theme-based conference rooms (African safari with animal heads on the wall, a wood-and-brass Harvard room, baseball room etc.). I know a lot of dot coms offer free food and drink, but agencies were doing this for decades. Ad agencies will almost always have fun things like pool tables, video games, beer on tap, dog areas (in case you want to bring your dog to work). Wieden+Kennedy even had a full-size basketball court. (They still might; I haven’t been there in decades.)
Most agencies will host parties on a regular basis. At Publicis, every Friday was “beer Friday” where they brought out beer from their own kegerator, along with wine and snacks, beginning at 4pm. In the summer, beer Fridays often started at noon and included a BBQ lunch on their large deck.
Dress code for creatives is generally whatever you want to wear. Account people tend to dress up more, but they’re allowed a lot of leeway. Everyone gets dressed up for big client meetings; the higher up you are (and the more important the meeting) the more conservative it gets. The general look is funky/hipster. Blue hair, tattoos, nose piercings etc. are common (more so among creatives).
Workdays generally start around 9:30, though some people do come in earlier. People work late, too; I generally stayed til 7:30 or 8pm because I think and perform better at night. All nighters, as previously mentioned, are also extremely common and are considered a badge of honor, especially when you emerge with some great work as a result.
Yes, people work hard and play hard. That’s pretty much a cliche in the ad world.
Even though alcohol is generally available, people don’t drink much during the day. It’s not uncommon to see folks walking around with beers after 4pm, though. Sometimes beer is served at meetings.
It all sounds like heaven, right? It is, but agencies can also be high-pressure, with lots of competition and politicking. The agency environment is also male-dominated, especially in the higher creative echelons. Women who succeed can often be back-stabby, and in my experience, not very nurturing when it comes to younger female talent. This is one thing I did not like about working for big agencies; a lot of the women reminded me of the Mean Girls (2004 movie).
I currently am working as a freelancer, mostly on my own but occasionally onsite at agencies. I’m really enjoying my current gig at an infomercial specialty agency (the one responsible for Oxiclean, George Foreman Grill, Space Bag and many other iconic spots — they call them “shows”).
That’s my perspective. Work hard, play hard, drink a little, politic a lot.