3. Ad agencies

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.
(Andy Warhol)

Global ad spending will reach $738.5 billion in 2024, with further gains predicted for the years ahead as the economy finishes its recovery from COVID. Of that, US advertising – on TV (broadcast and cable), online display, radio, outdoor, and print (newspapers and magazines) – is a big, $284 billion dollar business. Of that, digital ‘pure play’ comes to$162.4 billion, accounting for 57% of total ad dollars. And of that, social media will generate $58.8 billion in ad spend, increasing by 36% from the year before. Lots of money!

Advertising is absolutely essential to the economy. 100 years ago in the 1920s, businessmen like Henry Ford and politicians like Herbert Hoover realized that you had to pay workers more so that they could buy the very products they made. Advertising turned the worker into a consumer. Without advertising to spur demand, no business, no factories, no jobs. Your work keeps the American miracle running.

Basically, there are two different types of ads. First, for mass-produced products where the goal is to sell enough to keep up with the incredibly efficient 21st century assembly lines. Ads for Ford cars, for instance. If the production lines are faster than sales, the ads switch to near-giveaways, like a free iPhone 15 if you take a two-year Verizon payment contract.

Second are ads for static products or services. For the last five years, I’ve made tourism ads and pr for the city of Tombstone, Arizona. With weekend event tourism limited to max 6,000 visitors, the goal then becomes how to have more event weekends. Why the 6,000-person practical limit? Not enough space, stores, restaurants, motels, or porta-potties. We sure found that out in 2023, when professional Hollywood promoter Kenney Palkow created a wildly successful Red Dead Redemption event – we had 9,500 RDR folks in town that day and were way, way over our static-sized comfort zone! Unlike Ford cars, where Ford can always add another factory to keep up with demand, Tombstone cannot expand tourism facilities. Static workaround – if a client cannot increase production, they can raise prices and/or lower costs. Their call. The ads you make will reflect your clients’ marketing choices.

Ad agencies are a great place for artists who thrive in an exciting, high-pressure environment. My first career was in advertising, and I can recommend it without reservations to anyone who likes to draw.

In the fall of 1963, I lucked into a job at Doyle Dane Bernbach – DDB – in Manhattan. Before that, I’d worked for a few months at a really boring job, inking jet-fighter performance charts for a defense sub-contractor. Desperate, I started banging on doors, as they say. Showed my graphs (nobody cared) and artwork I’d made in high school, drawings of cars and airplanes. After several places rejected me, DDB hired me as the lowest-level production artist in the place. But I was in the door, into heaven.

With other neophytes, I worked for Helmut Krone, the art director who, with writer Paula Green, had cooked up the Avis ‘We’re Number 2’ campaign a few years earlier. Not in the fancy company headquarters on Madison Avenue, but in their rundown art studio on 46th St.

An ad agency has different sections, like account executives (salesmen), marketing research, media billing, and creative – the heart and soul of the firm. Creative-side job titles, then and now, are about the same.

The Creative Director is God. For my projects, that was Bill Bernbach. He supervised the meshing of copywriters and artists. DDB used a unique approach to ad creation. Put a copywriter and an artist in a room, and see what comes out. Imagine a large sketch pad on an easel. The writer and the artist stare at in for a while. At DDB, the artist took the lead – with the advent of offset printing, visuals took precedence over ad copy. So the artist walks over to the easel, and sketches two car seats... imagine you are looking through the dashboard of your car, and see two seats. That’s all. No steering wheel, nothing else.

Then, the Copywriter walks over. Writes the headline: ‘12 cylinders. Six for each of you.’ And the artist roughs in a few lines to indicate the body copy, and a Jaguar logo. That’s it. If the creative director approves the rough, a lesser copywriter would fill in the missing body copy, and production artists would make a comp for an account exec to show the client. At DDB, the account execs were under orders to get the client to approve the ad as created – no changes – or they would be fired. It’s different today – Marketing Research weenies with their focus groups and data analytics are boringly important.

The Art Director, with assistant art directors, oversaw the production of ads, brochures, posters, outdoor ads, and subway ads, like DDB’s ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s’ campaign, for a New York bakery.

