Behind the Creative: How to land a fast paced agency role
In our first instalment of Behind the Creative for 2024, we speak with Caley O’Neill, National Client Director at IVY PR about what fast paced agencies are really looking for in newcomers to their team. From working across agencies of varying sizes and hiring many junior to mid-level agency professionals, Caley shares her tips on how to stand out for an agency crowd.
Caley, tell us a bit about your career to date. How did you get to where you are and what does your current role involve?
I’ve always loved writing and being creative, which is what drew me into studying communications at uni. I did an internship which gave me a taste for what a job in communications could be like, and it made me really hungry to get my degree over with and get into a job as soon as I could, so I could learn on the go.
I started out my career working in-house in external communications and media for a health and community services brand, and then in similar roles across the tech and healthcare sectors for a few years before switching over to agency side. I first worked within a well-known Brisbane consumer PR agency and then for a bigger, integrated national agency before landing myself in my current role at IVY PR. Our team at IVY work as part of BCM Group, an integrated agency offering covering everything from paid media to creative, strategy and research, and we’re based in a beautiful office in Brisbane, which we’re very lucky to call home.
My role as National Client Director is really varied! I work closely with our team to plan and execute campaigns for a mix of national consumer clients, so there’s a lot of strategising, creative concepting, liaising with media and coordinating press opportunities or activations. Then, much of my role is dedicated to working directly with our clients, helping to build those relationships and keep them really strong, supporting them with future campaign planning and brainstorming. For any new clients we may be exploring, there might be creative concepting, developing new proposals and lots of relationship meetings. I also love the operations side of my role, which involves things like mentoring the team, working with them on development plans and helping with client processes and structure. We hear it way too much in this industry, but it really is true that no two days are the same!
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about working in an agency?
This is a hard one to answer because I’d like to say the biggest misconception is that you have to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never get a break, but unfortunately, I know there are still some agencies out there who have these expectations. Across the industry, however, there are a lot of modern agencies really putting in the work to break these old patterns and redefine what working in an agency in today’s world can look like. For me and our team, it’s about putting the right boundaries in place for the team to thrive both in and out of the office, which usually results in happier team members who want to stay for longer. Much of this comes down to basic things like team resourcing, accurately scoping client projects and having really transparent, honest relationships with clients around the agency’s output and effort.
How do you think young or emerging professionals can know if they are cut out for an agency role?
There’s always been a lot of talk about how ‘fast paced’ agencies are but I worry that’s tainting the way potential newcomers may be looking at roles across agencies. Having started out in in-house roles and transitioning into agency myself, I remember hearing about this pace and being really hesitant about whether I was cut out for it or not. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll absolutely find a wave of competing deadlines, fast turnaround times, and multiple clients to juggle in an agency, but I know that in-house roles bring their own version of fast paced, usually with an enormous list of internal stakeholders, approvals processes and more blended skill sets to cover. So I really do think both sides can provide that fast paced environment we often talk about, and whether it’s an in-house or agency role, having the right attitude for success is going to be equally as important, particularly when first starting out.
If you could sum up the absolute must haves for thriving in an agency, what would they be to you?
No matter what level you’re at, having drive and passion for what you are doing is critical. I think it’s about really being hungry for success; success for yourself, for your team and for your clients. These sorts of traits are the hardest to encourage into a team or help a team member develop as I really believe it’s got to come from the individual. They are also often the hardest to measure as they come to the surface in the little moments throughout the day. It might be really showing up to support your team members on a deadline, putting in extra effort to learn the ins and outs of the industry your client is in, or asking questions about the bigger picture and taking the time to really learn from those around you. I definitely think it’s these little moments of passion and hunger that can make someone really standout.
Second to that but probably equally as important, I’d say you’ve got to be flexible and able to quickly adapt to changing situations. More often than not, we’re there to deliver results for our clients, whether that’s pieces of media coverage, views on a social post or attendees at an event. Even with all the prior planning and strategising in the world, usually something won’t go to plan and it’s in these moments that people can really shine. You’ve got to be able to quickly regroup with your team, think of new ways to achieve your objectives, brainstorm different approaches and really keep cool under the pressure.
On the more practical front, I’m a big believer that being organised can be a game changer for success. Naturally when you’re working across lots of different brands and campaigns, it can often feel like you’ve got a million and one topics, deadlines and to-do’s to be across. Finding a method to keep all of this in an easily digestible, structured format for you to break all of that down can make the world of difference. It’s one of the simplest ways to really help you work out what is and isn’t achievable in your day.
What would be your best advice to people looking to get into an agency role this year?
Every agency is going to be a little different and within that, each role is different again, so I think my first piece of advice would be to find the role that is the right fit for you. Ultimately it’s going be a better outcome for both sides if you enter a role feeling really comfortable and confident in your future.
Put in the time to really dissect a job description, do plenty of research on the organisation, and take your time in the hiring process. When it comes to interviews, prep yourself to ask questions that address things that you might need more information on, or that are really important to you like team culture, client mix or growth opportunities. Then finally, if you find an agency you really want to work for and they aren’t hiring, reach out anyway and offer to take someone for a coffee. More often than not people won’t say no to a coffee and whether it turns into a job opportunity or not, it’s the best way to build up your network and learn more about what working in an agency is like and where it can take you!
Keen to connect with Caley and chat more about making the switch from in-house to agency or what working at an agency is really like? You can connect with her on LinkedIn!