Agency life: Expectations vs. reality

Agency life: Expectations vs. reality


In 2020, I was a junior at Northern Arizona University and I had a serious problem: I lacked a post-graduation goal.

My passion for my Strategic Communication major was strong, but I hadn’t fully explored my “adult life” possibilities or career pathways. That February, my public relations club left our sleepy mountain college town to tour three advertising agencies in Phoenix.

Three professional tours and one very long day later, my life was changed forever.

On the car ride home, I adopted two things: an advertising emphasis on my major and a dream of working at an agency. My resources told me that getting a job at an agency is difficult—and agency life can be challenging—but I never let that hinder me.

At present, I’m a college graduate and my dream has been (partially) fulfilled. I’m completing my final month as a Partnership Development Intern at The James Agency.

Reflecting on the past few months, I had a lot of expectations about what “agency life” would be like. I also harbored some (now obvious) misunderstandings about how agencies like TJA work. Safe to say: I’ve certainly cleared a few things up. I now understand how an agency functions and I can validate some assumptions. On the other hand, some of my expectations were dead wrong.

So before I wrap up my internship, I leave you, dear reader, with a bit of insight. Here are the expectations I had about agencies, the industry and myself before starting—and whether or not they came to reality at TJA:

1. Agency employees are people-driven.

TRUE. What attracted me most to agency life was the immersion into a field of constant interaction. It is in my extroverted-nature to constantly find myself in socially-driven environments. I was told that agencies have to be people-focused since there is frequent communication both internally and with clients.

The James Agency is no exception.

Within our own team, we exercise open communication and have multiple opportunities to collaborate on projects or even connect on a personal level. When it comes to clients, we bring a client’s entire team to the kickoff meeting and keep them involved throughout the progression of our engagement. We simply leave no room for communication error—and my extroverted soul is full every day.

2. “Real-life professionals” are dull and strictly-business.

FALSE. To all marketing professionals reading this: I owe you an apology.

It’s not my fault, really. Every ancient textbook depicts you stuck in dingy cubicles, overpriced suits and drab conference rooms. My first day was filled with surprises: casually-dressed professionals who ooze love for their work; bright, open office spaces filled with music and personality; exciting business development meetings where our prospective clients WANT to joke and chat about more than just business needs.

If you told college me that I would have a conversation with a marketing executive from New York about Squid Game and her favorite tequila, I would have never believed you.

When it comes to advertising, TJA has taught me a very valuable lesson: business professionals are really just fun-loving people too. When we remind ourselves of our humanity (and the fun things that make us tick), business suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

3. I would never like a sales role.

FALSE. I had reservations when it came to starting in a sales position. I thought the experience would be identical to when I worked on political campaigns: I would call someone, they would chew me out, and I would go home feeling drained.

I decided to take a chance and learned that new business development is a far cry from politics. At TJA, we view our role in partnership development as an opportunity to connect on a personal level with prospective clients and help them determine if our services are a good fit for their business.

Whether it’s personality, my training, or just dumb luck, it feels beyond amazing to wake up every day and work in a role that fits me.

4. Agency clients and projects are cool.

TRUE. I anticipated that we would have an exciting portfolio of accounts, but I didn’t realize that we worked with businesses and industries I had NEVER heard of. Those “obscure” accounts are actually some of the most interesting projects I have seen our team accomplish.

For example, SenesTech manages rodent populations with literal rat birth control and Hotel Valley Ho is a fully revived retro-chic hotel that used to be a secret Hollywood hideaway. I didn’t expect that we would provide marketing services for pest control or a famous Scottsdale hotel, but we’ve reinvented their brands to tell their story in visually compelling and digestible ways.

5. You must have technical creative skills to get hired at an agency.

FALSE. The positions at TJA cover a wide range of skills, strengths and passions. I know it’s physically impossible, but it feels like there’s a job for everyone here!

My university equipped me with a foundational set of hard creative skills and knowledge. It was very valuable to understand areas like social media management, graphic design and SEO, among others. When applying for TJA, I thought it necessary to include everything on my resume to appear valuable.

But that’s the beautiful part of agencies like TJA: not everyone needs to be a creative guru to be an integral asset to our clients. For example, our client services team utilizes a completely different skill set to keep our clients happy and our team working efficiently. Everyone here plays a super important part of the agency-client relationship and that’s what keeps the gears turning.

6. Interdepartmental feedback is unwelcome.

FALSE. While hunting for an agency position, I was told that people in differing departments don’t like getting their proverbial toes stepped on. Of course, it’s important to not steamroll someone’s area of expertise. I don’t think anyone appreciates that.

However, at TJA, interdepartmental feedback is encouraged and well-accepted. In our area of work, the ability to have a constructive conversation is imperative to give our clients high-quality services. We have an excellent proofing process that makes sure nothing goes out the door without being checked by someone who can provide a new perspective—even if that perspective is from a new intern who has never proofed a digital billboard before.

7. The James Agency is nothing short of amazing.

TRUE. Believe me, I’m not just saying this.

I spent my last semester of college researching agencies and trying to get an understanding of their cultures. The James Agency immediately struck me as a group of people who truly enjoy one another’s company and enjoy their work to the fullest. That was from the outside looking in. Now, after being on the inside, I can confirm that analysis was true.

I’m in an internship that challenges me to grow personally and professionally. I’m surrounded by a supportive group of people, from seasoned industry experts to young, aspiring masters. We make great things happen here and it’s exciting to see my college aspirations come to life.

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All that said, whether my expectations were true or false, my experience at TJA has been beyond positive. I hope for all aspiring marketers and advertising day dreamers to experience time an agency where they can work with a dynamic and exceptional team of individuals.

To that end, if you’re interested in working with TJA as a client or as a team member, I can’t recommend it enough. Hit us up or explore our careers and we’ll be in touch soon!

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