Advice to Ad School Grads: Think Small.

Graduation season is upon us, and that means a slew of aspiring writers, designers, creative technologists, planners and brand managers from great programs like VCU Brandcenter, Miami Ad School, the Creative Circus, SCAD and others are polishing up their portfolios and looking for their first big break.

If they’re anything like the students I met at the Brandcenter recruiting session in April, they should have no problem finding a gig. These kids have been taught by some of the smartest minds in the business and given the chance to work on real world assignments from leading brands. They have killer books and the digital DNA every agency is looking to add. They can write their own ticket to the biggest name agencies in the biggest, most glamorous markets. Places like Crispin, AKQA or R/GA.

Or they can think small, as in Small Agency. Choose an up-and-coming shop in a lesser-known market--an independent agency where you can do good work with a little more freedom to grow.

Why think small? For starters, you’ll build your book a lot faster. Small agencies don’t have the luxury of putting multiple teams on every project. They don’t mine their juniors for ideas that don’t go anywhere, or worse yet, for ideas that someone else ends up taking credit for. They expect everyone to produce. And everyone does.  In a small shop, there are no bad groups or tough accounts to get stuck on. Everyone works on everything. (At least that’s how we do it here.)

What’s more, with fewer layers to navigate and fewer bosses to please, juniors can more quickly develop their own unique style and voice. You’re not expected to follow some pre-conceived agency look or do the kind of work the agency is already famous for. So the work you produce will be much closer to how you envisioned it in the first place.

You’ll also develop more parts of your brain than you would at a huge shop that has lots of supporting staff and separate silos. From research, to strategy development, to user experience to ultimately selling the work to clients, you’ll wear many hats and get to see the whole process. And you’ll be free to explore more options when it comes to things like new technology platforms and emerging media, because smaller shops aren’t subject to holding company politics or forced to utilize in-house resources in the name of profit maximization. (Note to marketers—the same advantages apply to you, too.)

Granted, there is a certain halo effect to having the big name shop on your resume. I get it. In fact, I’ve lost some talented people to places like Crispin and Arnold over the years. (Some of them have since come back.) But if you’re truly a creative person, motivated to do things no one has done before, why not apply that creativity to your career path as well?

Ask yourself... would you rather do the 200th cool video in the Old Spice campaign, or the first amazing thing for a new brand no one’s heard of yet? Would you rather be a cog in a machine that’s already well-oiled, or the spark that helps a new shop rise to national prominence? Do you want to be the next Bogusky, or the first your name here?