How to be an agency veteran (and life-long learner) One of our agency’s most-read blogs in 2016 was “How to be the youngest person on your team” written by Meredith Augspurger. Her piece gave some helpful tips for working millennials who are now a significant percentage of today’s workforce. In the agency world, millennials tend to be an even larger percentage of staff as the business tends to skew even younger than many industries.

Related: 12 most popular Undercurrent blog posts of 2016

Meredith’s blog got me thinking about what it means to be labeled an “agency veteran.” It got me thinking about how it seems like just yesterday I looked up to senior agency and client executives as a source of guidance and inspiration. It got me thinking that my career journey in the agency business will reach 24 years this April. And it got me thinking about how to handle the next 15 years of my career in the fast-paced, dynamic world of marketing.

After establishing a lengthy list of ideas that seemed to be relevant to any marketing “veteran,” I filtered it down to three that seem to be universal ingredients for success and fulfillment.

Focus on learning as much as teaching

No one knows everything. Meredith made this point in her blog to reinforce to millennials that they need to be smart enough to understand there is more they don’t know than what they do know. I think the same humility should be accepted by marketers in the last half of their career. If you’re going to have a healthy and challenging career in marketing, you better understand it requires the mindset of a life-long learner.

Good ideas and teaching can come from all ages, experience levels, and roles within an agency. We all need to challenge each other to stay educated on trends, technologies, and strategies that drive today’s markets. The pace of play in the business world is such that we need to be proactive learners and have enough passion to always adapt regardless of our career stage. And we need to be open to share and accept information and insights that lead to our professional growth, regardless of where or who it’s coming from.

Be a lifelong mentee
This is a tough one for a couple of reasons. It’s tough because the tendency of professionals at some point is to arrive at a juncture where we aren’t sure if we really need anyone to talk to about the future of our career, company, industry, etc. This little devil on your shoulder is saying, “You got this.” Additionally, it does become more difficult to seek out and establish those kind of relationships with people that you respect. The fact is, as careers advance those one-time mentors are now reaching the sunset or may be retired, depending on the situation. This reality means that those of us in the middle to last half of our careers need to invest more effort than ever before in establishing mentors for ourselves.

Mentorship is arguably more important mid-career than at any other time. Mid-career is when people typically are in senior-level management and making daily decisions that have direct impact on the overall organization. It is these types of issues and decisions where outside consultation can be critical. Early-career mentors help us personally and professionally. Later-career mentors can impact a much broader group of individuals within the mentee’s company. The definition of a mentor may also change from someone that has walked the path already to someone that is a peer — someone who is walking a similar path at the same time. Either way, the right mentor relationship will lend equal value.

Respect and embrace different work styles
Today’s companies are comprised of baby boomers, generation Xers, and millennials. This applies to our agency as well as our client partner companies. So we have agency millennials dealing with baby boomer clients. And we have baby-boomer agency associates servicing millennial clients and every other combination of things going on!

Generational categories aside, we all have our workstyle habits and strengths that need to be mutually respected for successful collaboration. It’s incumbent on us, as professionals, to go out of our way to understand where our clients and colleagues are coming from in order to work together as effectively as possible. Our agency, often in conjunction with clients, utilizes the Strengths Finder program to assist with this.

Fellow marketing veterans, enjoy your place in this career journey. None of us know what’s around the corner. But do yourself a favor and make yourself available, always seek new ways, and use your experience to continually evolve what you have to offer!

About Dan Barnes

Being the youngest of eight children, Dan Barnes didn’t want to stay on the bottom of the food chain for long. His drive and ambition helped him become the leader of the Free World (also known as the managing director of the Two Rivers Marketing digital team). Over his 20-year career, his tactical mind has created smart marketing communications plans tailored to each individual client’s business objectives. You can reach out to Dan at