Almost every day I receive résumés from people who have left the ad business for other ventures – sometimes client side, sometimes to start a business or other venture, sometimes just to take a sabbatical. (I am not writing here about maternity leave, which is another blog post all together.) They all share one thing in common.
It is hard to get back.
The simple reason is that ad agencies look askance at people who are not committed to advertising. They reason that why hire someone who has left the business for several years when they can hire, generally for the same money, someone is so committed that they never left. No matter that whatever venture the applicant has been on has probably made them a better advertising executive and given them a more well rounded view of the business.
I have previously written that agencies should hire more clients, particularly ex-ad agency people who prefer the agency side. They can bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to an agency. Not all clients are right for the agency business, but those that are right should not be dismissed out of hand.
There is no question that some people who want to come back should not do so. In many cases they have been out of the business for a decade or more and only want to come back because they are desperate for employment. If someone has been doing something which is completely irrelevant to advertising, their background is probably no longer appropriate.
But for those who have been doing relevant things – retailing, media, communications, research, and a host of other things – they can bring a wealth of knowledge to the business. Their perspective just may be invaluable to helping solve a client’s problem.
As an aside, each year I see people who have been successful running small agencies. They work on small brands (occasionally well known), and generally do regional or local advertising. To my chagrin, I have discovered that it is almost impossible to place them at a “name” agency – big or small. Their experience is simply not seen as relevant unless they have a couple of major national brands under their belt. In my opinion, some of these people actually know more about branding, advertising and business in general than many of the folks who come out of straight careers in big agencies on big brands. But most of the time, I cannot even get them interviewed.
Advertising tends to pigeonhole people. I worked early in my career for both big and small agencies - strategic and creative, always well known brands.. Then I opened my own shop; it was reasonably successful and had a number of good accounts. It was merged into an agency where I was head of account management. When I started looking for a job because I was unhappy, a president of a large agency told me I would not find a job at a big agency because I was a “small agency” person. That is absurd. And, by the way, I was offered jobs at Chiat/Day and Wells, Rich, Greene but decided to recruit instead. I wrote this about myself to show that this is not a new trend. It has been endemic in the agency business for decades.
The best way to get back in is to keep up with ad agency contacts. Someone who knows you will be more likely to want to hire you than a complete stranger. Networking is a better way than through recruiters – recruiters are paid to put square pegs in square holes.