Interview with an Advertising Executive

We interviewed Brian Hall, a recognized expert in the field of hospitality marketing and advertising. He has over 15 years experience in hotels, destinations and airlines.

A frequent guest lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, Brian regularly speaks on travel and tourism marketing issues. He is a member of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI), the Association of Travel Marketing Executives (ATME) and holds a BS degree in Economics and Marketing from the Whittemore School of Business & Economics at the University of New Hampshire.

In his role of Partner/Account Director at The Campbell Group, Brian oversees the Agency’s work on behalf of clients such as Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels and The Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

Brian and His Career

How did you discover you had a talent for business and advertising?

My grandfather said of me since I was about six that I’d grow up to be a preacher or a lawyer — in some strange way, a career in advertising was a natural compromise. When I first enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, I had little understanding of which career path I would pursue. I had several interests as diverse as physics and psychology, but was looking to “play the field” in order to see what might appeal to me.

After nearly failing courses in chemistry and advanced calculus during my Freshman year, I decided to take a marketing course at the business school since several of my friends had enrolled – -plus the course time didn’t conflict with General Hospital, which was always an important criteria.

My Marketing 101 professor inspired me. I can still recite some of his stories and remember leaving the classroom wanting more. I took to the business school environment quickly. I choose economics as a major since it dealt with money which was an attractive concept to a poor college student. Marketing was my minor, but ended up being my passion — specifically advertising.

How did your career unfold?

Conventional wisdom in 1984 suggested that the place to begin an advertising career be on Madison Avenue. I found that jobs at the big shops were scarce, as Reaganomics hadn’t begun to trickle into advertising. I was impatient and tired of having no money so I took the first offer extended by a media buying firm.

Over the next year, I bought spot market TV and radio in markets across the US for one of the toughest, most featured media supervisors in the business. He drove me nuts for my $12,000 per year salary, but in retrospect, he taught me an important lesson: that I didn’t know anywhere near as much as I thought I did.

After a year of enduring New York, I decided to move to Washington, DC to be closer to my girlfriend (whom I latter married). Rosenthal, Greene and Campbell was quick to hire a buyer with “New York” credentials and I was working for twice the salary as a planning/buyer in a small shop of 45.

RG&C assigned me to the Marriott Hotels and Resorts account, which was the beginning of my travel and tourism focus. Within two years, I migrated from media into account services when the manager slot opened up on the Marriott account. I often watched the account executives in action from my media vantagepoint and thought I could do it better. Now was time to show them.

I joined The Campbell Group (no relationship with my previous employer) in 1990 to work on the Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts business. It was a tough decision to join a much smaller group as their eighth employee. However, we grew quickly over the next ten years, adding employees, offices and clients to our roster. Today, I own the company with two other partners and direct our account management department.

What has been your key (or keys) to success?

My confidence and optimism. It rarely occurs to me that I can’t do something. No doubt, there’s been a bit of luck thrown in for good measure.

My confidence manifests itself in a variety of ways. I don’t hesitate when given a chance to speak. I’ll stick my neck out for what I believe in. I’ll provide leadership when no one else is leading. You know, the adage that there are leaders and followers. I just hate following and am foolish enough to believe I can lead.

What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?

If variety is the spice of life, a career in advertising is life covered with Tabasco sauce. Every day is different; different marketing problems, different categories, and different personalities. This diversity of experience keeps me coming back for more. Otherwise, I’d get bored.

What was your greatest success and biggest setback?

As I sit here writing on Sunday afternoon watching over my kids playing, my greatest career success is providing a good, balanced environment for my family. My largest setback is my aggressive travel schedule and time away from home.

What are your favorite career achievements and why?

I like to be recognized by my peers so my favorite achievements would have that element. I’m pleased with my success as an industry speaker and really enjoy influencing others. I’m proud of my relationships with my clients and thrive on their positive feedback.

However, I think my most rewarding achievement has been creating, with my partners, a team of highly talented advertising professionals called The Campbell Group.

Would you do anything differently if you could re-live your career up to this point again?

