We were asked to write a piece for Advertising Week describing our first year in the business. My first year was…well…special. I have an uncanny ability to say charmingly awkward things and land myself into only the strangest of situations. People seem to enjoy this about it, so I used up all my first year gems to write this post.
Read the original here or below.
My first year in advertising was everything we were told it wouldn’t be, and then some.
It may have been the best year anyone could have asked for. From amazing mentors, huge opportunities, killer parties, and no end of crazy people, it was a year to remember. (Or at times forget, based on the digital team’s penchant for Jager.)
In planning for this post, I asked a few of the people who were there for their thoughts on what stood out to them about my first year — they quickly reminded of how awkwardly I came into this world. They also reminded me that I must have done something right, given that I now count so many of these great folks as friends.
To best describe my first year, I have chosen to highlight some of the stand out moments [good and bad] because a life in advertising is only as good as your craziest moments. As such, I offer you my top 5 first year moments.
Chapter 1: Shiny Things
My year started with an interview; one which I will likely never live down. First, let’s get a couple things straight: 1) I pride myself on being pretty well-spoken and am often described as mature beyond my years, 2) years of theatre and improv training have drilled in me the importance of always offering a solution, an answer. Unfortunately, the latter trumped the former and led to what would become my most embarrassing interview moment ever.
It, an early morning interview at a great agency. Me, a hungry student looking to nab that perfect internship.”This could be the one” I thought. The interview was going superbly; I was witty, I was smart, and then — then — this happened.
The account director introduced the client, a luxury car maker. Wow. She looks at me and asks “How do you feel about cars?” The dialogue in my head starts “Crap, what do I say? I live downtown, I walk, cars are just those things that try to hit me. Say something Anne, anything. Just say something.”
”I like shiny things, and cars are shiny.”
”NOT THAT ANNE, ANYTHING BUT THAT.”
The rest of the interview is a blur; most of it spent contemplating the feasibility of the Men in Black memory-erasing device. Save me now Will Smith, save me now.
Our Fresh Prince must have been watching over me because not only did I get the internship, I was given a full time gig just a few weeks later. Better yet, the account director in question has become a great friend (and keeps the awkward reminders to a minimum.)
Chapter 2: Say My Name
Having now landed the job and working my derriere off to prove that my little interview gaffe was nothing to worry about, I was starting to feel more confident. It had been a few months and people seemed impressed with my work. Wonderful. My foot had all but given up its mission to make a home for itself in my mouth. It was firmly planted in my black leather pumps, happy to be there. Or so I thought. Until one day it decided to make an appearance. Grandiosely, of course.
It, an all staff meeting. Me, apparently still a little low on impulse control. (I would soon come to describe this as “part of my charm”. People bought it. Now I’m charming.) Our president was speaking and somehow got on the subject of being on great terms with everyone, knowing names, and so on. My brilliant self challenged him on this, certain he didn’t know my name. (In my defence I grew up in a small community where my mother had taught everyone’s kid. They knew my name before I did. So I now assume no one knows my name unless they grew up in a small French community.)
But defences aside, was this a little out of line? Maybe. Was this a snooty shop where people couldn’t laugh at the innocence of nervous youth? Certainly not. I was now the girl who felt the need to challenge the agency president, and maybe for just a minute, I was secretly everyone’s envy. Suffice to say my name was remembered from there on out, for better or worse.
Chapter 3: Les Cartes
I know what you’re thinking right now “this girl embarrasses herself like it’s going out of style, why even get out of bed in the morning?” Well, for reasons like this next one. Despite my flubs along the way, I was getting noticed. Working hard, winning over clients, befriending coworkers, crushing timelines. My doggedness had no bounds; I was going to be a great account person.
There were two others who had started at about the same time, working under the same philosophy. We were all successful, but we were all stuck with “junior” titles, which didn’t do too much to boost our egos. But happy that we had a great job, we didn’t make too big of a fuss. Well, two of us didn’t make too big of a fuss. One (surprisingly, not me) made a bigger fuss and, at the request of the president, crafted a witty letter explaining exactly why “junior” should be removed. As previously seen, our pres had a sense of humour. Conveniently, he and the others at the top of the totem pole, also had great respect for us little fish.
It, the company summer party. Me, oblivious to the letter that had been written. Mr. President is making a speech and proceeds to read excerpts from the letter. We laugh. A lot. But what came next actually blew me away. He pulls out three white boxes, hands one to the author, one to the other junior, and one to me. What we find are brands new business cards, they read “Account Executive” – we’d all just been promoted. He now knew my name AND that I had earned promotion. I was moving up in the world.
