Hunt Adkins is a full-service brand communications and digitally focused advertising agency known for their love of the color chartreuse and blowing sh*t up! We were lucky enough to get the perspective of their team of directors on what makes their approach unique, as well as their advice for young people just starting out in the industry. Here’s a chance to get inside the heads of a few agency pros as they each share their take on starting out in the industry. Read up and prepare for their breakout session “Unexpected Paths into the Industry”
SAS: What should recent grads consider when choosing between a big vs small agency, and what are the benefits of working at a smaller independent agency?
It is important to have a realistic understanding of your early career goals, your learning styles and teamwork ethic. Are you unsure of what department you want to work in? A smaller agency will give you broader opportunities to pitch in everywhere, whereas a larger agency may have more defined divisions with calendar based rotations between departments. Do you thrive when you have a lot of new, diverse material (broad learning) or do you excel when you can focus in on one topic (deep learning)? If you’re a broad learner, the horizontal architecture of smaller agencies may be your jam. If you prefer go deep, you’ll likely find more comfort in the structured discipline of a larger agency. Are you a wallflower or a social butterfly? Do you like to share the spotlight or are you powered by it? If you enjoy mixing it up with different folks and spreading the accolades around, you’ll find kindred spirits in smaller shops. If you’re favorite noun is “I” and your personality type is a hard A, the hierarchy of larger agencies will reward your drive.
Smaller agencies tend to be lean & mean, where every person plays a critical part on the team. With this in mind, smaller agencies tend to be more nimble, flexible and able to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit in choosing to partner with both big, established brands as well as those up-and-coming brands that are in need of marketing smarts to thrive. At a smaller agency, every team member’s role is elevated within each assignment. This means working closely with your team members throughout—often from Kickoff to Delivery—eliminating the siloed approach of “I’ve done my part; now you take it.”
Though agency roles are certainly defined by discipline, talent and experience, working on smaller teams with seasoned coworkers means you get the opportunity to not only learn more about your specific discipline, but also about the entire process and how your role aligns with others. It also means more face-time with leadership, mentors and experienced team members. Thanks to this face-paced experience, you are given the opportunity to not only learn and grow, but to dive in head-first and really show what you have to contribute. Those who shine are given more responsibility, and with that challenge comes the opportunity for advancement.
It’s often easier to have a stronger voice and take initiative at a smaller shop. There’s more flexibility to stretch your various skills at a smaller shop (do account + strategy or broadcast + print production – which is usually separate at larger agencies), and they breed a different type of family environment. Everyone works harder and there’s no room for lower-performing employees to hide.
At large shops it’s often not what you know, but who you know. While at small/mid-sized shops your work and performance will be noticed—for better or worse. Your success will be more dependent on your thinking + output both independently and within teams. Large (public) agencies are beholden to parent companies and bottom lines which can typically translate into risk-averse behaviors, whereas smaller agencies must take higher risks to stay competitive and grow business. Small agencies often require you (or offer you the opportunity…however you look at it), to wear many hats and typically offer less of a formal path to career development/growth. You most often can get out of a position (or opportunity for advance) what you put into it, whereas at a larger agency there are more formal training programs, resources and steps in advancement
SAS: How can someone without a lot of previous agency experience stand out in a group of applicants?
It is important to see that someone has interest in learning and passion for things outside of advertising. If you show me you’re into “stuff,” and can bring drive and a new perspective to the group—not based on age alone but interests or general knowledge—that’s what I expect out of someone entry-level. Don’t try to tell me that you want to work here because you
- Love commercials and/or social media
- Are a people person
- Love consumer insights and think that’s really interesting or
- Think my agency is a good fit for you. Not only are these answers generic and boring, but they also tell me you don’t have a drive that’s required for fresh ideas, innovation and big, big thinking. I want people that are curious and ready to work their asses off.
- Demonstrate that you are smart, curious and eager to learn everything (that includes all things big and small—humility is one of the best traits to have, in my opinion!)
- Show initiative and focus on what you have accomplished and what is relevant to an agency. Being able to multitask and work on multiple projects at once is a must in an agency. Being a problem solver and taking initiative to learn of figure something out on your own is also a necessity. Highlight on what you have done.
- What non-advertising experience do you have that demonstrates leadership, teamwork, dedication? What experience(s) do you have that required research, time-management, facilitating, brainstorming, problem-solving? Demonstrate that how you engage and create culture outside of academic or work settings. Make it clear that you naturally make LIFE more meaningful, rich and vibrant. Embrace and showcase your personal agency so that we see the value of bringing in a fresh perspective and unique talent. Insight and Creative Talent are the core assets of agencies.
- Network! Go out there and meet agency professionals. Ask your family, friends and strangers what they do and if they have ever worked with or know someone who’s in the industry. Ask them out for coffee! Come with questions. Be passionate, considerate and respectful. Nothing beats a referral. And be persistent with those places you dream about working with – stay in front of those you’ve met with and keep an eye on the work they’re doing. Highlight any clubs or community groups you’re a part of – agency people love go-getters. Write a killer cover letter – make it brief, professional and tell them how you’ll add value to their agency – you’d be surprised how many cover letters get overlooked due to poor writing.