I’ve often wished that I continued on after college to earn an MBA. However, I wouldn’t replace any of my career or life decisions — just haven’t had enough time.

Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

My former boss at RG&C, Sheila Campbell, has had the biggest influence on my career. She’s exceptionally bright and has distinct and well articulated points-of-view on most any business/marketing subject. I’ve come to realize that she shaped much of which I am today professionally.

It is so critical for young people to have a mentor as I did. For those beginning careers, your first job decision should not be based on the trappings. Never chase the money; that will come.

Choose an employer based on their ability to provide the nourishment to grow you. A strong skill set will accompany you wherever your interests take you while employers come and go.

What are some common myths about advertising agency executives?

Some believe advertising creative is developed at the whim of the agency and is often not grounded in business objectives. That couldn’t be further from the truth today.

However, in order to understand the root of this misperception, you need to investigate the ideology of those expressing an opinion. Are they product-centric or consumer-centric? I’m reminded of a Howard Goosage quote: “advertising is not a right, it is a privilege — our first responsibility is to the customer, not the product.” This can be a tough concept to swallow for many brand managers.

I’ve seen television glamorize advertising — like the network show “30-something” or the character Darrin in “Bewitched” or “Melrose Place.” Truth is, advertising is one of the most mentally challenging career paths you could choose.

You must be capable of learning businesses quickly, thinking on your feet and presenting ideas in a convincing fashion. The Madison Avenue two-hour martini lunches died with the 80s.

The Actual Work

Describe a typical day of work for you.

When I’m not traveling (which is roughly 50% of the time), the day begins with answering emails from the day prior (plus, many of our clients are international so email is coming through at all hours). We often have a series of morning “brief building” meetings to discuss strategic direction for different clients/projects. My lunch hour is usually diminished to 10 minutes eating behind my desk. The afternoon is reserved for client meetings, returning phone calls and writing proposals.

I think it is important for any new executive to establish a general daily agenda. By “slotting” your day, you can prioritize your work, maintain a sensible meeting schedule and avoid flying around the office by the seat of your pants.

I notice that young people work longer hours than their more mature colleagues and always seem to be “crazy busy.” A more disciplined approach to a work schedule would get most out of the office at a reasonable hour.

How do advertising agencies use computers? What is the most popular software used by them?

Our company is divided in half. Our creative and production staff members use a Mac platform supported by a variety of graphics-based software programs like QuarkXpress and Adobe Illustrator.

Our account management, media and public relations departments are PC based and we use the more conventional Microsoft Office products.

We also have a centralized computer system for initiating and monitoring our work, which we built from FilemakerPro.

What are the different business related specialties within the field of advertising?

There are a few ways to categorize advertising agencies. For instance, some agencies may specialize in certain industries like pharmaceuticals or technology.

Agency specialization is on the rise as clients are looking for partners that have an in-depth understanding of their business. This, of course, has a downside since industry knowledge can equal “conventional wisdom” which leads to category parity. Other agencies may focus on a certain type of advertising — like interactive, television or direct mail.

Within most any agency, you have several professional disciples including account management, creative, production, traffic, public relations, media and accounting. The American Association of Advertising Agencies has detailed information of each department and the general skill sets required.

Is it important to collaborate with colleagues in the field? How have your professional collaborations benefited your career?

Collaboration is particularly important in advertising. Many talented brains coming together usually yield more ideas than one. For instance, our strategic planners will involve outside industry experts to get a fresh perspective on a client’s business.

We’ve invited anthropologists to better acquaint our staff with new consumer trends. Within the agency community in Baltimore, we have called upon our colleagues to work together in raising the caliber of creativity in Baltimore to attract more national clients.

I’m also a big believer in professional associations. Playing an active role in a variety of advertising and hospitality marketing associations has exposed me to new ideas and concepts, which have greatly broadened my capabilities.

Job Information and Advice

What is the average salary for your position in the US?

Starting salaries in advertising begin at roughly $40,000 and are commensurate with experience and education. Creative salaries are slightly higher due to the demand for quality talent.

