Trading Places

Jamie Barrett landed his first job in 1984 on the account side at Fallon in Minneapolis. An English major in college, he’d toyed with the idea of becoming a sportswriter before a friend of a friend inspired him to go into advertising. After nine months at Fallon working on brands such as Gold’n Plump Poultry, Barrett was ready to quit.

Fallon management asked him to stay on for three months to help his replacement make the transition. Barrett requested creative assignments in the meantime, and he so impressed his employers that Fallon eventually offered him a writer’s position in the creative department.

“If you’re not happy in your current department and you’re excited by what happens in another department, it’s a good indicator that you should consider a switch,” says Barrett, 41, who took his own advice. Today, he is creative director and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.

In the agency world, where account execs and creatives tend to stick with their own kind, switching sides may be uncommon, but it’s not impossible. “Already being at an ad agency is a huge built-in advantage for someone who wants to make the switch,” Barrett says. “There are lots of people who secretly want to switch. But it’s a big risk. You sacrifice a lot in terms of salary and stature.”

Marie Cavosora sacrificed both. As an account rep for Ogilvy One in Hong Kong, making nearly $80,000 a year, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong’s trendy Mid-levels neighborhood and took weekend trips to Cambodia. In June 2001, she gave it all up to go into copywriting. The 32-year-old Philippines native, now finishing her second semester at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Adcenter master’s program, has no regrets.

“This is the poorest I have ever been, but I’m so happy,” Cavosora says.

Courtney Culligan, 28, jumped from the account side to the creative side in November. She began as an intern at Fallon seven years ago and rose to the position of account supervisor. With several family members on the account side of the business, she’d never considered doing anything else until she joined the agency and met the creatives.

Four years ago, she confided her hopes of changing jobs to a group creative director. He gave her an assignment and then critiqued what she came up with. Culligan continued to do assignments on the side until finally she was offered the position of junior copywriter.

Although she successfully made the switch, Culligan doesn’t necessarily recommend her path. “I was surprised at how hard it was,” she says about the transition. “You don’t know until you’re actually doing it.” She advises aspiring agency employees to figure out their goals before they get started. “People might think they can come in as an account person and make the switch,” she says. “But you can spot [their intentions] a mile away.”

Culligan and Barrett both advocate finding a departmental mentor to provide honest feedback in addition to a foot in the proverbial door. “You want someone who can truly champion your cause,” Barrett says.

Jay Shields, president and CEO of Interpublic Group shop Austin Kelley Advertising, Atlanta, started as a creative and gradually moved to the business side by volunteering for new-business assignments.

“New-business development allows you to develop a really balanced skill set quickly,” says Shields, 50. “It’s a great place for somebody who is thinking about moving in their career. It allows you to see a lot of different perspectives within the agency.”

Creatives working on pitches do field work, get exposed to primary and secondary research, boost their people skills and improve their presentation skills, he says.

“From there, whether you are a creative person who’s looking to move to management or whether you’re an account person looking to move to the creative side, you have a wonderful perspective,” says Shields. “It provides the most holistic view of the agency business in the quickest way possible.” —TANYA IRWIN