Why I Work at an (Ad) Agency

12 Mar

There’s a sentiment among some UX folks that working in advertising and marketing is somehow a waste of time. The belief is that ad agencies are inherently evil and that creating “products” or “solving-problems” is the only real UX role that’s worth a damn. I think there’s some basis for this belief but it’s quite narrow at the same time.

It’s true, pure advertising is pretty lame. Its primary goal is not to fill a user’s need or solve a problem. Instead, it is about convincing people to buy something they don’t really need in the first place. However, the state of advertising is changing pretty rapidly. Over the last few years, modern advertisers have adapted to new business models that don’t include unlimited budgets for national ad campaigns that push useless products. Instead, both agencies and their clients have realized that solving the audience’s problems is profitable. During that time agencies have brought in diverse and specialized interactive teams to help solve those problems. This is where I come in.

In my year working at an ad agency, I’ve worked on a huge range of project types. Yes, I have designed a few product microsites and lead gen systems, but I’ve also led the design for full on cutting edge software for a major search engine. The reason that integrated agencies are uniquely positioned to generate this range of project work is that they’re used to assembling multi-discipline teams to adapt to client needs. This allows agencies to tackle everything for a client from their web-banners to their website design to their brand positioning and to their overall business strategy.

I got my start in UX working in a boutique web-shop that specialized in amazing creative paired with a solid dose of business strategy. Though we got the opportunity to work on some really great projects, we struggled to retain clients because ultimately after their website was done, they didn’t need us anymore. We were too specialized to fulfill their needs. They had to go find a full-time copywriter because we didn’t have one. They had to find an SEO company because we didn’t have SEO on staff. They had to get someone to do their media buy because we only knew how to design their banners.

In the end, specialist shops are the best bet if a client wants only one or two specific needs filled. However, most larger clients have much more diverse needs and only integrated agencies are poised to deliver across the spectrum of their projects. This will ultimately create more integrated agencies of record that get to know their clients and are truly able to optimize their relationship. Conversely, there will also be a huge collapse of those agencies who fail to take advantage of client retention across multiple projects, platforms and disciplines. And this is why I work at an ad agency, because I want to be part of that transition and define how UX and thoughtful, smart design grows within this new model.

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