Qualifications in the Ad Industry

For years, I've tried to actively notice advertisements and other real world examples of graphic design and marketing. I especially enjoy looking through sites like AOTW (which I think is great, btw), because to some extent, I get to hear the voices behind the ads. There certainly is a gamut that runs from slipshod to truly great work, and as I look through the spectrum, I wonder what kind of education and experiences the people responsible for the ads have had, and what kind of affect that has on the end product. I ask because I don't consider myself to be in marketing per se, but I'm curious about the inner workings of the industry.

I know that for professional ads there are many people that contribute in a variety of ways. What I'm curious about is the average level of education of people in the industry, and just what they studied (perhaps a per-position breakdown is in order). At what point does experience outweigh the absence of a degree? What about the posters here on AOTW? I've seen a lot of people claiming to ad enthusiasts or students, but students of... graphic design? Marketing? Business? What?

Also, for a lot of ads here I see multiple names even for the same position; just how much does one need to contribute to an ad to be credited? Lastly, who is held responsible for a bad or unsuccessful ad? The last person to sign off on it?

I understand that the answer to these questions will vary greatly depending on the companies and firms involved, so I'd appreciate any anecdotes anyone has.

Thanks for taking the time.

SeanMartin's picture

I can only share my own experience, for what it may be worth.

I started in this field as a production artist, freelancing for several small boutique design firms in the San Francisco Bay Area during the mid 70s. I knew nothing about advertising or graphic design, because my course of study in college had been foreign languages. But thanks to a college friend who knew I needed a job when I got out of the armed services, I pretty well dove in and learned what I could along the way.

I was fortunate enough to work for several name designers; through them, I gradually acquired an eye for what was good design; still, it took another six years before I felt confident enough in my skills to call myself a graphic designer.

I've worked for agencies both large and small, on both sides of the US/Canadian border -- and in all of them, I learned very quickly that the best advertising is a collaborative affair. The best concepts come from people working together with a full understanding of the client's needs, both visually and marketing-wise.

During my time, I've had to review a lot of portfolios, mostly from students who are untried. Some of them brought in books that were pretty amazing, but most arrived without a clear idea of just what was involved in making good advertising happen, simply from lack of experience. That's not to say they wouldnt eventually learn, but, as with most fields, they lacked the connection between the theoretical of the academic environment and the reality of the true working world. And, thanks to the digital age, it hasnt gotten a whole lot better -- basic skills such as kerning and letterspacing are being lost because we think the computer will do it for us. Photoshop has, in some respects, made us all lazy, because it makes it so easy to just manipulate images instead of the much tougher job of manipulating concepts and ideas. This is one reason why I get so frustrated looking at the work in the archive: so much if it is superficial flash and glitter, without anything solid to support it from a true *concept* point of view -- and this is supposed to be the work of professionals.

As for what happens when a campaign fails, you'll no doubt see a lot of finger-pointing and abdication of responsibility, just as you would in any industry these days. Most will blame the client, and sometimes that might be true. But the larger truth is a lot harder to accept: an ad fails because the people that created it didnt do their jobs... and that applies all around: to copywriters, to designers, to production artists, to photographers, even to creative directors. The problem is: you wont know if an ad is going to fail until you put it out there in the marketplace. It might surprise you, both good and bad.

Yes, we are restricted to what the client says in response to the work of genius that has arrived full grown from our fevered brow... but ultimately, if you cant sell the client on your work, why do you think the client's target market will be any more receptive?

Okay, one anecdote, pertinent to nothing: during my time in San Francisco, I worked for an annual report mill as a paste-up artist. The CD there did not allow computer typesetting; he used only metal, and it wasnt all that rare for a job to have to be completely reset after we'd gone through a dozen or so revisions to the financials. One of the company's clients was a major firm that, that particular year, was celebrating its centennial -- as such, the annual report was a three-volume, slipcased affair whose unit cost was more than I made in a month. With much fanfare, the company's director of marketing presented the first completed copy to the president of the company, before representatives of the company's fifty or so divisions -- and we mere minions had been invited along for the festivities.

The report was put before the president on his desk. He pulled out book one, opened it to the first spread and just looked at it. "You have done this in green," says he. "My wife just had me paint the den green. I *hate* green." And with that, he closed it, pointedly put it back in the slipcase, shoved the report across the desk, and turned around in his chair. The royal interview was quite, quite over, and we had to completely reprint the entire job.

The new spread colour, incidently, was orange. The president *liked* orange.

nice gaijin's picture
nice gaijin
Activity Score 815

Thank you, Mr. Martin. This is precisely the kind of information I was hoping for. It's very interesting to hear from such experienced professionals, especially those that had to learn on their feet without any formal education in design. I feel that although training goes a long way, the most educational thing in this field, next to first-hand experience, is knowledge shared by those with said experience. I am relatively green in the "reality" you mentioned, but I cherish my contacts that have been there and are willing to share their experiences.

I'm seeing a very large overlap between what you've said about advertising and my own observations of other forms of commissioned design. There's a lot to take into consideration, whether the end product is an ad or an entire brand identity, and the strongest solutions come from a collaboration of minds. As hard as I try analyze all of the information available and come up with appropriate, relevant and elegant solutions, I always appreciate a fresh mind and set of eyes to help me see beyond the limits of my own imagination, and improve or edit my concepts to produce a better end product. But I digress.

Again, thank you for your insight, and I love that anecdote at the end (I've had a similar experience when I was freelancing). There certainly are a lot of factors that go into the end product, and not all of them are as productive as we'd like!