Chapter 4: Beef for Vegetarians
With a new sense of pride guiding me through work, I was happy to be given a fairly hefty chunk of responsibility on a new client. “Here we go Anne, you earned this promotion, now show them you can take over the world” or something to that effect was my daily mantra. Fuelled by bottomless agency coffee and a sheer love of life, nothing would stand in my way of breaking from my awkward past. Nothing, except for uncooked meat, that is.
It, food photography gone (potentially) awry. Me, innocent (unqualified) bystander. We had the surprisingly difficult task of retouching food photography. But not just any food. No, we were trying to perfect the colour on hundreds of dollars worth of uncooked steak. Mounded up, all floppy and what not, and red. So very red. Or, so very, very red. This was the dilemma, how red is too red?
As the project lead, it was my job to get the popular vote. As the resident vegetarian, I couldn’t have been less excited. But I tucked my tail between my legs and set off, stopping by every occupied desk, holding up two pictures of meat: one red, the other so red you expected the cow to reform in front of you. “Which of these is more appetizing to you?” [pause for blank stare] — [then eyebrow raise] — [another blank stare] “Sorry, what?” “Of the two photos, which has the most appealing steak?” “Really?” “Yes, really.” “Aren’t you a vegetarian?” [pause for effect] “Yes.” “The left one. The right one is just too red.” “Great, thanks.”
And so I moved through the agency, more confident than ever that the tofu I had mixed into my lunch stir fry would be the most satisfying part of my day.
Chapter 5: Swoon
Through all the crazy moments, I took solace in reminding myself of the amazing opportunities I had been given since starting the job. So to end on a high note, we’ll swing back in time to pre-promotion Anne. June of 2007, when I would live out a childhood dream.
It, an award show I had faithfully watched since my early teens. Me, a music lover oblivious to the perks of advertising. It was an average day, status report this, budget that, douse fire here, when my account director tells me we’ve been given tickets to the MMVAs by our client, “Would you like to go?” the 16 year old girl inside of me squealed at such a pitch the Beiber fans would be put to shame. “Yeah, yeah that’d be cool. Thanks.” [If you’re not familiar with the MMVAs, it’s the award show put on by Much Music. It is held half outdoors, it is loaded with amazing performers, and it’s arguably cooler than the MTV awards. There, I said it. Maybe I’ll change my tune if the MTV VMAs give me a pass to check out their show.]
The day comes. I walk into Much Music Headquarters, a place I had dreamed of for years and only been inside of once for the now defunct Electric Circus. I was back. I had a backstage pass. This was going to be epic and I was not going to mess it up. And I didn’t. You’re proud right? You should be, it was open bar.
There were of course a few standout moments: spending the night in towering heels, I grew concerned that my face would eventually meet the carpet-covered asphalt. It didn’t. This was extra rewarding when I saw a Top Model contestant take a tumble down some stairs. Later in the evening, I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw my crush. He was a VJ who cared, one who wanted you to listen to good music. And for my night of remembering my teens, he was the dreamiest guy in the world. George Stroumboulopoulos. And so I walk over, and introduce myself. He actually responds. I tremble as I ask for a photograph. He agrees. I melt.
And there you have my top 5 first year moments. Honourable mentions go out to the time client sent me a banker box so full of chocolate and candy I had to renew my gym membership, the time I got flown to Montreal just to drop off a pitch, and the time my new boss offered to buy me a martini to celebrate my being hired, only for me to realize that I was already kind of drunk and that no, I did not need a 3oz martini.
It was a wonderful, crazy, unforgettable year. And while there was much for me to learn, I would like to offer to you my big three revelations (yes, another list. I like lists. I also like Excel. And lists in Excel.)
- Just be yourself. It’s something I realized quickly after my interview. People would sooner know the real you, faults and all, then some over-censored, under-whelming version of yourself. You can’t offer perfection; we all know it doesn’t exist. What you can offer is yourself.
- This one is for the young’ns starting out in the biz: You will mess up. People make mistakes, great people learn from them. What will make you stand out is your ability to fix the problem, learn why it was a problem, and keep moving forward. The worst thing you can do is come to a standstill for fear of messing up.
- And one for the more advanced: People make all the difference. What set my year apart from the others’ in my graduating class was the people. There was an outstanding team at ACLC; we got along, we worked hard, we supported each other. But maybe most importantly, we had amazing mentors. The account director I mention above took the time to teach me the ropes and make sure I could stand on my own two feet. She wasn’t going to let me be anything but the best I could be. And our team of VPs kept an eye out on me, giving me great opportunities and an open-door policy that meant I could go to them with any problem and not have to worry about judgement. These amazing people are still in my life today and that, to me, is the true sign of a great mentor – someone who doesn’t want you to succeed simply to get the work done. They want you to succeed because they genuinely care about you.