There’s certainly no ceiling. The most highly paid executives in advertising today oftentimes make more than their client counterparts. Most agencies have profit-sharing programs which reward employees when objectives are met and exceeded.

What are the top five employers to work for if you are a graduating advertising student?

Twenty years ago I would have rattled off the five largest agencies in New York. However, today, there is a clear industry-wide acknowledgement that creativity can happen anywhere — Richmond, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and of course, Baltimore.

Students are well advised to look for employment at smaller agencies to find more opportunity to learn and contribute. Larger agencies are more bureaucratic and regimented. It is more difficult to make a mark and to be recognized.

What are the hottest advertising specialties for the new decade?

Undoubtedly, the Internet. Interactive marketing is growing faster than talent can be recruited. We need graduates with digital marketing skills, like SEO and keyword research, and targeted social media marketing.

What are the best ways to find a job in advertising?

Internships are the best way to attract the attention of a decision maker. Many resumes pass my desk of people just out of school. Those that rise to the top tout internships with companies I know and respect. Also, we’ve hired a fair number of interns upon graduation.

Describe your ideal job candidate and your nightmare job candidate.

Despite what I wanted to believe when attending college, I look for a high GPA. It does matter. Secondly, I look at the practical experience (internships) then the school.

During the interview, I’m looking for a sense of passion and fearlessness. The candidate needs to be articulate, well read and mature.

How is the job market now for the advertising industry? How about in 5 years?

The present job market is very tight and the prognosis for the next five years is strong. Our economy has transformed over the past 25 years from an industrial operations focus to a marketing orientation. Quality marketers will prosper in the future.

Education Information and Advice

What did you like and dislike about your advertising related education?

I enjoyed and learned most from professors that related academic concepts to real life. I was never one thrive on rote memorization of concepts — I always needed context to learn.

The Whittemore School of Business had a number of great professors and visiting lecturers who were skilled in the art of storytelling which is, in my estimation, the best way to learn.

How does a prospective advertising student assess their skill and aptitude for this field?

First of all, you need to be insatiably curious about the world around you. You need to like to read and seek to understand how businesses grow — and why some fail.

You need to pay more attention to the commercials than the program and decipher what that marketer was attempting to convey — and whether they were successful. You need to be a bit of an extrovert — comfortable expressing an opinion and working as part of a group process.

Although business and advertising concepts can be taught, most talent is innate. You either have it or not. I suggest reading a great book on business and marketing, like “Where Suckers Moon,” to see if a spark is ignited.

How can students best prepare to get into the best graduate schools for a program in advertising?

Internships — as many as possible. Many well-known agencies have outstanding internship programs, which will provide the necessary practical context to continue your education.

What factors did you consider when choosing your school(s)?

Mostly reputation. The business school at UNH was strong and highly regarded in the region. Since I shifted my major, I had the opportunity to take a few courses from WSBE prior to enrolling which gave me confidence in my decision.

Was your advertising-related education worth it for you? Why?

Yes — it certainly was. I still use many examples shared by professors to illustrate concepts.

If someone has a knack for advertising already, should they go to school for it and why?

By all means. Two reasons. First, with a concentration in advertising you are a more desirable prospective employee. Secondly, advertising has evolved into a highly complex amalgamation of science and art requiring an advanced education.

What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the business side of advertising?

The most important skill you can begin developing during your education is strategic planning — bridging the gap between consumer need and marketing product and service. If you have this skill, everything else will fall into place.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the five most respected and prestigious advertising schools/ departments in the world that really make a difference to students who graduate from these schools/depts.?

There are a few well-recognized post-graduate portfolio schools that teach strategic planning and creative development including Virginia Commonwealth University and the Miami Ad School. From an undergraduate standpoint, a marketing concentration in any of the highly acclaimed business schools is the way to start.

Who are the accrediting bodies for education in advertising? How important is their stamp of approval?

There are no universally accepted advertising accrediting bodies to my knowledge. I do suggest that students become members of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which is a fountain of knowledge and will continue to provide benefit throughout your career.