So, you just landed your first job at a marketing agency! Well done and welcome to your first step in an exciting industry. Just so you know, everything they said is true. Agency life is fast-paced, dynamic, diverse, challenging, competitive, and professionally/personally rewarding – as promised.
You’ll have to pull on every resource you have to ‘hit the ground running’ and make all the strides you imagined for yourself. And if this is your first time in the industry, you may be feeling a little bit of intimidation mixed in with all that excitement, or you may be experiencing some self-doubt in your ability to ‘hack it’ at an agency. I would know because I was in your shoes once.
But whenever fear, hesitation, or imposter syndrome threatens to creep in, there are solutions to help you move past them and own your new role. Here are 10 practical tips to help you go from ‘newbie’ to ‘pro’ and allow you to master your new role in agency life.
1. Jump in
Coming into a marketing agency can be a bit of a culture shock depending on your previous academic or work experience. Even when you are fresh out of college, your first few weeks will be full of training sessions, meet and greets, portfolio overviews, duties, tasks, and introductions to processes that you will eventually take part in.
It can feel like information overload but as a colleague once told me: “Immerse yourself.”
Allow yourself to be like Spongebob and soak in as much as you can. Employ active listening and be fully present by avoiding distractions. But don’t merely attend the meetings and read the training materials – try to familiarize yourself with your role and its responsibilities. Additionally, do your best to understand the hierarchy and reporting structure so it can become the foundation for your new start in agency life.
What you take in will become your point of reference and the building blocks as you move into the early months of agency work. But keep in mind that it’s a work-in-progress that will continually update and change as you gain more unique experiences because you’re constantly building and adding to your personal mental library.
2. Take notes
Staying attentive is a great start. But to ensure long-term recall, it helps to have a trusty notepad and pen nearby at all times because the key to not forgetting is writing it down. Not only does taking notes help with creating an easy resource from your own thoughts and learnings but it also aids in better recall in the moments you need it the most.
After important meetings or sessions (or during them if you are really good at it), take a few minutes to write down any important details that you think you will need in the future. It could be special dates or priorities, tricks to better use a piece of software, recreating a visual diagram of a process that helps you better understand the steps… anything at all that allows you to physically store some of that new information in one place.
Designate a particular notepad for all your notes and refer to it daily as a refresher and guide to keep you on track and focused.
Taking notes is also a great way to declutter an excess of information and gives you the opportunity to better organize what you have heard and seen, in a way that is best for you. The good news is that most agencies will give you access to the fully outlined resources you need as part of your orientation and it’s best to bookmark those in your browser and use your notes as a companion and supplementary info.
Additionally, if you think it would help your team, consider sharing your notes as well. It could help you get on your team’s good side while also building a name for yourself at your new agency.
3. Ask for clarity
Whether you come from a marketing background or not, there will be a plethora of new jargon, abbreviations, company-speak (the language culture of the company), and marketing rhetoric to learn that varies from agency to agency – especially in your first few meetings.
Take note of any acronyms you hear that you don’t know the meaning of and don’t be afraid to ask someone what they mean. Some acronyms that I came across in my first few months include EOD/EOW (end of day/week), SLT (senior leadership team), XM (experiential marketing), EGC (employee-generated content), UGC (user-generated content), FCR (final campaign report), GL (go-live), and GTM (go-to-market). And that’s not even getting into all of the different metrics and KPIs your new agency may use for performance reports or benchmarking (KPI stands for ‘key performance indicator’, btw).
But the terms and names of things can even differ by the agency you work at or even the particular business unit within your agency! For example, your finance department probably has specific jargon that the people on the creative and content team will not understand.
One agency might call the meeting notes or minutes recorded during a client meeting “Communications Reports”, while another agency could call them “Recap Notes & Next Steps”. The layout and structure of these notes could differ drastically as well. The first agency could expect a comprehensive, multi-page document while all the other agency needs is a short, five-point list with key dates.
Even the same term, “Communications Report”, could mean something entirely different at another agency. In our example, it’s the name of the meeting notes but at another agency, the “communication report” could refer to the critical portion of an overall marketing strategy being presented to a client.
Since not everything will be crystal clear when you first encounter it, don’t be afraid to politely ask for the clarity you need. Most people will be empathetic and want to help you, and even your cantankerous coworkers are likely to cut you some slack if you tell them you’re new (pro tip: use the “I’m new” excuse as much as you possibly can during your first few weeks or months – it’s like a ‘get out of jail free’ card with an expiration date).
Even when you think you may understand what a term means because you may have come across it before, it doesn’t hurt to be clear on what is being communicated. Agency life is one that often comes with its own language: COS, CRM, SOP, SOW, and the list goes on. Whenever something said or referred to goes over your head, ask for clarity because it shows you’re conscientious, considerate, and thoughtful, and above all else, that you care about getting it right the first time (just make sure to take note of the answer for future reference. You don’t want to get caught asking the same thing over and over).
4. Tag team
At some point, you may be faced with a challenge that you may not know how best to resolve. Avoid struggling in silence and reach out to a teammate or your manager.
Gaining support from your team is a wonderful lifeline that doubles as an opportunity to connect and be more cordial with coworkers. Fostering good colleague relationships goes a long way in making you feel like you are a part of a team and that your success matters to those around you.