Helmut Krone, even back then, was famous. I watched him like a hawk. His work as an art director was very different than mine. He never slaved over a drawing board, struggling with rubber cement to paste up little strips of photoset type on cardboard layout grids. Or cutting rubylith overlays with an X-Acto knife, to make color separations. No. He made roughs, generated ideas with Bill Bernbach and the copy chief, but also kept an eye on our work. He came that close to firing me one day – I hadn’t double-checked a client’s address on an ad coupon, and it was wrong... almost went out the door to print. You’ll get yelled at for screwing up in an agency art job, and he ripped me up one side and down the other that day. And I learned a valuable lesson: check, check, and check your work again!

Copy Chief Phyllis Robinson wrote the Levy’s ads, which led to Volkswagen hiring DDB and the famous VW ads of the ‘sixties:

A brilliant writer, she worked closely with Krone, as the agency attracted new accounts and then came up with campaign themes. As copy chief, she organized the work of several copywriters.

One of them was a woman named Mary Wells Lawrence. At agencies, cream rises to the top rapidly, and Mary went up the ladder like a rocket, eventually running her own Wells, Rich, Greene agency in the ‘70s, with campaigns for clients like Alka-Seltzer (plop, plop, fizz, fizz). Now, reading this, if you’re comprehending that agencies promote on talent and not race or gender, you’d be correct. Great places to work if you want to be judged on the quality of your work.

What makes a good ad? Ask Bill Bernbach: “The purpose of advertising is to sell. That is what the client is paying for and if that goal does not permeate every idea you get, every word you write, every picture you take, you are a phony and you ought to get out of the business.”

And –

“Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics and verbal gymnastics is NOT being creative. The creative person has harnessed his imagination. He has disciplined it so that every thought, every idea, every word he puts down, every line he draws, every light and shadow in every photograph he takes, makes more vivid, more believable, more persuasive the original theme or product advantage he has decided he must convey.” At DDB back then, if you got an art award from a professional group, like AIGA, they fired you.

And –

“Properly practiced creativity must result in greater sales more economically achieved. Properly practiced creativity can lift your claims out of the swamp of sameness and make them accepted, believed, persuasive, and urgent.”

Everybody else – other ‘creatives’, back then and today, were production artists and copywriters at various levels of experience and expertise. Today, there’s some specialization, such as web artists and web copywriters, but it’s all about words and pictures, text and images, communications that sell product – by bringing the customer to the point of sale.

As a junior artist, I worked on collateral – marketing communications material – brochures for Avis and Volkswagen. Learned to make color separations, learned to run a stat camera, learned, learned. Like the other young artists, I lived advertising, and, as time went by, moved up the ladder. Landed a job one day at a much smaller agency, Concept Advertising in Toronto. Art Director. We had a piece of American Airlines (ads and travel posters).

We also made ads for Sperry Univac (mainframe computers). I had just been hired, and we drove off for a meeting at Sperry.

“Just lay out the campaign for them,” said Sean, my boss.

“What campaign?” I asked. “What’s their main selling point?”

“They don’t have one,” he said. “That’s why we hired you! IBM’s way out ahead. Oh, here we are.”

So there we were. The conference room, the president of Sperry, a Mr. Jackson, and all his people. “So what do you have for us?” he asked. Sean introduced me. I looked around. Had absolutely no idea what to say. But then! Yes! I pointed at his marketing guy.

“Tell me,” I said. “Tell me some interesting things your customers do with their Sperry computers. I don’t care about the specifications – tell me what they are used for.” And that got them talking, and it it led to a year’s worth of ads, a full print campaign... we were actually able to turn up a lot more application stories than just processing sales receipts.

Promoted to Creative Director, and we landed the Province of Ontario (travel and tourism), then the Prince Hotels chain, and brochures for the DeHavilland Buffalo mlitary aircraft. Loved every minute, and finally left to start my own company.

The tools change. Before computers, we made hand-drawn comps to sell new projects. I had a client who took one of mine to the Bronx to sell a proprietary newspaper to the Yankees... and also made one he used to sell the Dodgers.

