Involving tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S., creative marketing is an exciting opportunity for anyone who enjoys a challenging, fast-pace, constantly evolving career. Although there are many different roles that you can pursue, advertising agencies make up a significant portion of the marketing landscape. Agencies are agents that work on behalf of a client. In other words, agencies don't produce the "product" being marketed, but rather are specialists within a given area and are hired by a company (e.g. product maker, service provider, retailer) or an individual (e.g. entrepreneur, celebrity or politician) to help them grow and stay relevant.
There are many different types of agencies: creative, media, digital studio, social media, promotions, experiential, influencer, public relations, strategy and innovation, and more. Some client-agency relationships are what is called Agency of Record (AOR), which is characterized as a long-term committed relationship (think marriage), whereas others are more short-term project-based (think dating). Some larger companies even have their own in-house agencies. Although no two agencies are the same, they tend to have similar departments within them.
Following are some common disciplines and roles that exist within the creative marketing industry. Broadly speaking, these departments fall within four areas: 1) Strategy, Management and Media, 2) Content Creation, 3) Production and 4) Digital & Social Specialists.
Research & Strategy
The research and strategy department is responsible for understanding the consumer and market place (usually through some form of research), insight generation, setting objectives and charting the course of the brand and its communications. Skillsets tend to fall into two distinct categories:
Brand Strategists – sometimes called Brand Planners or Account Planners – are tasked with being the voice of the consumer. They conduct research, understand the competitive landscape, study culture and mine insights in order to position a brand/product and communicate with people. Good Brand Planners are usually curious people-people—they tend to be plugged into what's going on in culture and love to uncover what makes people tick. Brand Strategy roles are often competitive; as such, a portfolio of work is recommended.
Marketing Data Analysts excel in identifying key market statistics, interpreting findings, and helping marketing managers understand the numbers behind their marketing strategies. Using advanced methods like predictive modeling and cluster analysis, analysts help managers understand and implement research-backed decisions. By analyzing trends in the marketplace and modeling statistics, data analysts gain a clear understanding of what does and doesn't work in the market. A rapidly growing and skills-based discipline, candidates typically have an undergraduate emphasis or graduate degree in business analytics.
Account Managers are the team quarterback and client liaison. Within an agency, these people are typically referred to as Account Executives (AE). They oversee the entire process: making sure that agency and client goals are met, budgets and timelines are kept, and that the client is satisfied.
Client side: this role takes several forms including Brand Manager, Advertising Manager or Product Manager. Sometimes these are different people, sometimes one individual has all of these responsibilities. Either way, these folks are usually the agency's "clients." In addition to being the primary contact with the agencies, they are tasked to grow the brand and make decisions about product pricing, distribution, new product development, and more. Advertising is just one of the many things they need to consider.
If you work in Media, your job is to help your client reach the target audience effectively and efficiently. Media planners (and buyers), buy, plan, place and (sometimes) optimize where all of the advertising content will live and are responsible for reaching the target audience in the most efficient way possible. Media is sometimes a department within an agency and other times an entire agency unto itself.
Below are some examples of roles under Media:
Media Planners aim to get a brand's message seen by the right consumer. They interface with media sales reps, the client and agency teams to develop (and negotiate) a media plan, taking into consideration things like media type, location, flighting, and seasonality. You better like spreadsheets and numbers, because this is a numbers heavy role. But don't worry, there are tons of specialized tools that help you to accomplish this. Some larger media companies also have a media buying function which generally focuses on negotiating and purchasing large amounts of traditional media like television and out of home as well as social media.
Digital Media Strategists are the digital media landscape experts. Like any media planner, they need to know how to find the target effectively and efficiently. However in the digital space, they also test and optimize ad elements like position, copy, imagery color, sites and more. Digital media strategists typically gain expertise in Google Adwords (for search marketing), Facebook marketing, programmatic media and more.
Media Sales people work on behalf of media companies like TV networks, magazines, websites and are tasked to sell ad space to agency media planners.
Content creators (often called "creatives") are the storytellers, creators and makers responsible the development of creative assets. The creative department (although a bit of a misnomer because everyone in an agency is creative) is tasked to think up the various executional elements (video, print, digital, and beyond) that (hopefully) hide the strategy and in-turn, elevate the brand, drive behavior and engage the consumer in fun, surprising ways that cut-through the cluttered communications landscape. In most agencies, art directors and copywriters work in pairs (although some agencies throw a brand strategist in the mix). Together, they create big communication ideas that work across a variety of touch-points and work with producers to bring them to life.
