With only a few years of (hackjob) marketing experience, a pirated version of Photoshop, and an old Macbook Pro with a half-shattered screen, Popsugar took me into their creative agency as a digital advertising designer.
I'd been used to tearing my hair out over the smallest budgets at my previous venture. But here, in the heart of Manhattan, budgets were plenty and our only adversary was time.
Most of my day-to-day was committed to designing HTML5 and e-mail advertising for upwards of thirty clients a year. The strategic objective was to make all ads on the website look like native 🎀 𝓶𝓲𝓵𝓵𝓮𝓷𝓷𝓲𝓪𝓵 🎀 content, which always proved a challenge with the range of verticals we catered to. Thinking specifically about a hot dog brand I made ads for.
Although nearly all my current work revolves around motion design in some capacity, I only got my start because Sales kept pitching animated ad products and no one else was brave enough to download a cracked version of After Effects and watch hours of YouTube tutorials. As I developed my skills and confidence, animated assets became a regular product in the agency's ad suite.
Aside from the occasional experiential project, most of my work was in partnership with ad-ops personnel and rich media engineers. When I had first joined the team, there was a mounting friction between the engineers and designers, but I found these tensions were easily resolved with clear communication and a willingness to help make their work easier. Who would've thought?
Everyday, I was exposed to the complex design systems, 💯 page brand guidelines of the world's largest and most influential commerce brands. I've never received formal design training, but this exposure was more valuable than any sort of classroom environment I can imagine.
I quickly learned the game; clients want to feel involved in the process and you just have to play along and give them your best work. A satisfied client is what pays the bills.
Technical specs were my ceiling as far as creativity went, but clients and managers don't want to hear any of the complaints; they want solutions. Many late nights were spent pouring over IAB guidelines, learning how to manipulate .jpeg aliasing to knock off a few kilobytes, rubber-banding my browser window to test a responsive design, looking up what the hell a KPI is.
After some months, the world of digital advertising became like breathing to me. I started to care more about how my designs performed versus how they looked, because what could make a client happier than a %∆ on CTR and transactions-on-site?
Part of my motivation was that display advertising was a quickly dying profession (even more-so with the advent of AI tools), and in a somewhat self-effacing way, I knew it wouldn’t take much effort to be the ‘best’ display advertising designer on Park Ave.
I used to joke that I’d one day claim my crown as King of Banner Ads. Maybe one day?
Anyone who's worked at an ad agency knows that, besides explosive feuding over the perceived urgency of a task, the whole model of agency work is built on trust: trusting stakeholders to close the sale, trusting teammates to haul ass, trusting metrics to guide the business.
If there's a big lesson I've carried from my years at Popsugar, it's that I must do everything in my power to become a dependable designer: create quality work no matter the circumstance, keep my output consistent no matter the workload, be available to support my team whenever needed.
Being dependable is not just good business sense; I think it's essential to all parts of life.