Dear Class of 2016: Here's what we need

An open letter to this year's graduating class from the partner and chief content officer of Eleven

Dear Graduates,

So you want to work in advertising? Makes sense. This is a career with incredible drama, crushing defeats, tear-jerking scenes, soaring success and brain-busting challenges. And that’s just the Monday Morning Status Call.

You’re gonna love it. Mostly. After all, what other profession pays you to actually make those ideas swirling around inside your head? Yes, our industry feeds on newness. We crave new ideas like a Kardashian craves fame. I suspect you have whole laptops crammed full of wild, sharable, fearless ideas waiting to be unleashed upon our content hungry world. So bring it.

Oh yeah, and bring this too:

Your natural predisposition toward digital and social
It would be wise if you came to the agency with a very natural approach to digital media. On second thought, since you were born after Yahoo and AOL, that’s most likely a given. Yes, it’s been decades since the Internet came along, yet some clients are still slow to shift budgets away from broadcast to digital. It seems like every day there’s a new way for people to share and engage. And yet, there are still those in our industry who still think of digital as an add-on. Help save them by thinking about the app first, and then shoot a commercial about the app. Flip the model.

A decent amount of love for data
We’re in the Golden Age of Consumer Knowledge. It’s staggering how much we can now learn about a person, and exactly how they behave. We need to you to arrive and want to dive into all that information. But don’t be too married to it. After all, no one has data-mined their way to brilliance. You need to mentally download it, and then see how far you can leap from there.

An interest in mashing up your career
There was, for a long time, a very clear set of lines in the advertising business. Account was distinct from Strategy, which differed dramatically from Creative who worked with Production, but under a certain set of rules. We’re not so sure that is going to be the case going forward. We need people who are comfortable crossing the traditional lines of the org chart. I’ll be honest — that makes a few of us who have been doing this for a while a bit uncomfortable. But uncomfortable is good. We need to grow. Social media really kicked in the doors on this for us. It became difficult to decide if social lived in media or creative or strategy or all three. That’s because social is different and it means that we need people who are comfortable with different. And social is really just the beginning. Oh yeah, for social, it would be great if you could quickly shoot and edit content, too.

A respect for your elders
No, not us. I’m talking about the legends. Come in with an understanding of what Bernbach did and why Bill Backer mattered. Know the story of how the Apple 1984 ad almost died, then somehow got made. And why we read Truth, Lies and Advertising when it came out, along with Hey Whipple! Squeeze This. Remember why we care about Subservient Chicken and the HP Pong Banner. And if you can pick Rosser Reeves out of a line up? Amazing. You should know about all that, but don’t feel bound by it. Newness, remember? These are not sacred documents. It’s more important to realize that, in order to break the rules, you have to first know the rules. Don’t be that happy idiot who boldly declares, "Advertising used to communicate a value proposition. … Now it has to have a value proposition" as though you are the first person to whom that ever occurred. The only way to add something is to know what is already there.

Get ready to get brave

If you find yourself in a place that’s all about managing and structure and hierarchy, run the hell the other way. You should pick your head up from your desk, look around and see everyone is as into brave ideas as you are. From the founder on down. This industry only works when we commit to taking risks, challenging each other and understanding that ideas are fragile and can only live in places that treat them well. The organizing principle of the agency has to be ideas, not titles. So, every single day, put out one great idea. Oh, and there’s one last thing.

Have fun out there.

Mike McKay is partner and chief content officer with Eleven.

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