Survival Guide for an Advertising Suit

I contemplated with great apprehension on publicizing my obiter dicta on Advertising for rookies for my diminutive amount of experience warrants little respect from the arrogant, know-it-all fresh graduate. More importantly, this self-indulgent act of egoism will invite endless, vicious whothefuckdoyouthinkyouare comments from players of my industry.

I’m no Leo Burnett, Jay Chiat or David Ogilvy. Hell, I’m not even dead yet to get away with a lousy article. So why bother? Well, here’s my humble disclaimer: I have more recent experience as a rookie than anyone else more senior, and frankly, have the mighty likes of David Ogilvy touched the dirty groundwork in the last decade or so?

So there you go, my justification for my obiter dicta below. Love it, loathe it, do drop a comment anyway.

What is a Suit?
Before we begin, you should know the definition of your role as a Suit. Otherwise known as the Account Executive or Account Handler, a Suit is a person who manages clients’ brand (or brands). Why are we then called Suits? I didn’t manage to google the reason why, but my art director friend Ron, read in some advertising book that its because we are the ones who have to dress up to meet clients.

Some Suits act like overpriced courier service, where as some, thank god, act like brand consultants. I liken myself to the tennis ball in a match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. They can’t play without me, but they sure as hell ain’t gonna thank Pat the tennis ball when either of them win the match. That’s how it works as a Suit, as demoralizing as it sounds. If your campaign proposal looks fantastic, the Client congratulates your Creative Team. If your campaign proposal looks like shit, your Creative Team will blame you for not being a good salesman. Basically, you’re fucked both ways.

But remember, Federer and Nadal can’t play without you.

1. Your degree is just a piece of paper.
So you graduated summa cum laude from Wharton. Woo-hoo. Bravo. Someone seam in the Applause sound effect here please. Unfortunately for you, your starting pay in Advertising is going to be just as high as the supposedly inadequate diploma graduate – me. Fact of the matter is, neither your Boss, Client nor Creatives are going to judge you based on your academic results. What matters is how you apply your knowledge in your work. And trust me, if your Client changes the brief at the eleventh hour, your ability to cite marketing jargons from Kotler does not count as an explanation to the Creatives.

One of your key performance indicators is, broadly speaking, based on how you apply common sense to your work. They didn’t teach you much on common sense in school, did they? The phrase itself is ironic for I sometimes don’t see much of common sense floating about in the office. Perhaps they should call it “unique sense”. Hmm.

Anyway, eat the humble pie and realize that your career advancement is affected by 2 predominant factors; your working experience and your reputation in the industry. Tuck that summa cum laude certificate under your bed and find your common sense.

2. You are what you wear.
There are certain liberties in terms of dress code in Advertising (unless of course, you happen to be in a Japanese advertising firm like Dentsu or something). Take advantage of it, and unleash a little creativity in you. Don’t dress like a 40-year-old-virgin-who-works-as-a-bank-teller-for-the-last-10-years. Then again, don’t dress like a prostitute too. Someone in my previous Agency did, and the security guard in the office building was so concerned he cautioned the Office Manager about “a prostitute loitering at the Agency”.

3. Do tell the truth. Just distort it a little.
If your boss says “This headline is shit, tell the copywriter to give me another option!”, you say to the copywriter “Can you please provide us with an additional headline option so that the comparison allows us to sell one better to the Client?”.

And if your copywriter says “Ask your boss to tell me what she wants, after all, I’m just a bloody typist.”, you say to your boss “The copywriter would appreciate if you can provide him with some copy points so that he understands what you have in mind clearer.”. Get it? It doesn’t hurt anyone, it gets the bloody job done, and yes, I’m speaking from experience.

4. Love your wives/ husbands.

You are the main liaison between various parties – the Boss, the Client, the Creative, the Studio, the Traffic and the Production Departments. They are your newfound wives/ husbands in this pre-arranged marriage, whether you like it or not. Understand them well, manage them (in case you haven’t realize by now, THAT is your job), and love them all as equally possible. By the end of your first month in Advertising, you will feel like a prostitute. And if you somehow still enjoy your job like I do, then bravo, you’re likely to stay on.

5. Be an Alcoholic and Smoker.
Bad and expensive vices, I know, but these vices are wonderful bonding opportunities for you and your wives/ husbands. Get to know your wives/ husbands better. It was after all a pre-arranged marriage, was it not? You will notice the difference in bonding and the lack-off when you run to your art director drenched in nervous sweat whilst trying to figure out how to tell her that her weekend has been sacrificed in the name of a last-minute photo shoot.

6. Ask questions like an Idiot so that you won’t be one.
As a rookie, no one’s expecting you to know everything, so stop acting like an idiot and sound like one instead. I asked the dumbest of all questions when I was first starting out. The overdose of abbreviations used in Advertising doesn’t help the confused state you’ll be in, but here’s some definitions to help you out:

a. ATR: Agency to Revert
– Pegged next to a deadline that seldom gets met

b. CTR: Client to Revert
– Pegged next to a deadline you should be chasing the Client for

c. C/L: Copy and Layout
– The stage where your copywriter and art director combine their mighty forces to hatch brilliant or horrible ideas

d. FA: Final Artwork
– The stage where the C/L finally gets approved after 20 rounds of changes and the Studio takes over to adjust into various deliverables required such as Press Ad, Brochure, Poster, etc.

e. ATL: Above-the-Line
– All forms of communication on medium such as Newspapers, Magazines, TVC, etc

f. BTL: Below-the-Line
– All forms of communication, seldom involving any media buys, such as Brochures, Leaflets, Posters, etc.

g. C (as in “4C x 2C”): Color
– Used in BTL jobs to advise on the colors used for production purposes

h. FPFC: Full Page Full Color
– A single-page magazine ad in full color

i. DPSFC: Double Page Spread Full Color
– A double-page magazine ad in full color

j. PPM: Pre-pro Meeting
– A meeting held prior to a photo shoot or TV shoot between the Agency and its Suppliers (photographer, director, makeup artist, stylist, etc)

7. Embrace pain.
Being situated at the end of the food chain, you will be preyed upon like a harmless amoeba and dumped with endless work. View them as opportunities to demonstrate to your boss of your worth. Embrace pain. I don’t mean to sound like the damn Government trying to advocate why the increase in taxes is somewhat good for the country (nevermind that half a million was spent renaming a place which ended up retaining its original name anyway), but truth be told, my addiction to pain has lead me to where I am today.

8. Don’t take it personally, but…
Ad people are born bitchy. It is in our DNA. If you’re fat, we’ll bitch. If you’re skinny, we’ll bitch too. If you were stupid enough to include Hokkien in your brief, damn right we’ll enlarge it to A3-size and paste it on the company’s bulletin board. The bitchiness can get ugly, but in most cases, no one takes anyone seriously. Lighten up a little and go with the flow. And if you are unfortunate enough to be stabbed in the back, oh well, I will post another entry another time for that.

9. Lose the battle, win the war.

If the Client wants the logo to be enlarged by 10% (a very common request amongst most local clients for some strange reason), and has already approved the overall concept, just bloody do it. And feel free to tell your Creative Team the same thing. Tolerate genius, like Ogilvy has said, but don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You need the money. Your Creative Team needs the money too.

10. Try not to shit in your own backyard.
I personally would jump at the opportunity to indulge in some hot, steamy sex in my own office, but I cannot bring myself to do so with any colleague. I know of some relationships that survived the raging gossip firing out of our mouths, but I also know of some that turned sour. Really sour. Like a woman’s juices after drinking way too much Sumatra coffee. Some people will kiss and tell. And for that, my legs remain closed.


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