IT in the Ad Biz

Jan 29 2008   2:30AM GMT

IT in the Ad Biz – A Unique Challenge

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

Welcome to my blog about IT in the Advertising business. As the title of my first post suggests, this is indeed a strange and unique niche in the IT industry. While we face many of the same challenges as everyone else when it comes to providing IT support, the day-to-day challenges of providing support in this industry are unique.

First, a little bit about my company and me. Eric Mower and Associates is a mid-size marketing and public relations firm located on the East Coast of the U.S. We currently have 7 locations, 4 in Upstate NY (Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany), along with Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, and Sarasota, FL. We support slightly over 200 users, and my staff consists of myself and 5 IT Administrators/Managers. We support a mix of PCs and Macs, approximately 60% PCs and 40% Macs, and we employ a Windows network. Like many other IT professionals in small to mid-size businesses, our responsibilities also include telecommunications and digital audio/video support as well as traditional IT.

I’m one of those IT folks who actually started out as a user. Prior to my IT career, I was an engineer in the Air Force for 11 years. During that time I was the person who frequently got called upon to do the IT-type stuff, and I quickly learned that I enjoyed that part of the job more than the engineering. As a result, I decided to study Computer Systems Management at the University of Maryland, and in 1993 I made the formal leap into IT. I have been with Eric Mower and Associates for 15 years, starting out as an MIS Administrator providing desktop support for Macs and PCs, eventually moving into Systems Administration (and even a little web development) and finally IT Management. I’ve seen the MIS Department split into separate IT and Interactive Departments, and seen both of these departments grow dramatically – there are now 6 of us in the IT Department while Interactive employs 10.

With all that as a background, what exactly is it about IT in the advertising industry which makes this job unique? In no particular order, I would suggest that the following three factors make life in our business a bit different. I’ll address all of these factors in greater detail in future posts, but for now here’s a quick overview.

The People (and the nature of our business)

We’re different. There’s a humorous mock ad on YouTube which does a pretty good job of describing what we do – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ4lLhMP-kg. I’m a little surprised the ad doesn’t mention the IT Department, but that’s probably a good thing. Coming to work every day in the advertising industry is an adventure, and personally it’s the thing I enjoy most about this job. It’s incredibly fast-paced, and while the deadline pressures and the reactive nature of supporting our users can get frustrating, there’s rarely a dull moment.

Perhaps a little more specifically, the simple fact that we support a large Creative Department makes us different. While many large companies may have small pockets of employees in Art or Marketing Departments, in our Industry it makes up a significant portion of our employees – approximately 30% of our employees work in Creative. Supporting this group is a challenge. To say that IT and Creative folks think differently may be the understatement of the year. But this also doesn’t mean that IT and Creative don’t get along in our company. What it does mean is that we have to find unique IT people when we are looking for support staff. You simply cannot approach this group of users the same way you might a group of engineers. Of course, the fact that our Creative users tend to prefer working with Macs leads to our next factor.

The Platforms

Mac vs. PC. This item will make for a few good blog posts. I don’t know of any other discussion in the IT community which incites passions the way this one does. While it was an argument which was more on the fringe when I started in this job, it seems that it’s become more of a mainstream discussion these days, especially as the Mac has picked up market share. Personally, I tend to stay on the fence in the dispute, and I guess what really bothers me is the extremes to which some will carry the disagreement. The PC and Windows are not nearly as bad as many of the Mac fans make them out to be, and the Mac is not the toy which some of the PC fans tend to brand it. Both are excellent computing platforms which serve their purpose very well. I will undoubtedly wade into the debate from time-to-time, and I’m sure there are a few folks out there who are more than willing to tell me that I’m wrong for staying on the fence in this argument. The fact of the matter is if I felt that either side was right in this battle, I should be actively working to move my company onto that platform.

The advertising industry tends to be ground zero for many of these Mac vs. PC arguments, and it’s interesting to see how different companies resolve it. There are Advertising agencies which run entirely on the Mac platform, and there are agencies which are purely PC. I suspect the vast majority of agencies run both platforms, and for those of us who operate both, the challenges are more about keeping that dual-platform environment running smoothly. I’ll spend quite a bit of time discussing some of the ways we do accomplish this, and I’d like to hear from others who fight the same battle on a daily basis.

Storage Needs

Finally, the single issue we struggle most with is that of storage. With the possible exception of those in the video business, I’m not sure there are many businesses of our size that have storage needs as great as ours. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with growing storage needs, and making sure it all gets backed up may be an even greater challenge. This one really hit home while I was working with a vendor to scope out a new backup solution. Following some of our early discussions where we provided the vendor with our specs, he came back and told us that his company of nearly 3,000 employees was backing up roughly the same amount of data. It’s definitely a challenge for us.

Those are the highlights, and specifically the 3 items I believe make us a bit unique. However, we also face other challenges which I plan to discuss here. We support multiple offices in geographically dispersed locations, yet we strive to remain very tightly connected, operating more like a single office. Collaboration between our offices is of vital importance to us. We tend to require our IT folks to be “jacks of all trades”. We’re not quite large enough to have specialists, yet in addition to supporting IT we’re expected to support telecommunications and digital AV equipment. I realize these particular challenges are by no means unique to the Advertising business, but they are still major issues for us.

My goal in writing this blog is to give those of us in this industry a place to discuss some of these challenges, although I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing from folks in other industries who face similar challenges. Those of us who provide IT support for the IT industry don’t seem to have many forums where we can engage in these discussions, and those forums we do have tend to be centered around applications we may share, or perhaps around industry groups to which we belong. While these forums are tremendously beneficial, I guess I’m looking to expand the borders somewhat with this blog. The discussions here may lean a bit more to the strategic side of things, as that reflects the nature of my own job these days (although I still manage to spend a fair amount of time in the trenches). I hope you’ll find something of interest in here, and feel free to comment (even if it’s to tell me I’m wrong about that Mac vs. PC thing).

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  • Harrishong
    Same here. Working in the Ad network business and looking for a good, solid admin system. 10% MAC users and with 70% XP and 20% VISTA. Mostly on laptops and these clunkers are impossibly to manage. Could you please guide as to which IT / Admin Management tools work best with Laptops?
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  • JohnWilder
    I'm not sure exactly what type of management tools you're asking about. I would definitely agree that laptops are a difficult to manage. In terms of management tools, we currently utilize Microsoft WSUS in order to keep them up-to-date in terms of patches, and we try to keep them backed up utilizing EMC's Retrospect product. Since the laptops are usually off-network during non-working hours, we back them up at Noon. Most users have grown accustomed to that schedule, so it works pretty well for us.
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