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Making the switch to advertising (as explained by ‘The O.C.')

by Sinead Stubbins

Palm Tree's
The story has been told a million times: a character arrives in a place that’s unfamiliar to them, and has to grapple with new and strange customs. After some angst – set to the sonic backdrop of mid-2000s indie pop – they finally adjust to their surroundings. In a lot of ways, switching from working in publishing to working in advertising kind of mirrored the 2003 teen series The O.C. (But you know, with less punching and more coffee.)

My transition into advertising has been daunting at times, but it’s also been exciting. You know what it’s kind of reminded me of? That time that Ryan Atwood moved from the rough streets of Chino to the foreign, glamorous world of Orange County.

Welcome to The O.C., b****!

Being the new kid is always tough. You don’t know where you fit in the food chain and the likelihood of making social faux-pas is high. When Ryan attends his first Newport Beach party, not only does he make the glaring error of flirting with the water polo captain’s girlfriend, but he then falls into the arms of Summer, his new best friend Seth’s dream girl. Disaster! 

My first few days in advertising weren’t as dramatic, but I definitely felt like a Harry Potter fan at a Lord of the Rings convention. The only way I can describe it is doing your first day of high school all over again, but in a language that you don’t speak. But like, not a human language ­– a space language that you have absolutely no reference point for. On my first day I was invited to a ‘brief’ about a ‘B2B’ ‘whitepaper’ and felt my organs simultaneously shut down in panic because I had no idea what any of these words meant. 

Luckily, like Ryan, I was surrounded by people who responded to my silent scream face with kindness.

Ask for help and please don't punch anyone

You don’t need to be good at everything – and no one expects you to be! 

It took me a little while, but now I’ve realised that asking for help doesn’t show a lack of skill or motivation – it shows that you want to do whatever it takes to make a project the best it can be. Through learning foreign concepts like ‘asking questions’, I’ve been able to expand my skillset and try my hand at things I never thought I could do. 

For instance: when Ryan saves Marissa from the hospital (and the clutches of her mother Julie, who is hell-bent on having Marissa institutionalised against her father’s will) and then can't figure out what to do, he casts aside his distrust of parental figures and asks his guardian, Sandy, for help. Even though Ryan is used to figuring things out by himself, he learns to ask for guidance when things are beyond his skillset.  

When Ryan stopped punching people and started asking questions, life in Newport became a whole lot easier. 

Sometimes you're going to burn down a model home or two

If you’re entering a field that is largely unfamiliar to you, in which you have to develop new skills quickly, you will inevitably make mistakes. If I listed every mistake I made in the first month, this piece would be roughly the same length as War and Peace (a book I have never read, but have heard is very long). 

Just like Ryan being tortured by the thought that he can’t fix Marissa’s train wreck life (she thought Oliver was a totally chill guy, lest we forget) sometimes you have to accept that you are going to fail, and that’s okay. Dealing with setbacks is an unavoidable part of learning new things. 

New place, old tricks

The coolest thing about switching to advertising (besides the free cereal) has been how easy it has been transferring my skills from the old gig to my new one. Ryan was quite the card shark back in Chino, a skill that is quite handy when it comes to winning back Seth’s bar mitzvah money in Las Vegas. By applying his skills from home to a new context, he was able to help out the team in a new way.  

Bringing the stuff you already know into a new job can be super helpful and it’s usually worth a crack. Everyone you’re working with was new once too; we’re all just muddling along, trying to get better at what we do. 

Never forget – even Julie Cooper originally came from Riverside

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