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Career Stories: +Aziz

+Aziz +Aziz
Cultural Strategist
Peter Mayer (New Orleans)

Name: +Aziz
College/University: University of Illinois (College of Media) and Penn State
Major: Advertising & Philosophy

Title/Agency: Cultural Strategist at Peter Mayer (New Orleans)
How long have you been working in advertising? ~7 years

Everything about my work ethic is millennial. I’m an entitlement extraordinaire to the point where I ask my employers to place a + sign on everything from my business card to my Outlook account. I only target employers that promise me flexibility and good life/work balance. I’m extremely collaborative and I have trouble recognizing hierarchy, especially within the context of an ad agency.


When I graduated with my M.S. in Advertising, I did not want to be a “junior” anything. I saw myself as better rounded and global than most account planners, so I wanted to set the tone for my career in advertising. My starting salary mattered less than having the relevant set of responsibilities: I wanted to do qualitative research, author briefs and I wanted to be client facing. As I interviewed around Chicago and New York, I realized no agency had a genuinely flat structure. Planners were either hidden from the client because strategy was not a core offering or it was only “superstar” planners that would really talk to clients directly. If I wanted to leapfrog entry-level positions, I would need to tap the international market.

I started looking at global cities in Asia and Europe. Somehow I ended up interviewing for a position with Google in Dublin, which is the office that runs their MENA operation. I lost motivation mid-interview once I realized that I would not be 100% dedicated to their AdWords department. As a last resort, I began approaching companies in the Arabian Peninsula (I’m from Kuwait) and secured a mid-level account planning role with Grey Worldwide in Kuwait where I was an account planner 50% of my time and an account manager for the other 50%. I was stuck in the town I grew up in and started networking with their Dubai and New York offices to secure my next steps. I would relocate to NYC after saving up my first $10K and spent my first 4-6 months in the city being unemployed.


I got my first break writing for PSFK, a trends and innovations blog. This opened doors for me with various digital strategy positions.  I didn’t get into the ‘culture’ space until I landed a fortuitous gig with a boutique brand consultancy called FATHOM+HATCH, where I worked with Katherine Lam under the umbrella of doing “Cultural Forensics”. Edelman PR owned the company at the time, so it was a great well-cushioned job that enabled me to live a near-idyllic lifestyle in New York. Being a musician, I finished up recording an album and frequently used the 250 Hudson building as a rehearsal space. Once I got that out of my system, I started looking for a new job in music cities, and that brought me to Peter Mayer in New Orleans, a regional agency that positions itself around culture and strategy.


My overarching philosophy is to invest in yourself and do not limit yourself to the ad industry. If you’re “passionate about advertising” you probably haven’t done enough soul-searching. Write your book, develop your start-up, write your music, in other words, learn to build from scratch. Creatives do it but the reality is that everyone ought to. As ironic as it sounds, taking this approach to your career will make you more attractive to ad agencies.

If you care about brands and marketing so much, don’t limit yourself to the advertising world. Develop relationships with trend houses, marketers on the client side, design consultancies, monetized blogs...etc. do whatever it takes to avoid getting stuck in advertising. It is a young person’s game and it is a thankless world whether you’re a professional or an academic. Today’s world needs talent that is flexible and collaborative, not talent that uses advertising like a crutch.


Agencies are businesses through and through; even if when they are family run or when they exude the energy of being casual and laid back, they will hire and fire based on their billings and they will continue to fluctuate in size, so don’t make yourself vulnerable by being at the mercy of these fluctuations. If this doesn’t motivate you to invest in your personal brand nothing will.

Everybody has a personal brand. The ‘plus sign’ is my personal brand and it has taken me places; it was born in high school as a nickname and it stuck with me ever since. This personal brand gives me permission to be my quirky, creative self. It also creates continuity between my professional career as a strategist and singer-songwriter work. If an employer or HR person looked at my CV and was turned off by what they thought was a ‘typo’, they probably weren’t right for me anyway. Your personal brand will help you find your place; prioritize it above all else.


+Aziz, AEF

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