After almost 2 years, today marks my last day working at AKA NYC.
For those of you who may not know, AKA is one of 3 agencies in New York City that specializes in Broadway & theater advertising. My experience here has been one rich with highs & lows, but such is any experience that shapes you and leaves you with a book full of lessons. It's been surreal to work on Tony-nominated and Tony-winning Broadway productions with big-name actors, such as The Glass Menagerie with Zachary Quinto & Cherry Jones and All The Way with Bryan Cranston. It's been exciting to work on sassy Off-Broadway shows based on movies I love, such as Heathers: The Musical, and see my work all over the NYC subway system with people really engaging and reacting to it. And it's been really special to work with smaller operations, such as Vineyard Theatre, where I've had the chance to really get to know the teams & actors, and even be so lucky as to become friends with some of them. My takeaways from working in advertising, on Broadway, and New York City in general will make themselves clearer and clearer as I get further and further away from this phase of my life and move into a new one. A 10-day road trip is going to afford me a LOT of time to think & reflect, and as I begin my full-time freelance career, there are going to be things that I include from my time here, and things that I decide to leave behind. But for now, as I'm closing this chapter, there are a few notes I'd like to share with anyone who is considering working in advertising, or specifically Broadway advertising [Disclaimer: There's no real way to generalize this information, so, as with any advice you get, please regard it as a reflection from my specific background and set of circumstances].
Working in advertising isn't for everyone,
but it is for someone.
Six months after I graduated from college, the recession hit, and it was the beginning of a large wave of advertising folk getting laid off from their jobs. For some of them, it was a godsend. They had been miserable in their jobs, and this was the first time they were able to really assess their lives sans advertising (or sans a full time job). Many of these people went on to start their own businesses of some sort, and a lot of these people gave started giving talks for professional organizations. Recent graduates like myself would attend these talks in hopes of hearing some speck of advice we could utilize to build a career for ourselves, but much of what I heard was, "ADVERTISING IS THE DEVIL. RUN!" But rarely did I hear any type of actual analysis of what it was that made people say this or where the individual was coming from.
Having now been pledged & hazed through my own set of circumstances, here's my take: Advertising is an industry full of tight deadlines & large budgets, which equal a lot of pressure. Some people live off of the adrenaline rush you can get from crunching so hard on a project and winning the business, selling the idea, and/or seeing the work you spent so many late nights on used, loved, and engaged with in the big wide world. Some of the demands of the work can be so intense that some personality types may not be able to flourish or even withstand this type of pressure long enough to reap the rewards. While I do find certain challenges in the intensity, I will miss the crunch, the win, and the rush.
Visual design is not dead.
At my previous full time job as the only visual designer at a digital marketing & content company, I had a lot of friends who had really cool UI/UX design jobs at start-ups. I desired the flexible schedules, casual, fun work environment, and creativity that start-ups seemed to offer. So I thought that in order to have that type of job, I had to become a UI/UX designer. Web design was not my strong suit, mainly because it wasn't my passion. Typography was. I wanted to draw letters and make beautiful visual work. But I was surrounded by people in my professional community who insisted designers needed to code and that if you didn't focus in screen design as your main profession, there was no money and potentially no jobs...and definitely no "cool" jobs where you could potentially break some ground & have eyes on your work.
I fell into my job at AKA. I got a call about the opportunity from a friend & headhunter the day I got laid off from my previous job at the digital company & within a week, I was jumping in the deep end designing some early key art exploration for the newest Broadway production of Macbeth, starring Alan Cumming. I spent the day making lettering that looked like blood. "THIS IS AWESOME," I thought, while simultaneously being super intimidated of the incredibly intense work environment around me and my future new teammates & boss. They were soooo cooool & really good at....ya know, design and stuff. Broadway is an old industry. It's full of history & the bulk of people who buy tickets to shows still check their mail. So posters, printed mail pieces, and everything else that is informed by key art and visual design is still king. It was then that I realized how lucky I was to find an opportunity where I was able to create art for an audience that still appreciated it, in an environment that was vibrant & exciting. I will always know my basic HTML & CSS, but I do not need to be a developer or UX designer...because I would much rather work with someone who has devoted as much time to getting great at those specialities as I have at visual design. And I will always feel lucky to have had the opportunity to become confident in that belief.
The Art Director vs. The Letterer
Coming from a lettering background, my learning curve on how to work within the advertising process was great. "Last thing first" means conceptualizing & then quickly composing posters to communicate the ideas to either clients or teammates. Some of you may be familiar with this process but I was not. My default was, as my boss calls it, "noodling in the details," where you want to dig in and spend time to make everything perfect. Breaking myself out of this habit, or knowing when to engage noodle-mode vs. looking at the big picture, was an incredibly painful process, I can't lie. I had to break out of my comfort zone & shoot to the complete other end of the spectrum. It was hard & there were times where I thought I wasn't going to or didn't want to make it. But after a while, I got better and better at it, and today I think I've passed the test. And I believe it has made me stronger, faster, and more versatile than I ever thought possible. Additionally, knowing both sides of the coin & understanding both mindsets I believe will be incredibly beneficial when working with art directors from the freelance side. I suppose if you don't accept the challenge, you never reap the reward.
My experience working in advertising, in Broadway, and at AKA NYC has been a roller coaster ride, but I will always give thanks for having the opportunity to work in an industry that is so much older & larger than myself, for an audience of people that are much different than myself, in an environment full of highly creative individuals that are driven to break ground & make the best work they possibly can. Being able to learn and create here has never seen a dull moment, and I thank everyone who has contributed to the experience. I'm looking forward to bringing every lesson I've learned in my time here forward with me into my freelance practice, and with that, I close this chapter.