I connected with Toni Dawkins, then Strategist at Grey Group, over the summer when we were both MAIP Coaches. She promptly and awesomely sent me her Guest Pro email then, and it's my pleasure to share it with you now (after much delay on my end). Here's Toni, answering one of the most commonly asked questions—how do I stand out when just starting out?
Four years into my advertising career, I can finally look back at some of my early missteps and laugh. One that stands out is just how much I tried to emulate my more senior counterparts instead of just being myself. Over time, I realized that being different and having unique skills and passions are assets in this industry, not something to shy away from. Even if you don’t have years of experience on your resume, you do have a perspective on the world that you can leverage. Agencies can often be very insular, filled with similar types of people and ways of thinking – so being “different” can have innumerable value.
Here are a few tips on how to stand out by being yourself:
1) Share your passions and interests outside of work with your team. It’s important that your colleagues know the things you nerd out about, spend your free time doing, and can’t stop talking about. For me, that’s digital culture – the latest memes, trends and topics that take on a life of their own on the Internet. Sharing your interests not only makes you a more well-rounded, interesting person, it lets your team know what types of topics you’ll be able to weigh in on in the future. Don’t be too humble, talk about what you know sometimes.
2) Just like school, speak up when you know the answers. When you’re first starting out, it’s all about being a sponge and learning as much as possible from the people around you. But, there will come a time when you’re uniquely positioned to contribute what you know to the conversation. So, speak up! Maybe your clients are trying to reach consumers in your age range, or there’s a new business opportunity with a brand you know all about. Whatever the case, any relevant “authoritative knowledge” you’re sitting on is highly valuable in the fast-paced agency world.
3) Find advocates who can elevate your voice. You may be thinking, “How can I speak up when I’m the most junior person in the room?” Although some agencies have hierarchical structures that can be tough to navigate, if you organically build relationships with the more senior people on your teams, they'll help you along the way. For example, when a Millennial-focused new business opportunity came up at my first gig, my manager nominated me to work on it despite my lack of experience, because I built up a level of trust with her from my previous work and the thoughts I shared along the way.
4) Create a side project around something you care about. Adjusting to your first full-time role is hard enough, so this is absolutely a bonus. However, there’s something to be said about taking an idea and bringing it to life. It’s what this creative industry is all about. With the help of colleagues who advocated for me, I had the opportunity to turn my passion for digital culture into a podcast. The agency sponsored it and helped with the production, while I got to host and conceptualize each episode. Whether it's a podcast, a cause-related campaign, a blog or even your social presence – it shows that you’re passionate about something and can execute your ideas, which may open professional doors in the future.