I Learned Everything About Advertising From “What Women Want”

Jun 18, 2015

Mel Gibson starring opposite Helen Hunt in a romantic comedy based in an advertising agency. That was it. That was my introduction to the advertising world at the age of 10. The thought that I could get paid to come up with the creative advertisements I saw all around me dazzled me. I was hooked. Unfortunately that movie also remained my main source of logistical information until I came to Curiosity.

In the movie we hear three terms: creative director, art director and the board. I tried over the years to research more into the structure of an agency. What other positions were there? What were the definitions of each position? Pay scale? Most article postings I found online were for those well-known titles such as art director or copywriter. Any other blog or article I could find discussing the agency as a whole spoke from a perspective of someone who was already familiar with the agency world. They were talking to people who had already been exposed to this world. I had not. I had no personal connections to advertising, nor did any of my family or friends. I was the ultimate newbie—completely ignorant, and feeling around in the dark. That’s when Curiosity came into the picture and shed some light on the topic. Since I began interning here, I’ve gotten to see firsthand the structure of a smaller agency and how it functions together as a well-oiled machine. So for anyone out there who was as clueless and frustrated as I was, here is a super rough and simple breakdown of the positions I now know of:

Creative Director: Creative directors or associate creative directors are the final decision makers. They act as supervisors to the creative team and help to guide projects, campaigns and all creative aspects as they develop.

Art Director: An art director or junior art director creates branding and campaigns, pitches ideas to clients, and manages all visual artistic aspects of a specific account/client.

Copywriter: Pretty straightforward. They write the creative copy—be it clever headlines or eloquent body copy. Many times copywriters and art directors are paired up and end up brainstorming and working together for an account.

Designer: These are the artists who work on an individual project or piece at a time instead of creating the entire overarching campaign, like the art director would. Illustrations, layouts, graphic designs—they’ve got you covered.

Art Buyer/Art Producer: Usually only in larger agencies will you find one of these. They are the people responsible for hearing the vision and needs of the creative team and going out to find photographers/videographers/illustrators—whatever freelance talent is needed.

Media: This department is responsible for knowing what media platforms will be the most strategic for the client (TV commercial spot, billboards, Google ads, etc.) and buying those slots for the client.

Research: A great agency will have an in-house research group. Here at Curiosity it’s called InsightStream. These people help inform the strategic choices for the creative work. They are the ones who reach out into the world—social media, blogs, articles, websites of all kinds—and find the opinion of the target market. Without their direction, the creative department would just be guessing as to what the public will respond to.

Account Executive: These guys are on the front lines. They hear all the feedback from the client and act as the liaison between client and agency. It is their job to keep the client’s needs in mind while leading them through the process and helping them to trust the agency’s direction.

New Business: This department could have many different titles or terms, but they are basically in charge of finding potential new clients, preparing a pitch and reeling them in.

Traffic/Administration: As with any company, an administration team is necessary to keep the office running. However, in an advertising agency they also often act as the traffic team. Traffic is in charge of keeping projects circulating for approval of supervisors and directors and also creating timeline schedules, as well as making sure everyone is sticking to those schedules.

Production: This department is the last stop along the way. After a designer or art director creates a piece for print or web or some other purpose, the project will end up in the hands of the production department. It is their job to make sure the piece is flawless and also in the correct color space, format and dimension for whatever the output method is. They are the ultimate troubleshooters.

There are of course other titles and positions, and this will definitely vary from agency to agency, especially depending on the size. However, this is a much more encompassing list than I was able to find in my many searches. So here’s to hoping you learn more and are prepared for this career field! Fair winds and following seas!


Katelin is a design intern in the 2015 Curiosity Internship Program.