6 Lessons Learned as a Creative in Advertising

Courtesy of Stokpic

Courtesy of Stokpic

I spent ~3 years as an art director at the Leo Burnett Beirut office. Now that I’ve left my first place of employment and I’m planning the next steps, I thought I’d share the lessons learned from being part of a global network that conducts business based on the ideology that creativity can transform human behavior. 


It’s all about the packaging.
And I don’t just mean the wrapping of the product, although that plays a role as well. “Packaging” refers to the way a service or product is presented. The words used, the tone of voice, the branding – all these elements make a difference when you’re trying to sell an idea which is exactly what advertising does. It’s the profession of selling ideas. Positioning a product so that it is attractive to the right demographic isn’t just about making a mockery of hipsters because that’s what the youngins find cool these days. It’s about coming up with the formula that makes this product mirror what your consumer thinks matches their lifestyle.

Details are your thing.
“Just a little bit more” could be the most used phrase for any hovering creative. Whether it’s saturation levels, headline placement, icon alignment, or the quintessential size of the logo, the details are your forte. The tiny things that no one else notices- including your client and most non-creatives who see the finished work- are the things you will obsess over but the reason that no one notices them is because they’re done well. As Joe Sparano said, “great design is transparent.” In advertising, your work is not a painting. It is an aesthetic craft but it has a function and the minor details will affect your visual articulation of an idea. Your eye will scrutinize what is necessary and what is just clutter. Or a typo, God frobid.

You shatter illusions automatically.
It becomes a superpower that you develop. By working behind the scenes, your brain becomes hardwired at being more critical of diction used in news reports, angles journalists take, and what shots the cameras leave out. Not only do you question what other brands are trying to tell you and sell you, you also start questioning authority and information. Working in media and communication gives you an awareness of the world around you and an ingrained skepticism toward dulcet storytelling. It’s similar to when you work in theatre and know how much truthfully went into a play production, what went wrong, and what costumes were just cast members’ grandmas clothes from the 70s. Working in advertising grants you a built-in bullshit filter.

Ideas are meant to be shared, killed, and born again.
As a creative, you can be very protective over your ideas and getting recognized for them. I think it comes from university days when you needed to stand out amongst your peers. There was a fear that someone would steal the shiny nugget that was supposed to prove that you were sharp and valuable. You were even scared of uploading your portfolio online because copycats and thieves could reproduce your work as their own. When you work in an agency, you find out that the only way your ideas improve is if they are shared. You cannot be attached to your ideas as if they are your unborn children. Keeping them to yourself serves no purpose, their growth is stunted, and you may not realize that they suck. They need to be exposed to light. Your colleagues can build on what you serve up, adding flavor and spice to an undercooked dish or kicking it up a notch.

Not everyone is just like you.
Dealing with various consumer markets opens your eyes. Your way is not the only way and your comprehension of situations is not the norm. It’s magnified when dealing with international markets but it’s not restricted to cultures abroad; even within your own country, you are living in a bubble that doesn’t expose you to segments of the population that lead different lives, follow different trends, and have different priorities. Understanding their fundamental needs becomes paramount to understanding how to communicate with them. As a creative, your work has to convey a message but that message needs to be decoded by the right audience. Just because you get it doesn’t mean those you’re talking to will.

You are more than your Adobe software.
Or you need to be. If you’re a creative in advertising who happens to only know how to use the Adobe Creative Suite (or whatever softwares used in your specific domain) then you are replaceable. When your only added value is knowing how to operate a program, you are as good as the next evanescent intern. You need to be more than a machine. Everyone’s greatest fear in this industry is becoming obsolete and being a liaison between feedback and the computer is the road that will get you there. You have to give in more than amended layouts; you have to feed the spark of curiosity, to research innovations, and to acquire new skills. It’s a fast-paced industry and being a creative within it is even more demanding in the age of the knowledge economy because you have no excuse for not taking advantage of all the tools in front of you.

And the day you become complacent, stop pushing back, and just deliver what the client is asking for is the day you need to ask for a new challenge or leave. It boils down to your development as a creative in the field but also as an asset to your company. The only thing worse than a disposable creative is one who is okay with being so.

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