10 of the Biggest Myths About an Advertising Career

Separating Fact from Fiction in the Ad World

Ad Agency
Ad Agency Myths. Getty Images

Advertising has baggage. 

When you think of the word, you will not doubt have either positive or negative associations with it. This will depend on whether you are in the industry, what you've seen about it on TV, and in movies, and what you think of the output of the industry. But it's fair to say, advertising careers are right alongside careers in law and taxes. In other words...they get a bad rep.

 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the career side of the argument, that can be very unfair. People who work in advertising are not all slick salespeople in expensive suits. The careers vary greatly, and the diversity of the people filling those roles is just as rich. 

So if you are considering working in the advertising and marketing industry, familiarize yourself with the following 10 myths. When someone spouts it to your face, you'll have a great rebuttal. 
 

MYTH 1: Advertising is an Unethical and Dishonorable Profession.

REALITY: The advertising industry is, in fact, a very respectable profession. Unfortunately, there are those that think because you are trying to sell something through advertising that you're trying to trick or deceive the public.

Advertising must follow very specific rules that ensure all advertising messages are on the up and up. The last thing an advertising agency wants to do is to harm their client's reputation by producing materials that could be misconstrued as deceptive advertising.Yes, there are a few bad apples out there.

But the vast majority of ad agencies are doing everything they can to abide by the many laws imposed by the FCC, and the Advertising Standards Authority, among others. 
 

MYTH 2: Everyone in Advertising Makes a Fortune.

REALITY: If only. While it's true that you can make a lot of money working in advertising, most people are not millionaires.

In fact, most people aren't even earning close to a six-figure salary. The majority of people working in the field started at the bottom rung of the ladder, interning for free, possibly even making minimum wage just to get their start in the industry. And some people actually take a job with no pay, in the hopes of one day becoming a paid employee. 

Just as with any profession, in advertising you pay your dues and you work your way up. What you make of your advertising career is completely up to you. And if you make it to the top, or become an owner, your successful agency will bring in a lot of money. 
 

MYTH 3: It's Really Hard to Get Started in Advertising.

REALITY: There is definitely some truth to this. There is a lot of competition out there, especially in cities that have a limited number of agencies. But, there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to get started in the field. This doesn't mean you're going to get that corner office with a view, the prestigious income and creative control of advertising campaigns with your first job.

There's a lot of legwork you're going to have to do. But if you're serious about your career in the industry, you can break in. You can start client-side and move over, which opens up a whole world of different companies for you to start at.

You can even work freelance before finding a permanent job. 
 

MYTH 4: Working in Advertising is Just Like Working in Public Relations.

REALITYThese two industries are commonly tagged as being the same profession. While advertising and public relations can go hand-in-hand, their focus is far different. You can use your advertising skills to get a job in PR and vice versa but just because you work in one industry does not mean you automatically know everything there is to the other.
 

MYTH 5: All Your Creative Ideas Will Be Put To Good Use

REALITY: There's a certain process to every advertising campaign. Some clients give the advertising agency a basic concept and they let the agency run with it. Some leave everything to the agency's expertise and let them handle every aspect. Other clients want to be more involved in the agency process.

In most agencies, you'll have meeting after meeting after meeting about any given ad campaign no matter what department you're in. You can exercise some of your ideas to an extent but they may not make it to the client.

As part of the agency team, there are many levels of red tape your ideas and even your materials will have to go through before the project will be complete. The great copy you wrote on Tuesday may end up back on your desk with a bunch of changes by Wednesday. You resubmit it Thursday and by Friday you've got even more changes.

Most agencies welcome your creative ideas but don't get your feelings hurt if those ideas are dashed. It's not personal, it's just business. The idea you may throw around in a creative meeting may be the complete opposite of what a client has told their Account Executive they want or what was decided in a previous meeting with other execs within your agency.
 

MYTH 6: It's a Glamorous, Fun-Filled, Easy Career.

REALITY: Don't you love those movies and television shows where the characters work in advertising and they seem to be having so much fun? Bosom BuddiesMad Men, Trust Me,FriendsNothing in CommonBounce, What Women Want - these are just some of the examples of shows or movies whose characters have a career in advertising. And that's just what they are: characters in a fictional story.

Make no mistake. Advertising is hard work. Late nights, weekends, angry clients, layoffs, stress, and fierce competition make it tough to survive the industry for 20+ years.  
 

MYTH 7: You'll Travel to All Four Corners of the Globe

REALITY: Only for a select few. While it's true that the bigger ad agencies have clients around the world, and International photo and video shoots are part of the picture, travel is rare for most people. If you're in the creative department, it's likely you will get to travel to shoot your ideas. However, budget cuts often mean fewer people get to go. On the account side, again, you'll have to have luck on your side.  
 

MYTH 8: It's All Day Drinking and All Night Partying

REALITY: Once, as Mad Men depicted so well, the ad agency life was hedonistic. There really was a liquor cabinet in every office, and it was totally expected that you'd drink before, during, and after work. In fact, alcoholism was rife in the ad industry, from the sixties, right up until the end of the eighties. 

That has definitely changed. Now, it's clean living, free workout rooms, and politically-correct conversations. Yes, there will be times when you schmooze the client, or have drinks after work. But the "drink all day, party all night regime" is dead and gone.

 

MYTH 9: Anyone Can Get a Job in Advertising

REALITY: That all depends on what your definition of "anyone" actually is. In the past, people just fell into an advertising career because they didn't know what else to do. These people had writing backgrounds, or English degrees. Neil French, a great copywriter and creative director, just kinda wandered into the field and became a master. 

These days, competition for industry jobs is intense. The idea that anyone could decide to give advertising a try is laughable. You need to study it at college, or a subject very close to it. If you're creative, you'll need a rocking folio. And it's fair to say, even with all of that, you will have to be exceptional to get noticed. 

 

MYTH 10: With Hard Work, You'll End Up Running the Agency

REALITY: You hear it all the time, from fresh-faced account executives and brash creatives. "Once day, my name's gonna be above the door. I just have to work hard." 

Not really. People in advertising can spend 30+ years slogging it out daily, working nights, sleeping in the office at weekends, only to get a few promotions and a couple of pay raises. Other people can come into the agency, and be a partner within a few years. More often than not, it's not about what you know or how hard you work. It's about who you know. Your connections. Your background. Your net worth. 

Can you own the agency one day? Maybe. But it will take a lot more than hard work.