Are Advertising Agencies Glamorous Enough to Attract Hollywood Creatives?

Why some are taking the leap

Creative professionals who just a few years ago would have shunned the agency and branding worlds are working off a new script today, seeking jobs at shops and, in some cases, finding advertising a better fit than more traditional entertainment companies.

Of course, studios, networks and even the music business still have enormous cachet. Even so, the 30-second spot has largely given way to increasingly sophisticated multi-platform storytelling on par with Hollywood’s best productions. And creative pros increasingly view agencies as viable venues for realizing their dreams.

We chatted with professionals—folks in the trenches, not the A-list directors who only dabble in commercials—who have worked in both the advertising and entertainment worlds. They discussed how far the two may converge and whether the agency model may one day rival the studios as an arbiter of popular culture.

Adweek: In some cases, they say, the creative opportunities at L.A. agencies outpace those in Hollywood.
Ted Markovic: Yes, I think there is more creative opportunity in advertising. In film, you’re stuck in 90-120 minutes, and it can take years to finish a film—if it ever gets released at all. Creatives at agencies have so many options in print, broadcast, digital, experiential, radio, social—the list goes on. If the clients are willing to take risks, the creative reward is big. [Launching its breakfast menu,] Taco Bell took a huge risk on [ads featuring several people named] Ronald McDonald and it paid off. Everyone has seen it and I haven’t met a person who didn’t enjoy those spots. Also, the ad timetable is much shorter. If the original ad doesn’t stick, you can ship out something new in a few days.

Austin Meyers: The ad world is the last world where real money consistently exists for production and post. That opens up opportunities to be creative in a way that’s usually stifled in Hollywood, especially in TV. I’d say the creative problem solving is more interesting because every spot is different, and some asks can be pretty crazy.

Tom Dunlap: I went from, “I can make this one-off great thing” to “I can now build a massive platform for a brand that could live on year after year and be a vehicle for many seasons of content.”

Peymon Maskan: There’s a constant push to reach our audience in surprising ways, and that really fuels creativity. I’m really proud of our holiday work [like “Misunderstood” and “The Song” for Apple]. It’s where we get closest to convergence with film, and we get to create stories that evoke a lot of feeling.

There’s always been crossover, but has the stigma of going from Hollywood to advertising begun to evaporate?
Cory Musselman: When I told my bosses that I’d be leaving studio work to go to advertising, there was a reaction of “Really? Advertising?” It was mostly surprise from my former co-workers. There’s definitely the feeling that advertising doesn’t allow the realm of creativity that studio work does, but I’m finding out it’s quite the opposite.

Meyers: Honestly, from a VFX perspective, ad work is where you want to be. Agencies do higher concept work, and the pay is considerably better.

Dunlap: We’ve been bringing a lot of Hollywood into the making process, whether it be writers, directors, whatever. When I go seeking them out, there’s a lot of interest. My calls are getting picked up by agents and managers a lot more than they used to.

Will the two worlds ultimately converge?
Musselman: Convergence is happening to an extent, but the divide between the two worlds will always be present.

Meyers: I think the gap will close to some degree. Digital is a whole different story. It feels like the lines are blurring between entertainment and advertising in that space more than any other.

Dunlap: [In five years] the intersection of entertainment and marketing will be that much closer. Brands are going to have to consider how they build and leverage cultural moments—and there are no bigger moments than the kind entertainment creates.

If you were starting you career today, which would you choose: entertainment or advertising?
Meyers: I would absolutely recommend getting into ad work over entertainment. Golden statues are nice and working in “Hollywood” is fun when you go back to your hometown on holidays, but … the entertainment industry is an incredibly dark and sour place where throats get cut for pennies. I’ve been amazed at the warmth, creativity and respect of everyone in the agency biz. I’m so happy to have made the move.

Markovic: I’m third-generation postproduction, so I probably would have always wondered, or worse, regretted, not at least experiencing film and TV. Plus, I would never have witnessed Milos Forman, on more than one occasion, editing in only boxer shorts and a ushanka.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.