How Veterans Found a Second Career in Advertising and Marketing

Former members of the military share their stories about how they got into the industry

The military can be a great training ground for many careers. Veterans have made successful shifts to careers in security, supply chain, IT, manufacturing and law enforcement, among others. But going from the military directly to the advertising industry isn’t necessarily a natural transition.

Veterans are peppered everywhere in advertising and marketing, from planners and managers to creatives and CEOs. It’s clear that the service can prepare people for a career in the industry, but the path to getting into advertising isn’t a straight one, and there are few programs that build a direct pipeline between the entities.

As we reflect on Veterans Day and honor all those who served, Adweek talked with a crew of industry vets who are also veterans of the armed services. They discussed how the military prepared them for a career in advertising, what qualities best translate from the service to marketing and advertising, and how the industry can best help veterans get into the industry.

How can the industry best hire veterans?

Hiring veterans should be higher on the list for agencies, as those who have served have valuable leadership and management skills built up through the rigors of their service, but there aren’t enough organizations out there to make the connections between agencies and veterans.

Many of those interviewed pointed to VetsinTech, an organization that helps retrain those in the military and their spouses by connecting them to the national technology ecosystem, which Crispin Porter + Bogusky has been using for the last year and which its parent company, Stagwell, also works with.

“What we’re talking about right now with them is potentially starting a marketing and creativity cohort,” said Maggie Malek, North America president at CP+B.

DoD SkillBridge, which allows active-duty service members to enter the private sector during their last 180 days of service, is another option for agencies. “Agencies and marketing departments should register for it and actively recruit from this untapped pool of talent,” said Carey Kight, a freelance executive producer, former head of production at Circus Maximus and Air Force vet.

Andrew Swinand, Leo Burnett U.S. and Publicis Creative CEO, is part of PubVets, Publicis’ Veteran Business Resource Groupe, a community of vets and allies within the workplace that reflects the values instilled by the military, emphasizing teamwork and prioritizing the welfare of your team. “Enhancing visibility and highlighting available resources are crucial for attracting veterans into the industry. Also, partnering with firms and outplacement services that are designed to help vets discover new opportunities after retirement,” said Swinand.

Katie Tolosi, manager of client operations at Publicis OneTeam, added that within Publicis, the Marcel platform enables her to tap into a wealth of learning and development, and the Publicis Media Training Program provides her with new hire training classes.

All veterans are required to attend Transition Assistance Programs, and agencies can present themselves as an option as vets figure out their career paths, said Joe Tate, a copywriter at PeterMayer who served in the Marines.

“Agencies could start their own VAPR [Veterans in Advertising Portfolio Review] program that reaches out to transitioning veterans looking to enter a more creative field,” said Tate, adding that many vets are self-starters and quick learners, so a fast-track program like that could be helpful for those looking to dive into the creative world.

Connecting veterans to advertising brings in diversity of thought, and the skills learned in the service can truly prepare them for the rigors of the industry.

How did the military prepare you?

Malek came from a military family. After tragically losing her uncle and father, Malek evaluated joining the Peace Corps or military. She ultimately followed the Army family footsteps.

A fiery female drill sergeant lit a fire under Malek to show that she could be just as good as the men.

“If I had not joined the military, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I was in college, I would not have the leadership skills that I have today, I would not deeply love people as much as I love them,” Malek told Adweek.

The former chemical operations specialist encountered Cindy Marion, founder of MMI, who took a chance on Malek as an account director, partially because of her military training. She was eventually promoted to CEO, saying the training gave her the confidence to take the job.

“I thought, ‘I don’t know how to be a CEO but I know how to do really hard things, so I’ll figure this out,'” said Malek.

The rapid pace of the military taught Air Force vet Lisa Maskey how to adapt and absorb pertinent information quickly, which is useful when onboarding new clients as the vp and speaker’s bureau director at PR and communications agency Raven.

“The medical work I executed taught me how to control my stress level and focus on the task at hand. In trauma, there is no time to doubt yourself. You have to react quickly and with confidence,” said Maskey, who was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leadership skills

Swinand joined the Army at 17 and later secured a Reserve Officer Training Corp scholarship to attend Penn and Wharton. Swinand said the responsibilities of an infantry platoon leader revolve around preparing for the unknown.

“In the airborne, your challenge is parachuting from a plane in the middle of the night to accomplish a mission. The unpredictability of these missions compares to the ever-shifting needs of business today,” said Swinand, adding that leading Leo Burnett means having to be fluid and agile to deliver the best solution for clients.

The rigorous training and challenging environments Vann Graves, who served in Iraq with the Army, encountered taught him the importance of discipline, a quality the executive director at the VCU Brandcenter said is crucial in meeting tight deadlines, along with attention to detail, strategic thinking and problem solving.

“The military places a strong focus on teamwork and leadership, fostering a culture where one learns to operate in unison as a cohesive unit, while simultaneously honing skills to lead and guide others,” said Graves.

The Army prepared Pat Lafferty for his career, currently as COO of the Acceleration Community of Companies (ACC), through seven years and three deployments.

“I was thrown into incredibly diverse situations where I and the soldiers I served with had to figure it out … Because the stakes are high and people’s lives are on the line, you must learn to lead authentically,” said Lafferty.

What qualities of military veterans best translate?

Justin Lewis, Stagwell Constellation chair, was part of the Marine force that rescued Captain Scott O’Grady from Bosnia, which was represented in the film Behind Enemy Lines. He stated that the military gives people the curiosity to uncover unseen truths and the desire to manage people to produce exceptional work.

“Like marketing and advertising, the military is also a human powered organization that must be curious about the world around us. We have to care for our troops in a manner that enables them to deploy around the globe in the most challenging situations,” said Lewis.

Other skills vets deem important include having individual initiative, creative thinking, following orders, being accountable, adaptable and determined, reporting up and down the chain of command and importantly, understanding human nature.

While some skills may not translate directly to the advertising industry, some do. Bob Devol, a freelance copy pro, was a journalist 2nd class with a broadcasting specialty in the Navy.

“My military experience was responsible for my first media job on-air in commercial radio, which then directly led to my first ad agency job,” said Devol.

If the industry embraces the skills veterans bring to the table, they may prove to be the next wave of leaders in the industry.

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