I look forward to hearing more from others.

swat's picture
Activity Score 355

i hope you are asking who are the people that make up an ad agency and what do they do, their education (The piece was too painful to go thru...too long)

But an ad agency has the following depts/people.

Creative Dept -
The are responsible of what you see. The ad per se, is their responsibility. In a typical Creative Dept, you can find the following people -

Creative Directors - They are the people who control the whole creative department. Generally overpaid and underworked : D, they are the people the whole Creative Dept looks up to, when they feel they are hitting the dead end. They are the people who give a direction to the people in this dept, like - how you should approach an ad, which language to talk to. People in an agency start with Copywriters & Art Directors and end up becoming this.

Copywriters - They are responsible for creating an idea, what image is there in the ad, the concept. Whatever you see in an written by Copywriters. The only qualification for Copywriter, is ideation (sometimes, they don't even expect you to be a college grad.) Some agencies insist that they must have studied English for graduation, coz..well you know in most countries, you have to be good in English to write ads.

Art Directors - They design layout. The colours, the look and feel of the ad, the images, the placement of the elements...etc, etc. Qualification from an educational institution again is not a must. But you MUST know the softwares - "Corel Draw", "Photoshop", "Illustrator", if in online medium(like mine), then Macromedia Flash too. BIG agencies may even ask for advanced softwares like Maya or other 3D image creating softwares.


The Media Planning Dept -

I per se don't know, who are the people in a Media planning, since i dont work in a regular advertising agency.

But people in this Dept are responsible of "Where you see the ad, when you see it"
When agency get money from client, they plan out the money for the whole 3 front page ad...1 TVC...spend more during Christmas/New Year, etc etc. They buy the space from Newspapers, magazines, TV channels, radio stations etc.

A Creative Director too helps in planning this.
I am not sure what qualification they ask for, but I guess an MBA or some sorta Financial Degree helps.

Client Servicing -

For the client, they are the agency's voice and for the agency they are the client's voice. This Dept is responsible to get new clients, meet the clients, get an idea what the client is looking for in the ad and communicate the same to the agency through a 'brief'. When the agency creates the ad... they present it to the client.

Though that's how it started in earlier times, Client Servicing is now accompanied by a Copywriter and Art Director and Creative Director. That's why this dept is slowly being considered as redundant.

Creative Director adds up as Client Servicing.

To be a CS...Management Degree helps.

Creative Dept and CS dept don't get along very well ; )


How an agency functions -

Generally, when agency tries to get new business, they 'pitch'.
Pitching process - they first show the client all their good creatives. That is the first round. Then they show a few ads for the client of their brand...that would be a the second round. Third round is presenting a whole plan what they can do with the brand (which is 99.99% hype), if the client gives them this amount of money.

If the client is BIG, they themselves announce that they are open for a 'pitch'. If they are too keen...they even invite BIG agencies to pitch.

If Client Servicing manages to get an account, the client gives them some bulky money to manage for the whole year...sometimes for 2-3 years.
The CS communicates to the Creative Dept. The media planning draws a budget.

The first ad for the client starts rolling.

You can get a better idea through internet search.

nice gaijin's picture
nice gaijin
Activity Score 815

Thank you, swat. This was indeed what I was originally asking for, and you've gone a step further and helped explain the function of each department and the breakdown of jobs therein.

When I got my education as a graphic designer, most of the projects I worked on required me to act as if I were my own firm, with the teacher acting more as an art director offering critique and occasional guidance. I would have to do my own research, analyze the client and the audience, come up with my own concepts, execute the chosen direction and polish it, present to the 'client' for approval, and lay out a plan for implementation. It was a lot of work but it was an invaluable experience that let us gauge our strengths and weaknesses, and really 'own' our own concepts. The only part of the process that was regrettably neglected was the business aspect of bidding on a project.

Of course, I wouldn't expect a real firm to foist such an enormous workload on one person, but from the way you describe the process, it seems that graphic designers are relegated to merely translating other people's concepts into a visual medium. Are designers seen as a tool for an ad's visual execution, and relatively constrained to the Copywriter's/Creative Director's/Art Director's vision, or am I interpreting this incorrectly?

swat's picture
Activity Score 355

Well, I typically mentioned what are the departments in an agency.

But EOD (if I talk of the Creative Dept)...everybody is everybody. Ultimately the Creative Dept is one soul of the agency with everyone contributing to it.
Sometimes idea comes from Art Directors or Graphic Designers. Sometimes the Copywriters poke their nose into design. Creative Director pokes his/her nose into everything.

As I said, when people go to meeting...copywriters use 'jargon' to attract client...Art Directors use their technical lighting and colour jargon to impress the client. End of is the teamwork that counts. I particularly don't know how Art Directors differ from Designers.

In the industry I am in (Online advertising and web designing),it functions TOTALLY different.
Client Servicing get the requirement from the client and mail the Copywriters. Copywriters give the idea to CS. CS shortlists and then goes to the designer. In my industry, copywriters and designers don't really interact much...not even with fellow copywriters...coz its pretty much a one on one task.

That's why I kinda feel excited about mainstream advertising.

I understand how u feel...sometimes talking in a group makes you jump to a new the end. When you are working alone, you never know if your 'good' is 'good enuff'
I think you should try getting in a ad agency once...its quite an exciting place to be!

Activity Score 2

hi sir...
i am b-tech(information technology) student,i very much interest in advertising film making.please show me the way