Advertising Agency CEO
Mentor, Angela Harless
Angela is CEO of AcrobatAnt, an independent advertising agency she and four others formed in 2008. Their firm uses a broad range of marketing and branding strategies to help clients sell their products and services, including television, radio, print, digital and direct marketing. She works as an Account Manager with a diverse roster of clients and also as the company’s Chief Financial Officer. Angela was recently recognized in Oklahoma Magazine as one of the “Top 40 Under 40,” a group of the best and brightest young business and professional people in the state, and has been acknowledged as a “Distinguished Alumni” by the Tulsa Community College Alumni Association. Angela is active in the community and is involved in a number of volunteer organizations. She was able to serve the city of Tulsa by serving on the Business Services Task Force, where task force members were charged with outlining expectations of doing business between small business and the city. She regularly volunteers at her church and Meals on Wheels, in addition to ensuring ongoing involvement between AcrobatAnt and Women in Recovery, an innovative organization that helps women facing long prison sentences for non-violent offenses become productive, tax-paying citizens so they can break the cycle of recidivism.
Angela knew that her parents were not going to pay for her college education. By taking advantage of opportunities for financial aid and continuing to work while she was attending school, Angela was able to finance her education without having to take out any student loans. Her degrees include an MBA from the University of Tulsa, a bachelor’s degree in finance from Northeastern State University and an associate’s degree in business from Tulsa Community College. Angela’s story should inspire any of you who may be discouraged by the cost of a college education or the technical training you need to pursue your career goals.
My Career Path
When I was in high school, I worked on the newspaper and yearbook and thought it would be fun to be a designer. In 1998, I applied to Oklahoma State University’s design program at the campus of Okmulgee Tech. My parents said they would buy me a car so that I had reliable transportation to go back and forth to OSU if I handled my own tuition. I had good grades and applied for scholarships that gave me a full ride. After beginning the program, I realized that the design process required more than just using computers like we did in high school and that I needed some art background, which I did not have.
My senior year of high school, I also started working part-time at a small advertising agency based on a referral from one of my teachers to her husband and his business partner. At first, I was doing typing and reception work but later began to do bookkeeping and assist with project management, media buying and other aspects of the business. My boss said that he could teach me marketing and suggested that I get a finance degree rather than continue studying design or marketing in school because I could always get a job in marketing with a finance degree but I couldn’t get a job in finance with a marketing degree. While I did not know it at the time, finance turned out to be a very practical major where you learn about basic business practices and things like the value of loans and how to deal with banks. A finance degree also gives you the flexibility to go into a lot of different areas of business, like accounting and financial planning. I took my boss’s advice and started taking classes in business and finance at Tulsa Community College. I chose TCC because I wanted to keep my job, I could not afford to go away to school and I was able to get scholarships at TCC. While those didn’t pay for everything, they got the cost down to where I was able to supplement the rest myself. I earned my associate’s degree in business at TCC in 2001 and then went on to Northeastern State University’s Broken Arrow campus where I got my bachelor’s in finance in 2003—while still working around 30 to 40 hours a week.
During school, I was looking for opportunities to apply for scholarships. For example, I joined a marketing club where I was able to apply for a national scholarship. Towards the end of the NSU program, I was advancing in the company and earning more money, which allowed me pay for more of my tuition. I also saved on living expenses at first by living at home until I was nineteen, then renting an apartment and later a small house with my cousin so we could share expenses.
A national firm acquired the advertising agency in 2004. That company had a tuition reimbursement program and I decided to take advantage of it and get my MBA at the University of Tulsa. I attended evening classes and took two classes a semester. TU is expensive and those two classes each semester were over the limit of what the company would pay, so I had to put in some money myself. But by going at a slower pace to stay within the tuition reimbursement limits, I was still able to get my MBA in three years from a reputable university without having to take out any student loans.
Two advertising veterans started Fireant, the agency I first began working for in high school. I showed up on their third day of business and have worked with them ever since. Fireant merged with another company and the new company was later bought out twice by larger advertising companies. During that time, I was learning more and more about advertising. As I gained experience, I was given my own clients and began developing new business for the firm. I was also helping with the company’s administration and finances.
The last company that bought us was Fair Isaac Corp, a national and publicly traded company where I was able to work on projects for clients around the country. However, when the recession hit in 2008, they decided to close our Tulsa office. That is when five employees, including myself, decided to go out on our own, start AcrobatAnt and I became a partner. The person who was handling the finances at Fair Isaac decided not to go with us and I stepped up and took on his responsibilities along with handling my clients. Up until that point, I had not been able to fully utilize my MBA and had thought about looking for another job. However, I liked my boss and saw the business growing. I thought that if I stayed I would be able to grow professionally, which turned out to be a good decision.
What You Do Each Day in an Advertising Agency
There are two parts to an advertising agency—the account side and the creative side. The creative team involves copywriters who write advertisements and designers who develop the visuals. It is important to understand that advertising design is “art with a purpose” versus “art for art’s sake.” It can be the prettiest ad you have ever seen, but if it doesn’t accomplish the goals set forth by the client, it is not good advertising.
Many of the advertising we do now involves movement, dimensional design or digital interactivity. The creative team often has to think multi-dimensionally, not just creating a flat print ad or billboard design. For example, we work with the BOK Center in Tulsa, where most of the city’s large concerts and indoor sporting events take place. AcrobatAnt developed the brands and designs for all the concession stands. This included logos, theme design and installation within the concessions stands and freestanding carts—all with the goal of increasing concession sales for the BOK Center.
The account side of the agency includes account managers and other account persons who write marketing plans, manage projects to completion and develop presentations to help the agency gain new business. The five partners not only handle their own accounts, but they also oversee other account managers to help them service clients and grow the business.
