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With a marketing plan and a touch of niceness, creatives can strategize their way to success.

While working for fifteen years as a creative recruiter, I came to realize that ‘career strategy’ and ‘creative person’ don’t commonly co-exist in the same sentence. To that end, here are some things I observed from studying some of the success stories in our industry: Develop your brand.

You’re a creative person, right? Your job is to build your client’s brands, right? How’s your marketing plan? Have you ever done one for yourself? Do one, and then execute against the plan. Or alternately, study someone who you admire in your industry. Study and understand the decisions they’ve made, so the next time you have to make an important decision, think ‘What would Mr.X do in this situation?’ And then do that.

Be nice.

There are nice, talented, creative people, and there are unpleasant talented, creative people. Given the choice, most agencies would prefer to introduce their clients to nice, talented, creative people. So the next time you feel like making a scene, count to 10 and ask yourself: Is this something that is going to take five years for me to live down? Especially important if you have aspirations to be a creative director.

Attach yourself to revenue.

Here’s a secret that most account guys know but few creative people have figured out: get to know your clients, their business and how you can be part of solving their problems. If the client likes you, and requests that you work on their business, this is not a burden, it’s a career insurance policy.

Do your homework.

Do you know how many people I interview every year who tell me they are passionate about creative, but can’t name one creative execution done by any agency, either in Canada, or internationally? Most creative people can not answer these questions: Describe your dream job. Where do you want to be in five years? Why should an agency hire you? Never, ever, under any circumstances, move for money. Move for the opportunity, move for a challenge, move for the thrill of working closely with someone you respect and admire, move to be a change catalyst, but NEVER move for money. If you do, I guarantee you, if the move doesn’t work out, your salary will immediately adjust to where it would have been if you hadn’t made the move. (And if you must move for money, don’t adjust your lifestyle until you have enough money saved to live at your current standard for one whole year.)

Demand honest criticism of your portfolio.

If you know your book is no good, don’t show it to anyone. If you suspect your book is no good, it probably is. When you think your book is great, show it to people whose opinion you admire and demand that they be brutally honest with you about it. Listen. Then ask questions. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn. And when someone offers to look at your book again once you’ve made changes, take them up on it. The fact that you worked on it, and changed some things, will make you somewhat of a rarity.

‘But this will win an award!’

Don’t ever say this out loud. When clients hear it, they cringe. It’s about your agenda, not theirs. You are in the client service business, and the service you provide to your clients is to increase the sales of their products, so they can get raises and buy big houses. Lucky for you, the ads that win awards also seem to sell lots of product, and selling lots of product is good for your agency’s bottom line, which means you get to keep your job. It’s all a business, see? Successful creative people get that.

Develop a relationship with at least two headhunters.

Find two you can trust and make them part of your career plan. I’m not saying only work through headhunters. But I’m saying tell them what your goals are, what you’re thinking, and never accept a job without asking a headhunter’s opinion. They know more about the agency you’re considering than you do. I promise.

Don’t hop around.

Make a commitment. A creative director who most of you would kill to work for/with has a policy that he will never hire anyone who has worked at any agency for less than a year. Enough said.

Hold out for your dream job.

I know of someone in the advertising community who knew he wanted a job at one of the hottest agencies in the country. Every time I called him to talk to him about a position, he graciously declined saying, ‘No, when I leave here I’m going to work there.’ He worked on his book for three years, until finally he was ready. The rest is history. The quality of his work at the new agency led him to become one of the most respected and talented writers in the country, and when he started his own agency last year, the agency achieved its first-year business plan in the first three months after opening its doors.

Now that’s a career strategy.

It worked for him. It can work for you.

~ heidi