Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Suits and Creatives: changing departments in Adland.

By Brianna Miller, Middleweight Copywriter at Armadillo CRM

It’s a notion internationally recognised that career paths are not what they used to be. In the olden days, we started at the bottom of the ladder in one role and worked our way up it over 30 years. Now, we monkey-bar between different career ladders and job roles to find where we belong, sometimes starting right at the beginning to carve out a new skillset or passion we always wanted to pursue. Yet here in Adland, there seems to be a stigma deeply rooted between departments that must have stemmed from the golden years of Advertising and has stayed rooted until this day. Department bias. Oh yes, this is a phrase I just coined, but I’m sure you’ll know the definition well. 

Naturally, if you’re working in a creative agency, you’re going to be a creative person. The industry is about creating behavioural change and cultural impact through pop-culture comms in a way that makes people care about what they’re consuming. That being said… it’s a relatively unheard-of occurrence for one person to change their job title from, say, Account Handler to Copywriter. How in the world would a Suit make a decent Creative? They know about sales and benchmarks and quarterly reviews, not scamps and InDesign and tone of voice. They haven’t got what it takes to be a Creative, they haven’t trained to be one. Right? Wrong. But somehow, I find this stereotype is circulating Adland.

It’s quite understandable, really. These two departments are stark contrasts to each other, two entirely different working environments. And it is true, the departments are built up from two very different types of thinkers and doers. Although they all work for the same agency, with the same clients, their day-to-day responsibilities rarely intertwine. It makes sense why many would question a person changing their career trajectory from one of these departments to the other. But the heart of the problem here is separating the person from their current job title. It doesn’t define them, and it doesn’t showcase everything they’re capable of. Talent can come from anywhere at any time. 

I always wanted to be a Copywriter; from before I left university, throughout my agency work experience placements and well into my Account Executive role. However, no matter how much I tried, getting my foot in the door as a Creative never seemed to be possible. For the most part, my struggle was surprisingly my education. I had a degree in English, not in Advertising. I didn’t have a creative partner. Even with creative work experience it wasn’t enough for me to get a call-back. 

In the ad industry, we’re all aware of creative competition. This competition starts at the very beginning. I was up against D&AD New Blood award-winning creatives with advertising degrees from Watford and Falmouth. It’s fierce and there is a hell of a lot of amazing talent out there, and of course, it does help if you’ve been working since before university to get into the role. However, it’s not over at this stage. If you are passionate and determined, you can do anything. It takes time, but you’ll get there…I did. After two years of Account Handling, I finally made it in. It was very hard, but I got there eventually and can proudly say I’m now a full-time Copywriter. It needs to become common knowledge that anyone can do this too – no one should be made to feel it’s an impossibility once they’re working in a certain department. Nothing is fixed or set in stone. 

This doesn’t just apply for people moving from Accounts to Creative, it could be vice versa! Or Strategy to New Business, Finance to Account Handling. It’s never too late to hone the skills and make the change; and I don’t mean going back to university. I won’t lie, it is very difficult, but if it’s what you want desperately, the effort required to get yourself up to the mark won’t feel like effort at all. 

I’ll stick with my example. In the evenings, I would be working on concepts for campaigns and briefs I’d made up myself. Sketching out press ad ideas and typing out TV scripts. I entered the D&AD New Blood awards three times, having worked on my entries deep into the night at weekends and after work. I persistently reached out to the Creative Directors and Art Directors at my original agency looking for ways to get involved. Eventually, people got to know what I could do, and used my time to help share the creative workload. 

This did take years, though. I didn’t just walk into that position. Plus, it was with the help of supportive colleagues who were willing to give me a chance. Books were recommended to me, platforms and software shared. I was training myself alongside a full-time account handling role which, as many will know, is a very fast-paced and demanding role. But it didn’t feel like effort at all, as I knew I was setting myself up for applications and interviews for the job I’d always dreamed of. Plus, I would have kept going until I got there, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I was a hybrid Copywriter and Senior Account Executive, until earlier this year I was welcomed on board as a full-time Copywriter at Armadillo CRM. 

The simple fact of the matter is I just never gave up, even when I felt like it was impossible. This is the ultimate tool if you’re looking to do something similar. Because even without an advertising degree, awards and creative partners, there’s one thing employers can’t ignore: ambition. If you harness this level of determination for a role that you aspire to have, they will know they will get the very best out of you; all you need is a chance. 

The fear of being under-qualified puts us off. I believe there are loads of people out there looking to move departments in Adland, but the imposter syndrome takes over. But you can do it if you really want to. Don’t let your current job title define you, and don’t let others look over you because of it either.  You need to speak to relevant people in your network, catch up in your own time, learn about Google Analytics, scamping, Adobe Suite, whatever tools you need to do an amazing job in your dream role, and then just go for it.