Things I learned working at an ad agency after college

Zion Schum, Jigsaw’s digital campaign manager and former youngest employee, was hired in November 2019. In this exit interview, Zion talks with Jigsaw Junior Partner Mike Luedke about the important lessons he learned about the advertising industry, professional and personal growth, and facing adversity as he prepares to move onto Glasgow, Scotland to begin graduate school in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

MIKE: Well, this is it, brother. Curtains. What do you have to say for yourself?

ZION: (laughs) Yeah man, we’re never going to talk again after this.

MIKE: For real though, we don’t have a formal exit interview process, so let’s just chat about a few things and see what comes out. It will be catharsis for both of us, perhaps.

ZION: I feel like some percentage of every conversation with another human being these days, either on video chat or in person, is cathartic. But I guess it depends who you’re talking to…

MIKE: Agreed. The first thing I’m curious about is—pandemic or not, in your whole experience with working at Jigsaw, what sort of impact did it have on your “big ideas” in work, life, etc.?

ZION: I realized this early on, but the pandemic highlighted the distinction between ‘productivity’ and ‘activity’ in my mind. At the office, it can be easy to get caught up in ‘activity’—doing things, but they’re not oriented toward the things that need to be done—whether it be attending a meeting, talking with someone in their office, or otherwise. Chatting with a coworker in their office isn’t bad, but I had never worked in an office with as many people, and I noticed the impact of less of that activity while working remote and the increase in my attention to productivity. I didn’t get stressed out about it, but I deepened my practice of keeping myself accountable to being productive without “supervision” physically present.

MIKE: You’re a pretty focused guy to begin with, which is a big reason why we hired you in the first place.

ZION: It’s a process, and I’ve learned to trust the process. Don’t just look at outcomes of the work as goals, but as outcomes of an ongoing process. I’m focused on learning and growth, and the pandemic forced everyone into a situation where learning and growth was as much about survival in life as survival on the job.

MIKE: How do you think Jigsaw moved as a whole unit from business-as-usual to oh-shit-there’s-a-pandemic?

ZION: (laughs) Jigsaw moved as well as any small business could. I grew up with “remote” work. If you ever wrote a paper from a dorm room or the library and uploaded it to a high school or college instructor, you’ve worked remotely. It was a natural transition for me in certain ways, and our coworkers of all different levels of experience stepped up and stuck together, learned together, and continued supporting each other. We learned and grew together and with our clients who were going through the same experience.

MIKE: Did anything surprise you or freak you out?

ZION: There was a moment early on when the news and everything else was predicting a complete economic collapse and you see people losing their jobs and think “I’m next.” Everyone at Jigsaw communicated as best they could as new information developed, and the partners did their best to focus on keeping people safe and secure in their position. It seems like it’s in the culture that, when the going gets tough, the whole team knows how to align in the face of chaos and push in the same direction. Keep communicating, keep client service levels high, and when in doubt call one of your colleagues on video chat and catch up, check in, see how you can help.

MIKE: You’ve been the “how can I help?” king—before and during the pandemic. Besides having the knack for remote working, what hard skills did you gain or build on that made that possible?

ZION: One of the big things I learned even during the interview process came from the question “Where does your loyalty go first—to the client or the agency?” It felt like a trick question, but more than anything it was a conversation starter. In retrospect, it was the first step of my training in the culture of this industry. I saw the answer play out before and during the pandemic—that loyalty to the agency comes first, but by being focused on high quality service to clients, regardless of role, you advance the goals of the agency. It seems really obvious, but it’s a balance of working smarter and harder, and in the right places. The agency and client have different “jobs to be done”, and focusing on helping the client accomplish their job and look good to their organization, their customers, and the rest of the world—that means we’re doing our job, and then we look good!

MIKE: It’s simple, but it’s still kind of deep. So you learned this paradoxical truth about an ad agency keeps the team members’ purposes, agency purpose, and client purpose all aligned, and it affected your motivation and direction with work. Right? And then that came out in the hard skills you used day to day to make yourself and the whole agency successful.

ZION: Right. There isn’t really a time when costly mistakes can be made willy-nilly, not least of all during a pandemic, so I knew I had to keep sharpening and adding to my skills in and adjacent to my job description. With the training I received, I eventually earned the blessing to start managing budgets, making recommendations to clients, and touching other work where profitability is on the line. I felt the objective and emotional importance of those roles to the client and agency bottom lines. Having great teachers at Jigsaw gave me new perspective and skills for planning, executing, analyzing, and optimizing digital campaigns. And the mentorship, encouragement, and other lessons helped me learn how to align those skills toward “the greatest benefit” for everyone involved.

MIKE: How has everything you’ve absorbed helped prepare you to take this next step in your career amidst the craziness right now?

ZION: I think now is a better time than ever for anyone to take a step back and take a fresh look at their life. This is what I did that helped me make the decision to apply to graduate school. I took a look at my career and life path and decided that I was ready for the next challenge. Working with the insanely skilled and supportive Jigsaw team through the pandemic has opened my eyes to certain simple things—like identifying a problem to solve as a first step, communicating clearly, inviting diverse opinions and skills into the problem solving process—all of that and more, and how you can overcome adversity by facing challenges head on. I don’t take any of it for granted, and now I’ve seen and participated in such a way that I feel more inspired for my next challenges. I don’t know if I’d be taking this same step now without Jigsaw, but I feel more prepared than ever because of what I learned. To sum it up: I’m really grateful.

MIKE: We’re all grateful for the experience we’ve had with you too, brother. And we’re stoked for your next step. Now—last but not least—would you recommend Jigsaw to a friend?

ZION: (laughs) Absolutely. I’m going to miss it. Work isn’t always fun, but working with great people makes it more fun than not. I would recommend working at Jigsaw to any of my friends because it’s a place where growth-minded people can take on new challenges and realize their potential.

MIKE: Here’s hoping that you keep realizing that potential in the next leg of your journey.

And with that, the bird—no longer a baby—flapped his wings and flew to Scotland. Early reports sound promising as Zion works on his entrepreneurship masters among other international students with the hopes of bringing a startup home to roost here in the US once the program wraps up.

If you’re a curious, growth-oriented, and hardworking soul who wants to find a like-minded tribe, check out our careers page or shoot us a line. We’re not always hiring, but we’re always interested in talking to great people, and—when the opportunity is right—working together to accomplish great things.

Mike Luedke
Posted by Mike Luedke