SAS: What are the top 3 most important qualities you look for in an intern or new hire? (Okay, so maybe more than 3. We got a few from each director! Bonus!)
- Ability to work as part of team.
- Agency work culture.
- Agency fun culture.
- Willingness to work hard and learn
- Demonstration of being a problem solver, inquisitive, curious, critical thinker
- No ego
- Interested + Interesting; Want more out of this than just a job and have interests both in and outside of advertising—want to learn, do and inspire others.
- Driven and willing to do whatever it takes to learn or do great work as a collaborative part of the team.
- A real person. Not a fake version of what they think we want to hear—this sticks out like a sore thumb and is not a good fit for our culture. Constant curiosity and continuous learning beyond the academic setting.
- Empathy. If you’re not interested in what makes people tick and putting yourself in their shoes, this is the wrong field for you.
- Humility matched only by Drive. If you take it easy when you think no one is watching, you’re just wrong. We are. Everyone is.
- Cultural fit/personality, ambitious drive to continue learning and help others learn along the way as well, overly detailed in everything they think and do.
- Passion for advertising – that they actively want to talk about and are aware of campaigns and digital platforms shaping our industry
- Timeliness – if you don’t turn around an Email response from someone in the industry within 24 hours, we got a problem
- Knows how to take feedback (and notes!) – you’re never going to remember everything everyone tells you to – 4 years of college should have prepared you to be organized in your note-taking
SAS: What makes the work environment and culture at HA stand out from other agencies in town?
Work hard, play hard mentality – we put in crazy hours at time (as you would expect in the industry) but also take time to celebrate with our HA family. Everyone is here (at HA) for the long haul and has an unbelievably high standard of work ethic. It is great to be surrounded by smart, passionate people who collaborate to deliver the best product/outcome possible. This shows in all the work we do to best serve and elevate the brands we touch.
Collectively, it’s one of the highest performing agencies of any size in any city in the county I’ve worked with. Everyone is driven, talented and willing to help. We are a flat organization which allows us to be nimble, efficient and effective. Everyone is willing to any task regardless of title. It’s an ego free zone.
No one is an afterthought. We are always a WE—from top to bottom it’s about US doing OUR best. Plus, we don’t steer the boat by looking at the wake. The past is history and the future is not promised to anyone. We’re only concerned about kicking ass today.
Empowers you to push yourself, fail and apply those learnings to future successes. Honest respect for one another and appreciation for the agency’s success as a whole (vs. selfish actions) – we band together when it matters most. We expect a lot from everyone – no one gets a free pass – so in return garner better results (internally and with clients). We don’t “fake” like each other – we would give our left arm for our teammates.
Collaborative and entrepreneurial – if you’re capable of thinking of an idea and communicating it with enthusiasm, chances are high that it can be executed with the team and resources available at HA.
We are curious. We are crazy smart. We are competitive. And we work our asses Each and every single person here cares about the success of each and every of their fellow HAers professionally and personally. Rising tides raise all ships and this philosophy is applied across the board at HA—from mentorship, operations and culture activities to department collaboration, ideation and the clients/projects we choose to take on.
SAS: How can students and recent grads make the most of their first step into the ad industry?
Your first job will suck. It won’t be your dream job, you won’t get paid much and you don’t glamorous work. Remember that and know you are there to learn and grow your skill set. Do a good job at the really boring, tedious work you need to do (the basics) and you’ll get rewarded with more interesting and fun things to work on. Always be willing (and offer) to help, put in your time, pay your dues and learn as much as you can. If you do all that you’ll have the opportunity to move up.
Just ask. People will help you if you ask them to, but you have to take the initiative. They’re not going to chase you. I don’t know how many students/young professionals I’ve met with throughout my career that never bother to follow-up email after a meeting, never bother to ask for an opportunity and/or never even try to ask what they can do to help us. We’ve all been where you are, and if you follow-up in a timely manner, check your spelling/grammar, show your drive to help/contribute you will stand out light years ahead of your peers. Anyone that’s asked me for help throughout my career, I find time to help him or her—whether that be just coffee or happy hour, networking, getting them an internship at my agency or connecting them with my peers at other agencies or simply giving them some helpful feedback/advice.
Never say “no” when it comes to an opportunity to help others. Doing is the best teacher and serving others is ultimately the best way to serve yourself opportunities to grow.Get involved. Give yourself assignments on your own to challenge your learning, thinking, etc. Over deliver on the work you’re given at the agency – don’t just do what you’re asked to do. Don’t be afraid to step outside your cube – walk around and introduce yourself to people right away – even those not directly on your brand teams. Smile – it goes a long way. Say yes to every social invitation – from drinks after work to sitting around after work playing video games. These are the moments that you will bond with your co-workers more than any amount of Emails containing research materials.