What I’ve Learned from a Decade of Agency Life by @lisabarone

What I’ve Learned from a Decade of Agency Life

by Lisa Barone | Featured Contributor

Eleven years. It’s difficult to fathom that it’s been more than a decade since I first entered agency life. There’s something special about working in an agency; it provides an opportunity to not only learn a lot, but to learn quickly, through trial by fire. As I spend more time mentoring a team, calling upon agency life lessons is something that has helped me to cultivate great talent at Overit, and it’s also reinforced the importance of these lessons in my own work life.

Sometimes the best way to stay sharp in your career is to go back to basics.

Here is what I have learned from more than a decade of agency life. What can you add to the list?

Focus On The Work

If you work with me or if you follow me on Twitter, you know AdWeak is a top obsession of mine. It’s a Twitter account that shares daily #realtalk about #agencylife. It makes you laugh because, well, laughing feels better than crying on most days.

The truth is, agency life, as great as it is, can also be really hard. Whether it’s getting an idea you love knocked down publicly, clients who don’t share your excitement over a design option, or incessantly chatty coworkers, working in an agency comes with its fair share of heartbreaks and distractions. The key to coming out of agency life unscathed is to focus on the work. Keep your eyes on what you’re producing, the opportunity you have to learn and to practice your craft, and the camaraderie that exists when you are working alongside people who have your back. The work, and your ability to knock it out of the park day in and day out, is what makes working in an agency exciting.

Focus on the work. Don’t hold onto the noise.

Share Your Successes

Life moves fast, especially in an agency. Take the time to share your successes with the other people on the team. No, that doesn’t mean to sing your own praises or talk up your clients or projects – but share things, in real time, as they’re happening to key in everyone else on what you’re working on.

It’s easy NOT to do this. To keep your head down and do the work (hey, isn’t that what we just told you?), but by not sharing your successes, you’re also not educating the rest of your team. You’re not helping them learn about what you do, you’re not exposing them to new ideas or methods, and you’re not helping to spark their own ideas. You’re also not opening the door for them to share their successes.

I can’t tell you how many times I don’t learn about a cool animation piece we did or that we just had James Franco in our Albany,NY recording studio (true story) until I see the project airing on television or already out to the public. I wish I would have known we were working on that, either to high-five the person on my extended team doing the work or maybe because I would have had an idea to contribute.

Don’t be so busy doing the work that you forget to talk about it.

Take The Blame, Leave The Credit

Enough said, right? Those who lead in an agency solve problems without looking for credit. They also help carry the weight of the loss when things don’t go according to plan. Be that person and set that example. Others will notice and maybe they’ll follow suit.

We Are All Account/Project Managers

I work at a 40-person creative agency in upstate NY. We pride ourselves on being a full-service agency – meaning that we have creative types, strategy folks and skilled developers all working under one roof. We also have trained account and project managers helping to ensure the work gets out of the building.

But, at the end of the day, our team knows that it doesn’t matter what it says on our business cards – we are all project managers and account managers. It is up to all of us to provide white glove service to our clients. It is our job to communicate clearly, to set expectations and to make sure we are servicing our clients to the best of our ability. It’s our job to make sure that projects are completed on time and on budget, and that nothing gets lost in the system. Because if we don’t, a competitor will.

There are a lot of projects and “things” going through Overit at any given time. It would be really easy for something to fall through the cracks. With so many of us standing guard, it’s easier to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Love To Pitch, Or Fake It

I have a confession: I don’t love to pitch. I’m an introvert by nature (ISTJ, to be exact). I prefer to do the work than to sell someone on my idea. However, I need to get over it. I need to love pitch or die trying to fake it.

Every day, I am put into a situation where I need to present something, in a persuasive way, to get someone else to pick me, buy me, consider me. Sometimes it’s an internal meeting where I’m presenting a tagline, a campaign concept or a new marketing channel I think we should be pitching. Other times, it’s me in a room trying to get a potential client to buy into our vision for their marketing future.
You don’t have to be the cleverest person in the room to be good at pitching. But you do need to have, or to fake, some key qualities.

  • You need to understand your audience and their pain points
  • You need to be passionate about your ability to solve them
  • You need to be excited by the solutions you have
  • You need to be super likeable

Pretty soon, you won’t even realize you’re faking, because you won’t be.

Own Your Own Day

There are days when I would benefit from having these words hung prominently in my office. Even when you arrive to your day with the best intentions and the strongest To Do list – things happen. Fires start, distractions occur and things come up unexpectedly that require you to switch focus. It’s easy to let the day control you and for the clock to hit 5 p.m. without you having touched anything on your list.

However, it’s up to you to not let that happen. You must own your day. That means saying “no” to things you’d love to do if only you had the time. It means leaving projects when they are “good” because “great” will take another three hours that you can’t spare today. It means making sacrifices for the reward of being able to leave work at the end of the day feeling as thought you’ve accomplished something worth accomplishing. It’s easy to get swept up in the chaos of agency life. It’s your job not to let this happen.

These are the some of the lessons that have stuck with me through a decade of agency life. What are the rules or learnings that have helped you? I’d love to hear them.


lisa_baroneLisa Barone, Overit CMO and Twitter loudmouth

Lisa is Chief Marketing Officer at Overit, an integrated digital agency with a passion for pairing daring creative with strategic execution and real world measurement. At Overit, Lisa works with clients, of all sizes, across all verticals, to develop messages that get heard, get acted upon and are remembered.

Lisa has been a constant voice of insight and reason in the search world for more than a decade. As a noted writer, she has founded and grown multiple award-winning blogs. She has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Inc. Magazine, Reuters, Intuit, Forbes, PBS, FOX News and others on subjects related to small business marketing, social media and search marketing.

She is fueled by (pumpkin) coffee, her son’s giggles, and really awful television.

Connect with Lisa Twitter | Linkedin | Overit 

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2 Replies to “What I’ve Learned from a Decade of Agency Life by @lisabarone”

  1. Tracy McGrady

    Interesting, detailed article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Cult London

    Thank you for the insight Lisa. 11 years sure is a long time!

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