In the incestuous world of ad agencies, people rarely settle at just one. Accounts change; needs change; money, titles and opportunity call. So it’s no wonder agency people hop from place to place.
I chose a different path. One that has kept me at RPA for 20 years. And while you may be asking what someone who’s been at the same place for two decades can tell you about leaving, I can say that I’ve learned my fair share about the advertising employee’s life cycle.
If you are considering a move or even wondering if you should settle in, here are some questions to ask before you hop the fence.
What’s my plan?
Make a plan. Put things on paper, even if they are clear in your brain. It makes it more actionable, and an easier way to be accountable to your career. Do you want automotive in your book? Are you ready to manage? Create a clear directive that plots out your career and holds yourself accountable. You don’t need to hop around to hit those goals, it can happen in your own agency. All you need to do is ask. And if the answer is not what you want, then it may be time to look around.
Do I like the people here?
Look up from your laptop. Better yet, take a walk. Remove yourself from the sometimes narrow perspective your desk tends to create. As you wind around the cubicles, the action figures, the ironic posters, look into the eyes of the people you see. Are they happy? Stressed? Unfulfilled? People are the most important asset an agency has, and if you are not connecting with the people, it’s impossible to connect with the work. When you get back to your seat, take a second look. Do you respect the people on your left and right? If not, find a place where you do.
What do I love more, advertising or life?
Ad people are narcissists, plain and simple. We love to see our work celebrated. But, we also love life, and how those experiences can be brought back into the work. It’s important to figure out what matters more to you. Blue-chip work for a demanding ECD and not having much of a life, or having a life and not producing boatloads of notable work? Yes, these are not mutually exclusive, but there are agencies that don’t offer a real work/life balance. For some people that’s OK — and that’s fine. But for others, it’s unsustainable. Plot where you find happiness in this work/life spectrum and see if your agency connects on that same axis.
What stirs my soul?
Oftentimes, we get caught up in the work and don’t take a moment to think about what we need to happily succeed everyday. For me, it’s about feeling creatively challenged. And each day for the past 20 years, I’ve found a way to make that happen. Other people may be motivated by money. Forgoing a fall weekend at "Oldchella" in favor of driving a fanboy Tesla. Some put life first and work second, so freelance is a great chance to travel and not be bogged down by traditional schedules. Whatever makes you happy, make sure you know what it is, and that you are getting it. If not, find a way or place where you will.
Am I ready to start over?
Moving to another agency is like moving high schools … in the middle of the year. And we all know how tough it is to be the new kid. If the problem in your current situation is something you can discuss, do that first. Because starting over is literally starting over. All the relationships, equity, overtime, hard work, great ideas, lunches and selfless acts may have gotten you this new job, but those moments are not transitive. That means you need to rebuild your relationship in human capital, and remarket yourself to a whole new group of people. Oh, and you are an outsider, so don’t forget about what an outlier always seems to bring: Competition.
But all that aside — maybe you need a change, in which case a fresh start somewhere else may be in order.
Before you make a move, though, sleep on it. For a few nights. Ask around to people who work there, and do your research. Decisions like this can make your career or send you down an unfulfilled path. After you weigh all the pros and cons, make a choice and commit.
And once you go, never look back.
J. Barbush is vice president and creative social media director with RPA.