As a student in the marketing and communication field, I have spent my days in school being fed horror stories about agency life. The media portrays the advertising industry as a cut-throat world, full of superficial, conniving coworkers and manipulative, heavy-handed management. Without personal experience, I had no other point of view until my former classmates took off for NYC and their shot at success in the industry. They returned with tales of their own, warning, “It’s tough out there. Agency life is no joke.” No longer just worried but plain intimidated, I accepted an internship opportunity at a small advertising agency in New Jersey. Prepared for the worst and praying for the tolerable, what I found when I walked through the doors at Words and Pictures was drastically different than anything I had imagined.

Greeted by grins and warm introductions, I instantly felt welcome here. Seeing this small group of people interact gave the impression that they weren’t just coworkers but teammates, and I was along for the ride. When I was shown to my desk, I displaced a coworker with tenure: the plant.

As I took my seat, I heard from across the desk, “You’re lucky, that plant was a good guy!” Which told me two things: I was now a part of this team, not just a bystander, and this group either has a sense of humor or an unreasonable attachment to inanimate objects. For the first time I realized that Words and Pictures may not be an episode of Mad Men, but it is surely its own entity: one of a kind.

In the first days, I expected a barrage of “Follow me,” “Watch this,” and “Type these notes for me,” followed by a series of lunch and coffee runs, but what actually took place was much different. I was given tasks, social media research, a webinar on SEM (a topic on which I knew next to nothing), and notes to type. Now I know I mentioned not hearing the phrase, “Type these notes for me,” but to be fair, my internship advisor Ryan Huban preceded that statement with, “I don’t want to be this guy, but can you please…” How could I say no? Short answer—I couldn’t, but I wouldn’t have anyway. Aside from this small assignment, I was immersed in a world of advertising and marketing, doing things I had only learned about in school.

As I began my first solo project, I found myself picking up where the previous interns had left off. In 2013, these interns had surveyed small- to medium-sized businesses in New Jersey, collecting information regarding their major marketing needs and challenges. Our graphic design team is now visualizing that data as an infographic. It is my job to determine who will be interested in seeing these marketing trends and how to share the information with them.

Taking on this responsibility showed me the kind of trust that this company has in the members of their team. Knowing that they had faith in me gave me all the confidence I needed to tackle my first assignment on my own. In an industry where everything is tracked, traced, and watched through a microscope, it’s a breath of fresh air to find trust and a group of people behind each other to make sure everybody is successful, no matter what challenges they may face.

Following days of learning to track website traffic, search engine keywords, and email campaigns, I was fortunate enough to sit in on my first group meeting. In the business world, a brainstorm meeting such as this probably doesn’t come around very often, but in an advertising agency it’s a common occurrence. Creating a single commercial may require a bit of creativity, but developing an entire campaign takes much more than that, not to mention several campaigns in order to give the client an option. Sitting in on a session like this was an eye-opener. I had the opportunity to see the innovative minds behind the finished product, and although the creativity was something to behold, it was not what stood out most.

What I saw was not just a group of people or coworkers, but friends. There were no bad ideas, and nobody to interpret them as such. Just friends sitting around a table sharing their ideas.

Words and Pictures Brainstorming Session

Out of all the laughter and the jokes, there came a plethora of fantastic themes for this particular campaign. Friends sharing a common goal in this sort of think tank is what inspires truly great ideas, and that’s part of the reason Words and Pictures continues to be successful. A certain relationship is built both within and outside of the office; you aren’t just an employee, coworker, or a client, you’re a friend. It seems that this is the X factor which has helped the company grow for years and continue to do so.

In my short time here, I have learned nearly as much about my coworkers and the company as I have about my field, primarily because the two are so closely related. I had heard the term company DNA in books and lectures, but I had never experienced the concept quite like this. Where target markets and advertising campaigns are preached, aspects such as respect and kindness get lost in the shuffle. Not many places can say their employees are as good at understanding and listening to each other as they are at what they do. These characteristics can’t be taught, but a management style which values encouragement over judgment, definitely attracts the right people.

Interdependence is the overarching concept that drives Words and Pictures. It makes you want to work harder and look closer in hope of reaching the level of your friends working around you. Now this idea was never explained to me, and it never had to be. From my first day in the office I could feel it. It’s almost tangible, and it motivates everybody here in everything they do. Hopefully, as my time here continues, I can leave my own mark on the Words and Pictures DNA.