I’m Adam Horton, and I am a freelance digital designer. Let me give a brief overview of what I done and why I’m actually writing this..?
In late 2013 I had the pleasure to get a chance to freelance at a big design agency (I’m not name dropping, sorry). Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, as it would be my ﬁrst proper agency experience. Contracted for only 2 days, to then be extended to Christmas, up until late March where I eventually left. I now have the ability and pleasure to say I have got some of the worlds most iconic fashion brands on my CV, but theres also a darker side to agency work in general that doesn’t get seen from the outside.
This is just from my own experience, I know everything varies, this is just how I felt. Also, this is mainly aimed at people my age (18-20) If you ever get the chance to work at a huge agency, most deﬁnitely run for it like it was cake, though please be aware of a few things.
Yes, you will get a lot of work, and get to work on a whole range of projects, which is great! Though there is the cliche of “make sure you maintain your time wisely” I’m sure your mum has told this plenty of times, prepare to be told it again.
Another cliche circa 1700’s is attitude, now it actually sounds quite silly but you need to have a positive attitude, especially if you’re entering at such a young age like I did (18 to be exact). When you’re young, you’re full of ideas, and want to work on everything, I get that, here’s a home truth: you’re going to be a bit part player, and chances are, you’re not going to like it that much. This is where you attitude needs to come in, you stay positive, breeze the work and keep that going until you build trust, no project manager will give higher priority work to someone if they are sighing and tutting because they were told to re-align text with images.
This is where I came into a bit of trouble, I came in wanting to work on all the cool things and not want to worry with the little pieces here and there, I did get a bit annoyed having to do minor jobs, and I’m sure this relayed back to managers and thus, didn’t get bigger projects for a couple of days. Big no no.
AGE (And what you apparently lack of it)
In this day and age with the whole “Equal Opportunities” policy and all that jazz, you expect to be fully treated like everyone else right? Regardless of your age? Nada, doesn’t happen. Here’s another home truth: This is a big agency, 15+ years of experience, the Creative Directors are some of the best around, some, not all, have a gruesome attitude that because you’re young, and may not have 1000+ years experience, that what you say is infact, invalid. Ageism is not a myth, and it does hurt I’m not going to lie, people looked down on me and rejected my ideas even if they were better than the ones in place.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT (How did I deal with this)?!
You don’t, simple as that, you won’t be able to change a directors view on your age just because you sit him down and tell him you don’t appreciate it, that’ll make him un-appreciate you even more. This really links back to your attitude of dealing with people apart from work, you need to swallow some pride (unfortunately) and just take it, don’t dish it back. Though heres the contradicting part, still voice your opinion, but only lightly, as you dont want them to think that you dont care for the project, even if they think your idea is pants, they still want to see you thinking.
Way to win the ageism? Wait until they retire! Whey! (Though dont replicate what they did to you, to the juniors under you, that’d be naughty)!
Ohhh now this is the big ﬁsh, the one thing that no one will ever admit to actually happening, they will just be like “don’t be silly! Of course not!”. Cmon now, it happens wherever you go, but this dictates EVERYTHING. What I experienced, I wouldn’t want to be on anyone. Not just me, but my whole team was edged out by one director, what if we were waved away in one hit and done quickly?
Sure, it happens, get up, move on. This isn’t how it happened, it was a slow process that I guess started at Christmas. I was offered a full time contract before christmas, and it was pushed back way until I left, why? I think its because they wanted our team out, our main project was slowly being moved around away from us, for no reason, we had it on lock.
On my last day (Which I didn’t know was to be my last) I got an email from HR called catch up, heres me thinking, oh ﬁnally my full time contract? Walked in, and saw the Exec Creative Director, bare in mind I have never spoken to him before, I instantly knew it was bad.
I was told, and I quote. “Hey Adam, going to be straight, got to let you go, hope you understand” Then the HR lady said “Today is your last day, we have already consulted your recruitment agent and they know, you can ﬁnish today or leave now.”
Well, that went well didn’t it? Thought I would come out with a contract, nope, came out with nothing but a clenched ﬁst and the thought of a P45.
My story aside, how could you deal with inside politics?! Sad truth, you can’t, but!! Theres a way of reducing the emotion you have if anything ever does happen, because to be honest, in my own opinion, they are a company that needs to restructure, take out the youngest ﬁrst.
The way to reduce the hurt and guilt? Just don’t care, I know it sounds stupid, but if you go in, thinking “I know there is possibly things going on in the background that I can’t change” then if something does happen, you’re ready, you already knew it may happen, even if it was 9 months down the line, I know its easier said than done, and it is upsetting, it really is, but try distance yourself, love your job, but don’t love the company as much, it may come back and hurt you, as it did me.
But all things aside, what am I doing now? I am working at a great commerce agency that is a lot smaller in size with a lot of great clients and have a great team. Thoroughly enjoying it a lot more than I did at the other place. What did I gain from the agency? Well, I have 3 of the top 10 fashion brands on my CV and other huge leaders in the industry.
But shout out to my old team at the agency, they will forever be my good friends, I owe them a lot.