Today, it’s still faster and more spontaneous to sketch rough drafts – but you’ll make comps and production art on the computer. Photoshop, Xara, Illustrator. Adobe InDesign. So much faster, cleaner, better. No ‘good old days’ here! Over time, the programs will change – but if you stay focused on creating words and images that sell product – that bring buyers to the point of sale – you can count on a highly successful career.

More job titles

Here’s a list of art-related jobs that you’ll find at both agencies and at the myriad of graphic design shops that sell to agencies and corporate marcom departments:

3D Modeler
Art Director, Sr., Jr., Assistant
Copywriter Sr., Jr.
Creative Director
Desktop Publisher
Graphic Designer
Graphic User Interface Designer
Instructional Systems Designer
Litigation Graphics Specialist
Marketing Communications Specialist
Multimedia Designer, Project Manager
Package Designer
Presentation Specialist
Production Artist

You’ll find more information at TCG – The Creative Group. Lists of job titles and job descriptions at agencies, corporations, design studios. And salary information, both online and in a downloadable PDF. Useful.

When you go for an interview, you’ll show your portfolio. It’s important. To get a complete understanding of the portfolio development process, read How to Put Your Book Together and Get a Job in Advertising by Maxine Paetro.

No samples? Make some spec ads – your versions of published ads. For example, you might think that you can do better than a major automaker's print ads running in your favorite magazine. Spec ads are known in the industry as work you've done on your own. It's basically ‘pretend’ copywriting or graphic design but if you have no published work, it's vital to showing your talent.

Interning – not for me. I work, you pay me. But, to get the job, to get in the door, I’ll say something like “Look, I’m good, I want a chance to prove it to you. I’ll work for minimum wage for three months. If I’m not making you money by then, fire me. But if you’re happy with my work, then – and not until then – pay me the going wage for the job.”

Remember this: when you hand your book to interviewers, watch their eyes. After they look over a few pages, they will accept your competency – and that’s the point where you gently pull the portfolio away, close it, and say: “Tell me about your agency... what kind of work will you need me to do?” In sales, that’s called an assumptive close, and it works.

Where the jobs are

Here’s a list of large agencies...