On the flip side, try offering to assist a colleague or the wider team when you have the capacity to do so. This also shows your team that you are willing to ‘jump in’ and make yourself available.
5. Speak up
One thing about marketing agencies is that there is always a discussion going on. Meetings, wrap sessions, debriefing calls, brainstorming sessions, coffee chats, one-on-ones, and the sometimes awkward pre-meeting small talk.
These discussions can be lighthearted catch-ups between teammates or intense decision-making conversations between various roles across the hierarchy. If there is an opportunity for you to make a valuable contribution, speak up! Raise your hand (or use the raised hand icon) and when you are given the floor, say what you have to with confidence and clarity. This shows that you are both interested and invested in the discussion that is currently taking place.
Not every meeting may facilitate this, but in the ones that do, let your voice and opinion be heard. Some people have great ideas or suggestions that can really change the result of a conversation, but they hold back due to fear of speaking out of turn.
Even if you think you may have missed your chance at saying it while the conversation is happening, jot it down and share your thoughts with the appropriate team member post-meeting. If articulating your big ideas is not something you are comfortable with as yet, try talking about your weekend during pre-meeting small talk as practice.
6. Step out
Comfort zones get challenged a lot in agency life. Be prepared to do something you may not have done before or may not be the best at. Either way, stepping out of your comfort zone guarantees that you will find out so much more about what you are capable of. You may surprise or impress yourself and others when you volunteer to be the team lead on a new project or offer to step in to host a client meeting on your manager’s behalf.
The key is to try something that will force you to overcome a current limitation or to expose yourself to an area of interest you have also been curious about but not quite sure that you would be good at it.
More often than not, the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone comes to you since things move so quickly within marketing agencies. It may be a direct request from your supervisor to assist them with a presentation, or an ask for you to fill in for a teammate who is on vacation.
Take the chance, don’t shrink back. You never know how amazing you can be on the other side of a comfort zone.
7. Pace yourself
Agency life can be busy. From hustling from meeting to meeting to juggling deadlines, due dates, check-ins, updates, follow-ups, research, proposals, and handovers, your calendar can fill up quickly. And that’s not even mentioning responding to emails, performing due diligence, and any team-building activities (mandatory or not).
It’s called a fast-paced environment for a reason and the numerous tasks and duties are sure to keep you occupied for the full workday. But what is within your control is how you choose to manage your time and responsibilities. So, pace yourself.
Planning your day and openly communicating with your team or direct superiors about your capacity and limitations will help you stay on track and your team informed. Delivering on your promises is a dance between you, your workload, and the clock.
There are also times when you’ll need to take a break or recharge, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed or mentally drained, prioritize taking lunch or a 30-minute snack break to refuel, decompress, and take a deep breath.
8. Paper Trails
This could mean literal paper or digital. Either way, keep a paper trail! Good record-keeping in well-organized, easily accessible stored spaces can make a world of difference six months from now when you need the date or figure from an invoice to confirm a pending contract.
Sensitive documents, presentations, codes, budgets, lists, proposals, briefs, contracts, repositories, and so much more need to be adequately stored in their respective places. Even email threads with confirmed outlined agreements between you and the client or vendor are integral to the success of navigating any future discussions on changes or even discrepancies.
As a rule of thumb: Whatever has been discussed (in person, in a meeting, or by phone call) is best followed up by an email with written confirmation of what was agreed upon. It ensures that you are detail-oriented and display a work ethic of integrity and transparency. Paper trails are a kind of insurance plan for any future situations.
9. Own it
You were hired with the understanding that you are the best candidate for the position. Now, it’s your time to show that you are.
Own the duties and responsibilities of your position by knowing them well and exceeding expectations when you deliver on them to the very best of your ability. Be personally invested in everything that you do as a direct expression of who you are and your work ethic. Treat your work as an extension of your talent and skill and be proud of the contributions you make. You are not a slacker and you are not looking to ‘coast’. You are more than capable of doing your best and in some cases, you may go above and beyond.
Remember, you are a valuable asset and you have to be the first to believe that.
10. Track it
This one can be considered the most important practical tip because of its ability to move you closer to the kind of career you envisioned for yourself in marketing. It’s a powerful tool to chart and actualize the growth path that gets you most excited about where you are and where you want to be.
Marketing agencies can be a competitive space and that means it is wise and forward-thinking to have your own plan of action to excel. Progress, of any kind, is deliberate! You can use your goal-setting and performance reviews as a tool to outline the necessary, measurable steps you have to take to move your career forward.
No matter where you’re at in your agency, if you are interested in growing, then start with where you are now as your baseline. Then, diligently track your contributions that have led to positive changes, your successes and achievements (such as bringing in new clients or exceeding your targets), and also (just as importantly) your shortcomings and areas for improvement.
Anything that shows you have excelled or done the work to grow past where you started is the track record that inches you closer to being a better marketer or even landing that promotion. This process takes time, so stick with it and use every evaluation opportunity as a fine-tuning session to prepare, plan, and execute. Progress looks good on everyone.
The goal is to implement as many of these tips as you can throughout your journey in agency life. These tips can come in handy at every stage of your career and the better you get at them, the easier agency life will become.
One day soon, you will look back at where you started and be amazed at how far you have come from being a newbie to seeing yourself as the consummate marketing professional that you are becoming. You got this!