This is an article I wrote for FutureRising: a much needed initiative for those trying to break into the creative industries. Complete with a fantastic hub of advice and inspiration and opportunities to get involved with real industry work (like gold dust for many aspiring creatives out there).
Ah, you’ve landed your first ad job, congratulations! Pull up a chair for a moment; the champagne is on me. My first “real” job after graduating a couple of years ago wasn’t in advertising (I graduated mid-recession and was pretty chuffed to find any job which paid real money and didn’t expect me to relinquish any vital organs to the black market).
It was just a bog-standard office job, but I remember being enormously relieved on getting it as it seemed a blessing to get any job in that climate.
In the competitive world of advertising, that relief is only amplified. The going is tough. Many just starting out will be familiar with the grad gauntlet: the written application obstacle course, the interviews masquerading as Mastermind Hot Seats, and finally, the job. If only, on landing that job, you actually knew what you were supposed to be doing, everything would be just peachy.
Perhaps you just need to learn how to talk the talk, right? Well, not quite. It’s tempting to join in with the language you hear around you, even when you don’t fully understand it. Don’t. It’s likely you’re not the only one who isn’t really sure what’s going on, others may just be better at disguising it. Being new at a job means exactly that; you’re not expected to know what’s going on, just to be keen, listen and learn.
Yes, it’s a fast-paced industry, but if you don’t understand what someone has said to you that’s as much their responsibility as yours. Be sure to research what you’re not sure of, but it’s equally important to go back and talk to that person and make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding; even at the risk of looking stupid. You’ll probably save yourself a lot of time later.
There’s a subtle but crucial difference between industry specific keywords and shorthand which, with the assumption that everyone is up on the lingo, speeds up a conversation and buzzwords. Marketing loves its buzzwords; words that don’t really have a meaning, in fact they more often obscure meaning than aid understanding. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to know this stuff, but even better, know when not to use it.
What you say is important, but how you say it even more so. After all, advertising is all about persuasion and your choice of words in the workplace is vital. Not only is a lot of “marketing speak” lazy communication, it takes us further away from the very people we’re being paid to talk to.
David Ogilvy says it better than me: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” That’s a lot harder to do when you spend your work hours communicating in “Advanced Marketing”.
Don’t forget that every single one of us is “the consumer” and we all deserve clear communication. As part of a generation that has been immersed in constant, pervasive advertising since we were born, we know this. We’ve learnt to be very cynical. We can spot an insincere product claim from a mile off. Despite that, they’re still endemic. Yet it can be strangely easy to forget all this when you have your “work head” on. You may find yourself saying things or suggesting ideas that you never would outside the office, I know I have. It’s because at work you are, by definition, isolated from the “real world”.
Obama’s old speech-writer, David Lovett, wrote brilliantly about this in “the culture of bullshit” (please take time to read the full article if you haven’t already): “[it] infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth and making it harder to achieve anything.”
Communication is the lifeblood of advertising. We shouldn’t just talk the talk.