Alloy Media & Marketing, New York City

aQuantive (Owned by Microsoft), Seattle, Washington

Aspen Marketing Services, Chicago, Illinios

BBDO, New York City

Blast Radius, New York City

Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, MN

Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Michigan

Carlson Marketing, Minneapolis

Cheil Communications, Ridgefield Park, NJ

ChoicePoint Precision Marketing, Alpharetta, Georgia

Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago

Crispin Porter and Bogusky, Miami, Florida

Dailey & Associates, New York City

DDB Worldwide

Deutsch Inc., New York City/Los Angeles

Digitas, Boston, Ma

Draftfcb, New York City/Chicago

Element 79 Partners, Chicago, Illinios

Epsilon, Wakefield, Massachusetts

Euro RSCG, New York City

Euro RSCG – Arnold Worldwide, Boston

Fallon Worldwide Minneapolis, Minnesota

George P. Johnson Co., Auburn Hills, Michigan

Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, CA

Grey Global Group, New York City

GSD&M, Austin, Texas

Harte-Hanks Direct, Langhorne, Pennsylvania

HealthSTAR Communications, Woodbridge, New Jersey

Hill Holliday, Boston, MA

JWT, New York City

Kirshenbaum Bond and Partners, New York City

Leo Burnett Worldwide, Chicago, IL

Lowe Worldwide,New York City

Lowe Worldwide – Mullen Advertising, Wenham, Massachusetts

Marketing Store, Lombard, Illinois

Martin/Williams, Minneapolis, MN

McCann-Erickson, New York City

McCann-Erickson – TM Advertising, Dallas, TX

Merkle, Lanham, Maryland

Merkley & Partners, New York City

Monster Worldwide, New York City

Mosaic Sales Solutions, Irving, TX

Ogilvy & Mather, New York, NY

Protocol Integrated Direct Marketing, Deerfield, Illinois

Richards Group, Dallas, TX

Roberts & Tarlow, New York City

RPA, Santa Monica

Sapient Corp., Cambridge, Massachusetts

SourceLink, Elk Grove Village, Illinois

TBA Global Events, Woodland Hills, California

TBWA\Worldwide, New York City

The Martin Agency, Richmond, Virginia

Viralytics Media, Chicago, IL

WB Doner & Company, Southfield, Michigan

Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Oregon

Wunderman, New York City, NY

Young & Rubicam, New York City, NY

Zimmerman Advertising, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

... and, in any city, so many more. Use social media to make contact with other people your age, but don’t buy into hard luck stories from others. Job-hunting misery loves company, but you must tune out the doom and gloom types, and stay on track... ‘drive your own drive’, as they say in the racing world.

Design Shops

While I love ad agencies because of the highly-competitive creativity, there’s a viable employment opportunity today that just didn’t exist back when. Graphic design shops – studios – firms – whatever you want to call them – create a large amount of the marketing collateral resold by ad agencies. Or, selling directly to corporations, they are doing work that used to be done by agencies. Logo design, brochures, stationery packages, graphics for building interiors, artwork for websites, and presentation production.

Graphics designers make just about everything except ads for large customers, where you need an agency media department to handle the print space or TV time purchases. Ads for smaller businesses? Where your client, the marcom manager, will place the ad themselves? Sure. It’s a great way to build an ad portfolio if you want to move to a full-scale ad agency later on.

2012 salaries? Lower than agencies, but, in a good busy shop, not bad. Update – a lesson in inflation – for 2024 salaries, multiply the numbers below by 1.4. 40% more, in only 12 years!

Creative Director (5+ years) – $87,750 - $118,250

Art Director (5+ years) – $66,000 - $95,600

Graphic Designer (5+ years) – $59,500 - $80,750

Graphic Designer (3 to 5 years) – $47,500 - $65,500

User Experience (UX) Designer – (1 to 5 years) – $48,000 - $75,500
Online balancing of user functionality with design elements.

Information Architect – $78,250 - $116,000
Website and content maps; storyboarding prototypes with Flash, HTML or PowerPoint.

Mobile App Designer/Developer – $61,750 - $90,000
Design and content creation for mobile devices and browsers.

Notice, above, that Information Architects (Multimedia Designers) are paid quite well – because of the added web HTML and Flash skills that many possess. Tip: start learning HTML 5, if you haven’t already, and keep an eye out for any new product that you can use to make Flash-like animations and simulations that – unlike Flash – will run on all platforms. Sooner or later, Adobe’s Flash franchise is going away.

Key point – in the graphics design world, work for a studio with large corporate clients, or a great deal of steady agency work. Small graphics shops are just too hand-to-mouth for job stability or a good income.

Look to the future

As in web development, print designers can expect more corporate reliance on template-based ‘canned’ artwork programs that ensure homogenized look ‘n feel at the expense of creativity. This will lead to more and more work done in-house, and less for outside graphic designers. In-house staff know their product best, after all.

Diversity – much more work for Hispanics, for fluent Spanish writers, for artists familiar with whatever cultural differences are going on vis-a-vis the Anglo world. Your Bat Mitzvah? My Quinceañera. But – nothing new – absolute ageism in ad agency and design firm work will continue. The young replace the old, and the old, wise beyond their years, go to work for Lockheed Martin.

Given increased portability and connectivity, more and more design shops will re-invent the freelance model, moving their workplaces to Starbucks. Why pay for physical plant when the product’s in the cloud? Meet at your customer’s facility – push the overhead burden down the road. Continued increase in virtual meetingspace – like Zoom and GoToMeeting – but you’ll always want to make your largest sales face-to-face, and over coffee works just fine.

Video game clients... suddenly, a huge new opportunity for ad agencies. VFX. More 3D design, increased use of 3D printers for product design. How Design Live – any issue will start giving you a clearer picture about design firms and how they operate. You can also look at AIGA – the graphic artists’ asociation. Annual dues, so go to a chapter meeting in your area for a visit first. Like STC for technical commuicators, it may – or may not – be worth the money, depending on how well membership opens the door to new contacts and new opportunities.

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