The account team acts as a liaison between the agency and the client. The account person must be as familiar with the client’s goals and brand to ensure what the agency is developing and presenting will achieve the client’s desired goals.
The account manager’s first meeting with a client is what we call a discovery session where we meet to discuss their goals for their brand or advertising campaign and to define what success means to them. For example, a bank may have a goal of increasing consumer deposits or bank loans while a doctor may want more patients for knee replacements. We try to measure success based on predetermined goals whenever possible. Measuring success for retail or online clients is sometimes easier since we can view website analytics about sales or forms submitted. With ‘offline’ clients, we can measure how many people fill out a form or call to inquire but we need the client to close the loop and tell us how many prospects actually converted to a sale.
Once we have determined our client’s goals and how to measure success, we then develop a marketing plan. This involves identifying what motivates our client’s customers by doing statistical research and sometimes using focus groups. We also analyze the various media tactics and decide which would be best to utilize based on goals and budget. We consider traditional media such as newspapers, magazines or billboards as well as broadcast media such as television, radio and digital media. With digital media, it is now possible to target advertising to very specific demographics or behavior trends. For example, you can now put together a digital marketing campaign where you can target women of a specific age and household income who want to buy a house in a particular part of a city. The targeting options available from digital media often let us design an advertising program that is more efficient than traditional mass media, which saves the client money.
Skills that you need to be an account manager include basic math and accounting and proficiency with programs like Excel is critical in order to prepare client estimates and proposals. In order to develop a client estimate, we think about the estimated amount of agency effort/hours that we will spent on a project plus the cost of outside services like media or printing, plus a mark-up that will provide a reasonable amount of profit. So it is important that you have the forethought to anticipate things that might go wrong and be able to do contingency planning when you are developing your proposal, especially when the client wants a flat price. When you are executing your plan for the client, it is also important that you remain detail-oriented so nothing falls through the cracks and you are able to manage the project within the approved budget.
How to Build Your Own Career in Advertising
- You can begin a career in advertising without a four-year college degree. Firms do hire people with two-year associate’s degrees in art or design for their creative departments and people with associate’s degrees in advertising, marketing and communications for entry-level jobs on the account side. But it is difficult to move into upper-management without a four-year degree especially if you want to work for a large, national firm. So plan on getting at least an associate’s degree for entry-level jobs and continuing your education like I did after you begin working if you want to advance your career and reach the higher levels of management.
- For most people who get a two-year or four-year degree and especially people who go further and get a graduate degree, tuition can be expensive. You also have to consider your living expenses. Look for ways to help cover these costs so you don’t end up with a lot of student loan debt. I lived at home for a while and when I moved out I got a roommate to share expenses. I also did a lot of research on financial aid while I was taking classes and applied for everything I could. Also, working for a larger company may allow you to qualify for employer-paid tuition reimbursement, which is a great benefit. If you plan to work while in college, look for companies that offer tuition reimbursement, even for entry-level employees.
- It is a lot easier to get scholarships if you have good grades. So it is important you focus on your grades beginning in high school. Your high school transcript is the first written record of your personal achievements and working hard in high school will help you develop the study habits needed to succeed in college.
- My mentor told me to get a degree in finance because it would give me more career choices than just a degree in marketing or commercial design. But there are many other majors that will also give you flexibility in your career and still let you work in advertising. For example, I have seen people with degrees in journalism or business who also have good writing and organizational skills become successful in advertising.
- Although advertising requires good verbal and written communication skills, you also need to know math. Either through your classwork or as you gain experience at an advertising agency, be sure you learn the basic math skills you need to do financial projections and budgeting using Excel spreadsheets.
- It is important that you are able to demonstrate to potential clients that you are an expert in your field. Writing articles to share your expertise is a great way to position yourself as an expert. I write a blog about healthcare marketing and also submit original content to marketing magazines for publication.
- You have to get out of the office and network. I am involved in a number of professional associations and civic organizations. Our firm also looks for ways to volunteer and give back to the community. We are involved in Meals on Wheels and Women in Recovery. We also stay involved with our local Chamber of Commerce and small business and marketing organizations.
I was able to get a good education without having to take on student loans. I did it by researching all applicable financial aid, attending local schools and working while in school so I was able to pay my living expenses. If you are like I was and don’t have a lot of money to pay tuition, and room and board, following in a similar path is a great way for you to get the education you need to build a successful career in advertising or any other field you choose.
I really enjoy working in advertising and I value the relationships I have with my clients and fellow employees, many of whom I have worked with throughout my career. I was fortunate that my first boss was a mentor to me who not only taught me the advertising business but also gave me sound advice about my educational path. I hope this article will give you some ideas about ways to build your own career and that you see that you too can achieve your dream job despite the sometimes-intimidating costs of a college education.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Salary Statistics for Advertising and Marketing Managers
The median annual wage for advertising and promotion managers was $95,890 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.
The median annual wage for marketing managers was $128,750 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.
About 31 percent of advertising and promotions managers worked for advertising agencies in 2014 while about 17 percent of marketing managers worked in the upper management of companies in industry.
Employment of advertising, promotions and marketing managers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Advertising, promotions and marketing campaigns will continue to be essential for organizations as they seek to maintain and expand their share of the market.
A bachelor’s degree is required for most advertising, promotions and marketing management positions. For advertising management positions, some employers prefer a bachelor’s degree in advertising or journalism. A relevant course of study might include classes in marketing, consumer behavior, market research, sales, communication methods and technology, visual arts, art history, and photography. Courses in business law, management, economics, finance, computer science, mathematics and statistics are advantageous. For example, courses in computer science are helpful in developing an approach to maximize online traffic, by utilizing online search results, because maximizing such traffic is critical for digital advertisements and promotions. In addition, completing an internship while in school can be beneficial.