A career in advertising is super rewarding, very exciting, full to the brim with talent and can be a
lot of fun. It’s also stressful, fast paced and will keep you on your toes. In this piece, I’ve picked
out a few areas I think are key to grasp for a solid foundation in advertising or brand
communications and will definitely catapult you forwards into a marketer who truly understands
the science behind building brands.
Get the basics nailed down
First of all, to understand your craft, it’s super important to get the absolute foundational basics
right and instilled in the way you think. A great start is to part with some money for How Brands
Grow, a legendary book in marketing science by Byron Sharp. It lays the foundation for thinking
about brands, communications and how they fit into culture, how to grow them and when they
succeed and fail and why. If you’re interested in going towards strategy (or planning as some
agencies call it), I suggest reading the 1974 classic the JWT planning guide as well as joining
the Sweathead community on Facebook which is a worldwide community of strategists in
You’ll need passion
Don’t go into the industry with “fun” being the core driver behind the why. Your why should be
steeped in a strong passion for understanding people, culture and the nuances of how people
behave and act. In the context of finding deep and useful insights about human truths that can
truly unlock growth.
You need to lean towards subjects like psychology, anthropology and
philosophy as points of interest. Do short courses on them, they’ll unlock a world of the why
behind human behaviour which will help you guide the creative in the right way. Our job as
planners (or strategists) is to lay the strategic foundation which includes the cultural setting, the
human truths and the brand truths as an intersection for a strategic direction or angle for
creative teams to work with.
Passion is the key for this.
Become an information sponge
The best planners are curious and interested in everything. Read fiction, read non-fiction. Be
interested in stories. Watch documentaries. Gather information from as many sources as
possible. The wider your brain, the more resources you have to draw from. It’s not about being
the most intellectual person is the room, as its more about being the most interesting.
There is a narrative that strategists are a little weird and “outsiders”. I happen to disagree with this. I
believe the traits we all share are curiosity for the human condition, a love for marketing
science, a love for storytelling and finally a deep love for the work and the works
effectiveness in changing behaviour. So go ahead and people watch, in the most non creepy
way you can find.
Be good at presenting and telling stories
A largely unspoken skill of a planner is presentations. If you’re introverted, nervous as a speaker
and a have imposter syndrome at times (we all do). Take a toastmasters course. Learn public
speaking. It’s a skill you’ll use beyond your job and can do wonders for your confidence and the
way you carry yourself.
Designing presentation flows are also equally as important. Do a
storytelling course through Pixar for free here – or you could study the Heros Journey by Joseph
Campbell here. Storytelling is the way to captivate people, clients and creatives alike.
Be a multi-prong plug
Planners can sometimes be viewed as doing the upfront work and disappearing. Add immense
value to the team throughout the creative process until the work is out and beyond. Stay close
to results, understand what’s worked and what hasn’t. Learn to love the “data” or insight that
comes out of consumer reactions to campaigns and certain messages.
Also, don’t be afraid to jump head first into other roles in the agency if you’re needed. The best
thing strategists can do is be deeply useful.
It’s just advertising
It’s also important to remember, it’s just advertising, no one dies. When the industry gets
stressful and the deadlines get shorter and the nights get longer, take a moment to remember
that it is just advertising and advertising is meant to do the following little things planning
legend Les Binet outlines below
Advertising increases margins and/or sales
Slightly increasing the chance that people will choose your brand
Making the brand easy to buy and easy to think of
Creating positive feelings and associations
Reaching tons of people with ads they find interesting and enjoyable
Targeted sales activation they find useful and relevant.
I hope you choose advertising as a career. At the end of the day, it’s a really cool job.
Devin is a Senior Strategic Planner at Saatchi & Saatchi, and has over 12 years’ experience in the Advertising space.