Photo credit : fotologic | Flickr
By MICHELLE TAM LI PENG
Advertising is one of the many boons and banes of our existence. While it serves to create awareness about a particular product, it can sneakily seduce you into buying something you hardly need.
I should know – I have always been mad about ads. I love how they have evolved with the times; these days, they go beyond products, and sell you beliefs. Thanks to the late Yasmin Ahmad’s festive season fare for Petronas, choosing to fuel your car with the national petroleum brand almost feels like a vote for national unity. Years on, most of us still remember her very first Merdeka offering, ‘Little Indian Boy’: the nostalgic ad about a child, wide-eyed in wonder at the sheer magic of our very first Independence Day, has softened many a hardened heart.
But I digress. Short stints in The Star’s (highly recommended) young journalist program, BRATs, satiated my journalistic bent for a while. Seeing my occasional byline in a leading local daily made my heart skip a beat, and one s Christiane Amanpour!
Alas, international correspondent dreams aside, I was still awestruck by the advertising industry. A fascinating class on the subject only served to heighten its allure; I had to find out if it was my calling. So I took the plunge, and applied for an internship at the local branch of an international advertising agency during my summer holidays. The friendly Account Manager told me to come in on Monday morning, and I was beside myself with glee.
Indeed, my Don Draper adventure was off to a good start. Only, unlike the Mad Men protagonist, I was no Creative Director. As an intern in the Accounts Servicing department, I had to observe how the account executives liaised with clients and conveyed their needs to the Creative department.
After a weekend of rigorous reading and researching, I arrived at work all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. My supervisor showed me to my desk after a short briefing, and I was left to learn from the other interns while I waited for work to come in. And boy, did it pile on quickly!
“Prep the deck for account X, and contribute to that suit’s corridor check!” A lingo mysterious to most, perhaps, but a steady intake of advertising culture through my lessons and television shows helped me understand the rapid-fire instructions from my colleagues. PowerPoint presentations are ‘decks’, clients are ‘accounts’, account executives are ‘suits’, and lightning quick opinion gathering sessions are ‘corridor checks’.
My communications background served me well, for I had to critically analyse hundreds of advertisements. Extensive editorial experience also proved useful when I had to provide exact transcripts or succinct versions of the copy.
Previous film and broadcasting classes helped when I had to edit videos, frame by frame, to describe the shots used and include subtitles. A colleague who had trouble with unusual file formats was ecstatic when I got his advertisements correctly converted, subtitled, and edited in under half an hour!
My days passed by in a productive blur, for my surroundings were a whirlwind of activity. The office was constantly abuzz with calls to and from Vietnam, India, and the United States, to name a few. Clients emanating power and easy confidence sauntered through our offices on a regular basis – once, when representatives from one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers dropped by to hear our pitch for their account, the atmosphere was electric with excitement!
Interns were treated with respect – no coffee making drones here – but if any failed to deliver assignments on time, none were spared from a dressing down in spectacular fashion. In an industry where the stakes are high, perfection and professionalism are highly prized.
Above all, I learnt that both everything and nothing I knew about advertising was true. Yes, the pay is excellent, and the people kooky, creative types. But it was not all glitz and glam; immaculately dressed executives gliding cool and calm across the glossy floors could run helter skelter when the occasion called for it. I remember the deafening din of high heels clattering up and down the office as we bubble-wrapped numerous delicate FA (final artwork) at a fast and furious pace for immediate courier to another country.
Despite the long hours and painful public commutes to and fro, everyday was an adrenaline rush. Thus, when my internship ended, I left with a heavy heart. In short, it is imperative that you gain exposure to the industry of your interest to determine if it is worth investing a large part of yourself in. No matter where life takes you after SPM, the classroom can only teach you so much. We are the agents of our fates, and extraordinary experiences everywhere are ours for the taking; all you have to do, my friend, is place yourself right in the eye of the storm.
Michelle Tam Li Peng is pursuing a communications degree from the University of South Australia. A believer of dreaming big and living well, this bibliophile enjoys both consuming and creating media, serving the community, and going on ad hoc adventures.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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