2018 Ad Agency Day Event Recap

Danielle Cormier

Ruston Spurlock and Howard Lenn are two UVA alumni that visited their alma mater last Friday to speak to students about what to expect in the world of Advertising. They divided their presentation based on their specializations within the field. Ruston spoke about his experience as an Account Manager and Howard spoke of his experience as a Creative Director. They provided plenty of insight with their overview, here are the highlights from my notes in case you missed it!

  • There are a lot of initiatives to DIVERSIFY advertising. If everyone comes from commerce school, they’ll approach problems the same way. They are looking to diversify and put together teams of people that can find solutions because they bring different perspectives. It’s the focus and passion people respond to today.
  • There is a creative department but everyone in the ad agency needs to be a creative thinker. Whatever role you’re going into, creativity is the foundation, even in data and analytics.

Responsibilities/Job Description of an Account Manager:

  • You do it all, you manage the entire process. You’re responsible for it all, you represent the agency.
    • You’ll take a lot of criticism and have to do it with a smile while providing a solution.
  • You are the gateway to all the clients. When client happy or upset, you get the call. This can be really fulfilling; it can also be nerve-raking. One throat to choke, that’s you.
  • The creative field will always be messy because it is subjective and passionate. As the account manager, you mediate between departments and clients.
    • Conflict management is important
    • You want passion, anxiety, etc. If not, you won’t be developing great product. You just have to manage it.
  • There are so many variables that you never get bored. Every day is different.
    • There is always more than meets the eye
    • You’ll never stop learning (need to know about a product in order to market it effectively)
  • You’ll have to establish budget, so you need to know numbers and finance.
  • It’s your job to make sure the product is delivered and deliverables are on time.
  • You have to understand competitive analysis. You need to understand the competition and their strengths and weaknesses in order to fully explain why your product is superior.
  • Soft skills are important (how do I make this team work functionally and emotionally best?)
  • You have to be confident because everyone is looking at you. You are leading. Accept every challenge, opportunities are everywhere.

You would be great at this job if you love:

  • Thinking quickly on your feet
  • Watching ads as much as the show
  • Creativity and creative thinking
  • Business
  • People
  • Teamwork
  • Distilling lots of information into one solution (needs to boil down to bare essence)
  • Being fired up by the challenge
  • Waking up every morning not knowing what the day will bring

Additional Personality Traits:

  • Interested in how people make decisions and how you can influence them (there’s psychology involved… what do people buy and why do they buy them? Why at that time? Etc.)
  • Organized
  • Involved
  • Outgoing
  • Positive and diligent attitude.
  • Must have the ability to switch between the champion, level head, cheerleader, encyclopedia when needed


  • Learn about the industry, talk to as many people as possible.
  • Develop passion and talent.
  • Work for the person, not the company.
  • Always learn. Try to learn at least 5 new things every year.
  • In terms of an interview, why are you passionate? Talk about the advertising and brands you admire and why you chose one over another. Show you’re passionate and interested in the cross-section of creativity and business. Become a practitioner in the craft.

Creative Department:

What does it take?

  • Curiosity
  • Collaboration
  • Capability
  • You have to be curious, always looking for new things.
  • You should have a mind that wants to understand and unpack anything.
  • You have to be able to collaborate.
  • You have to not only think you can do it, but demonstrate that you can.
  • It’s very competitive, you have to work your way up.

The Portfolio:

  • Build a portfolio. It’s impossible to be hired as a copywriter or art director without one.
    • Behance, or Squarespace are some good websites to develop your portfolio with. Now everyone has a website. Don’t worry, you can password protect.
    • For experience examples on the portfolio, show case history, objective, and team.
    • When developing portfolio at first, aim for diversity. You should be able to create a voice for different brands. It’s not like an artist where you want to differentiate your style, you want to be a chameleon. You want to be presenting yourself as wet clay that’s interested in being molded. It’s really the quality of the thinking and a little bit of the craft.
    • Thought process is a big one. Bring back what and why you were thinking. It can even be good to show the process on your portfolio by including sketches and drafts as well as the final product.
    • Personal work and your demonstration of creating ideas for a commercial property are two different things. Speculative (pseudo work created as an exercise) work should go on the portfolio. Build your work.
    • If you want to be a copywriter, you need to be a master of word.


  • Become an ad geek.
    • Learn the history of advertising.
    • Study ads.
    • Go to YouTube and search for “Cannes Lions” and watch all the case histories.
    • If you don’t know what came before, you don’t know where the inspiration will strike.
  • If you find a work you admire, look and see if their portfolio is online.
  • Start where you want to end up (If you can). Try to get a job at a place you admire because it’s hard to move between disciplines. The better the agency, the better your opportunity. The more passion you have, the better you’ll likely do.
    • Look at the work that the company has performed, their output. That’s how you find whether or not you’d like to work for them. Or look at the clients. You’re known by the friends that you keep.
  • Identify what’s worth working on.
  • In order to advance in the creative profession, you have to do work that’s admired.
  • Get passionate about the medias you consume. Understand why it’s effective. You’re your own consumer, why did you purchase that? Learn from how you yourself consume media. Technology is a huge part of marketing and advertising today.

Applicable Interests:

  • Creative technologist
  • Producer
  • Art buyer
  • Graphic designer
  • UX/UI designer
  • Web/app developer
  • Social media (probably the largest growing)
  • Community manager

Participant Bios:

Ruston A. Spurlock, Chief Executive Officer for Spurlock & Partners, LLC

Ruston is the Founder and CEO of Spurlock and Partners (S&P) LLC, a consultancy that specializes in advising corporations on brand strategy and operations in addition to providing mentorship/career mapping for executives. Prior to forming S&P, Ruston spent over 25 years in the advertising industry including executive positions at Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson (JWT). Most recently, Ruston was the Global Client Lead at JWT where he oversaw the global Johnson & Johnson OTC business leading a team of 150+ professionals across the United States, Europe, Latin America & Asia. Ruston has represented some of the world’s well-known brands (Samsung, J&J, Microsoft, Shell, Hennessy, Kraft, AT&T, UNCF) while living in Beijing, Moscow, Prague, Hong Kong, New York, Taipei & Singapore. 
Ruston is a graduate of University of Virginia where he majored in East Asian Studies with a specialization in Japanese Language. Ruston also received an MBA in Marketing from Thunderbird, The American School of International Management.
Spurlock is proficient in Japanese and has elementary understanding of Mandarin and Spanish.
Ruston is a member of the 4A's Foundation Board and as an advisor to the William H. Gray III Foundation. He previously served as a member of the Board of Directors for the UVA Ridley Scholarship Fund and the Thunderbird Asia-Pacific Alumni Executive Committee.

Howard Lenn, Group Creative Director for J. Walter Thompson New York

Howard Lenn is a Group Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson New York leading the Johnson & Johnson OTC business, including global brands Zyrtec and Visine. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of NYC. His work has been awarded at Cannes, One Show, Clios, Webby's, Effies and many more. Mashable singled out Zyrtec for “harnessing the magic of online.” The NAMI #IWillListen campaign was called especially effective at reducing stigma by Scientific American. And his team partnered with J&J to invent the first “real feel” index for pollen by uncovering unique data to power innovative algorithms. Howard’s diverse mix of projects put whale sharks onto the U.N. list of protected species for WildAid, produced a VH1 special featuring Paul Simon and John Mayer for Baileys and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and re-launched Merrill Lynch’s Global Markets and Investment Banking Group. Howard spends his free time hiking and photographing the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts.