Principal
O'Malley Hansen Communications

I have worked in agency life for 30 years – in big agencies and small; as an employee and an owner; working on Fortune 500 accounts and entrepreneurial start-ups – and have enjoyed the majority of my days.  As I recruit people for our agency and prepare for the next stage of my career, I have increasingly focused on a single question: How do you sustain yourself as a relevant and energized agency professional in every stage of your career?

It’s a deceptively difficult question to answer. The intellectual and professional benefits of agency life are significant. You work in multiple industries and tackle interesting projects. You are in a high-paced environment with ambitious and talented people. You constantly are provided the opportunity to add value by creating solutions and achieving accomplishments for grateful clients. Agency life can be exhilarating and yet, there are some challenges. So how do successful pros stay engaged?

Here are my three keys to flourishing in an agency environment.

1. Know for certain why (and if) you want to work in an agency – It’s important to have our eyes open about demands of the unique profession we have chosen. We are often held accountable to succeed where many factors are out of our control. We work in a discipline that is rapidly changing, so developing new skills is a constant priority. And as agency professionals, we need to regularly demonstrate expertise and confidence on the fly with each new email and phone call. It’s important to identify what thrills you about agency life. Successful agency professionals thrive on the pace and versatility. Make sure that it appeals to you, as well.

2. Understand what you are great at – There are seven core skills for an agency professional:

  • Work Product
  • Client Relations
  • Team Management
  • Thought Leadership
  • Agency Management
  • Business Development
  • Culture-Building

The reality of agency life it that is difficult, if not impossible, to excel in every area.  So how do you manage your career with such high expectations? We guide our team members to understand their abilities in each of these areas. Then you can focus on professional growth in three ways:

  • Build a competency in every area – Regularly evaluate how you are doing on each of these skills and look for ways where you can improve A growth mindset is vital in an agency environment.
  • Place yourself in positions to be successful – Understand which of the seven skill sets are your sweet spots and gravitate to those areas where you can easily and happily provide the most value. Take leadership of the interesting RFP that came in the door. Put yourself in the place to help resolve a difficult client situation. Try your hand at pitching that difficult story that has yet to gain traction. You not only establish yourself as a great team member, but you will also find your colleagues will be there to give a hand where they shine.
  • Continue to build your strengths – Don’t get complacent. Continue to develop your expertise. Demonstrate leadership skills in every situation. You will be surprised at how many opportunities open up for you at an agency when you have established a reputation for proactively managing your career.

3. Keep everything in perspective – Agency life is much more enjoyable when you develop the skill to master the highs and lows. As I write this, I have been part of agencies that have closed the monthly financials 358 times. Some months were terrific; some were under expectations. But the one thing that every month financials has not been is the last one. There’s always this and next month.

In the same way, there will be times that you will not see eye-to-eye with a client or manager; there will be a project that does not go as smoothly as you would like; and there will be a new business opportunity that inexplicably slipped through your fingers.

The great thing is that there’s another opportunity right around the corner where you will do great work for a grateful client. Learn from the present, focus on the future and understand that you will be in a much better place much more quickly than you would in a different situation or profession.

Agency life is terrific because it enables us to constantly be exposed to new challenges, gain new skills, learn about a multitude of industries and enjoy constant opportunities to succeed. And the best benefit is much of what you learn in your career can be adapted to help you lead an interesting and productive life. And, really, isn’t that what a profession should do for you?