We help companies care about their customers' hopes and dreams. We help companies grow. We get to collaborate with smart, funny, talented people with diverse backgrounds and interests.
Several times a year I serve as a guest lecturer at University of California, Irvine and Chapman University. I enjoy mentoring the next generation of advertising professionals. They remind me how lucky I am. When I look out across the classroom, I see in their eyes that they would walk across hot coals to be doing what I do.
I always begin my talks with my profession of love and appreciation for my career in advertising, for being able to spend my days at the intersection of business and everything imaginable. A day in advertising is a day spent absorbing market dynamics; social trends; new technologies; design; emerging media platforms; pop culture influences. It's a business of ideas – ideas born of hard work, knowledge and serendipity.
True, it can be a day and night job. And it can be emotionally draining and stressful. But, again, we get to work in a business of ideas. That doesn't suck.
I recently spoke to a group of University of Michigan students who asked me to share my advice as they embark on their careers. Here's what I told them:
- Pursue a profession, not a job. Whatever you decide to do, be the consummate professional. Accumulate skills and knowledge. Be great at a few things and not simply average at many things.
- Be curious. Embrace your career as a journey of learning. You need not know everything. But you need to ask more interesting questions of those who do know. Questions provoke ideas and progress.
- Fail. Learn. Repeat. (Need I say more?)
- Be accountable. Blaming others is not only is a waste of time, it's a wasted opportunity to learn and grow. Victimhood serves no purpose.
- Be dependable. We value people who do what they say they're going to do. (True in life, true in business.) Demonstrate early on in your career your ability to get things done.
- Solve problems. Don't whine about problems. It's what we're paid to do. The sales graph pointing downwards is a problem. Unhappy franchisees is a problem. High bounce rates on a website is a problem. Negative brand perceptions are a problem. We fix problems.
- Have a voice. Meetings aren't a spectator sport. Have the courage to show you are a thinking individual. Always have a point of view. Don't worry about whether your perspective is right or wrong. Expressing your idea will be a catalyst for others to challenge or build upon it. And this is how ideas are born, from the collision of diverse perspectives.
- Reimagine yourself, often. Don't allow yourself to grow stale. Enroll in the training your company offers. Accept opportunities that force you to learn. Creative people must continually evolve. Years ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk given by George Martin, the legendary producer of the Beatles. This was his lasting lesson from the Beatles – they experimented and took risks and, by doing so, avoided a repetitious formula.
- Always ask "why" and "why not." These two seemingly simple questions pack tremendous power. Why challenges the status quo while also signaling curiosity. Why not is the eternal anthem of optimists. It's hard to go wrong navigating by these two questions.
- Learn to be a commercial anthropologist. I believe this is central to succeeding in advertising. Your anthropologist side requires a fascination with people and the strength to observe without judgement. The commercial side is a constant reminder that advertising exists to help companies sell. Keep both sides in equal balance. Too much human observation without bottom line impact isn't good. Too much selling devoid of human insights creates a commodity business.
My parting advice to these students is always the same: I don't care what you end up doing. But thirty years from now, make sure you can stand up and say "I love what I do for a living."