Below are some examples of roles under Content Creation:
Art Directors are well-versed in design tools like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and often come from a fine arts background and/or are a graduate of a portfolio program. Specialist skills required.
Copywriters are, well, writers...of copy. But it goes far beyond "punny" headlines and "salesy" body copy. They must think conceptually and develop content that is full of personality, wit and sizzle. Some digitally-focused firms seek UX Writers, basically copywriters for digital experiences. They are laser focused on creating seamless content flows for users while helping the company reach their goals.
Designers are experts of visual communication. They often have a graphic arts background and are obsessed with typography, color, imagery and other design principles. Different from art directors, a designer's focus might be on conceptual marketing communications and developing distinctive, clear, effective layouts for websites, apps, presentations, and more. Specialist skills required.
Production Studio: Many agencies have a whole team of skilled makers including video and motion graphics editors, sound engineers, photo re-touchers, videographers, and photographers. Some agencies even have in-house production facilities like editing bays, content production sets and sound booths. Conceptual creatives sometimes get their start in the studio.
Producers are responsible for bringing content to life on time and on budget. Producers are responsible for bringing all of these ideas to life. People involved in production come in all shapes and size, ranging from project managers, editors, sound engineers, designers, retouchers, business affairs and more.
Below are some examples of roles under this type of discipline:
Digital Producers are at the center of digital production. As such they are well-versed in what it takes to build digital things like apps, websites, digital marketing campaigns. The digital production process and skillset is very different from that of content production. Digital producers typically lead specialized members in what's called the agile process, which includes scoping the project, determining requirements, assembling teams, assigning tasks and troubleshooting, managing the process of building or prototyping, refinement and launching. After launch, digital producers are responsible for making sure that the digital content continues to work and evolve as technology and user needs change. Like content producers, digital producers, are detail- and schedule-oriented, and comfortable with lots of plates spinning simultaneously. No portfolio of work required, but you must demonstrate a proven track record of project management skills.
Project Managers are sometimes producers, and sometimes not; it really just depends on the organization. Project managers are masters of getting stuff done and can juggle lots of to-dos. They are insanely organized and detail oriented. Agencies are busy and things are constantly changing, so good project managers are flexible, persistent and diplomatic. No portfolio of work required, but you must demonstrate proven track record of project management skills.
Content Producer: Content producers are at the center of the video, print and event production process. As such they are well-versed in how to make certain types of content and work with creative teams (and clients) to make sure the creative ideas are realized with quality, on time and on budget. They are responsible for finding and securing locations, casting and talent, directors, cinematographers, sourcing props, craft services (fancy name for catered food), as well as everything that takes place after a day of production, like editing, mixing, mastering, sound, motion graphics and more. Some producers specialize in video, others in photography (print producer), others in live experiences (event producer). Since the productions process has so many moving parts, they tend to be incredibly detailed and love being on set.
Business Affairs: Business affairs folks are the business side of the production process. When it comes to content production, there are tons of rules, regulations and legal requirements that advertisers have to follow like talent and usage rights, location permits, safety guidelines, FCC clearance and even stuff like pyrotechnics and animal usage. Business affairs helps to protect the client and the agency by keeping all of these ducks in a row. No portfolio of work required, but you must demonstrate organizational abilities.
Digital specialists come in many shapes and sizes, but they are tasked to strategize, prototype, build and maintain digital things including like apps, websites, and online shopping experiences. Social media teams are a growing discipline within some agencies as well. Types of digital specialists include:
User-Experience (UX) Designers: UX people are responsible for making digital content more delightful to use, while helping the client achieve its goals.
Programmers: AKA developers or coders, these folks write the front- and backend code that brings digital things to life. They often work with UX designers.
UX Writers: are copywriters for digital experiences. They are laser focused on creating seamless content flows.
Social Media Specialist / Community Manager: are responsible for planning, implementing and monitoring the company's social media presence in order to increase brand awareness, improve marketing efforts and increase sales. In some instances they are the voice behind the brand and responsible for engaging consumers and fielding customer service inquiries.
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