When a Previous Career in Media Comes in Handy: Reflections on Changing & Adapting

Published On: May 16, 2023By

There are those moments in one’s career where you realize you’ve really come full circle, and while your career has changed by leaps and bounds over the years, you realize – that first job never really leaves you.  

I began my advertising career nowhere else but New York City working at a large media agency as an assistant media planner. Truth be told – I tried to avoid media planning after taking more of an interest in consumer insights during my college studies, but found this was the best first foot in the door I could get in the competitive NYC landscape. I ended up glad that this was my fate.  

Digital media circa 2007 was booming! As new channels like social media emerged, we were at the forefront of figuring out what it all meant as another potential advertising channel, and how to connect the dots with existing display and search media. It was a fascinating industry and highly technical. I quickly learned how to implement media plans and generate tracking tags through the company’s proprietary systems. Then came the measurement and figuring out how to make sense of it all to tell a holistic success story for our clients. I realized that my role in digital media planning and analytics was in hindsight advantageous to launching my career in advertising. It was a challenging thrill to be at the forefront of a rapidly evolving media landscape.  

Shira (center holding sign) in her previous career in media

The rest of my corporate career was spent on the consumer insights side of the media industry. The work ranged from helping communications teams determine their clients’ target audiences through syndicated and primary research to conducting quant and qual studies to determine unique selling points for cable programs. I worked on ad effectiveness and neuromarketing studies that measured viewer attention, as well as memory and emotion of programming. This was all a step in the direction I envisioned going in my career, but I never intended to be ‘boxed in’ by media – I dreamt of the world of market research that knew no bounds! 

Fast forward a few more years, I finally broke out as a market research generalist, getting to work across studies that spanned categories and methodologies.

What I love about the field is the opportunity to apply my expertise in research techniques to different categories and topics, and the challenge of learning enough about those categories and topics that I can put together a thoughtful study and have meaningful conversations with participants.  

I was ebbing and flowing study to study for a good eight years until BOOM – a media study landed in our lap. I immediately jumped to the task, given my robust background in media. How exciting to combine my past life with my current. The client was a media agency provider in the digital planning and buying space – exactly what I used to do! This should be a cinch. Or so I thought… 

This topic, as it turned out, was HARD. Despite having worked in the field, eight years had passed, and everything was completely different now. The media landscape now included devices like connected TV and programmatic advertising, which essentially means that advertising was being planned and purchased on a much more massive scale and with much faster constant optimization. In turn, it meant that processes at agencies were much more complex, fragmented and disjointed from more ‘traditional’ digital buying teams, and lead to a tradeoff of quantity over quality in many cases.  

And now I faced the challenge of talking to media professionals – some of them past colleagues of mine – about the ins and outs of their processes, tools and providers they used.  

After debriefing with the client and talking through aspects of the industry and processes I was unclear about, they provided some very helpful explanations and context, and I felt equipped and confident to go into the interviews. The client was thrilled with the end presentation, and walked away with actionable insights and strategies that could make them more visible and competitive in the media space.  

Coming out of this study, I felt technically equipped with enough fresh industry knowledge that I could re-enter the media space should I decide to. But my heart is where it always has been – in studying people across different categories and topics.  

Media will forever be my foundation and one that I am grateful for. I now realize that it is probably one of the least stagnant industries out there and takes some real reconnaissance to keep up with. 

This project reminds us that every step along one’s professional path can contribute to the next, especially in qualitative research. As moderators, we learn to take something from every past job and every previous project to serve as well-rounded, curious investigators.