What attracts many people to work in advertising and marketing is that you don’t need an advanced degree to have a successful career. I even know a few college dropouts who’ve found their way to positions of leadership and prosperity.

Talent is what will get you in, but what will keep you going is the willingness to learn new things and the ability to keep up with an industry that constantly reinvents itself. To keep your skills fresh and keep you poised for what’s ahead, you’ll need to actively commit to learning. Here are a few ideas that don’t require a lot of money or effort—and bonus, you may actually enjoy yourself.

Master public speaking and interpersonal communications with Toastmasters

What will help you excel and move to the next level is your ability to sell your work, both internally and to clients. Toastmasters, a leadership development organization, can be your best resource for fearless, polished public speaking. You’ll elevate your skills by learning about body language, projection, and how to exude confidence—and then put those skills to use by giving speeches and presentations before a group.

Toastmasters also helps you develop the interpersonal communication skills you’ll need as you start managing people, such as how to conduct an effective meeting, giving and receiving criticism, and the always-important skill of how to cope when someone asks you a question out of left field.

There are chapters all over the world, and most chapters offer classes at times that are convenient for people with jobs. Dues are $45 every six months (with a $20 new member fee); it’s a small price to pay for being able to confidently navigate any presentation.

Enhance your technical abilities with Lynda.com

For designers and art directors who need to keep their technical skills current and learn about emerging technologies, Lynda.com is both cost-effective and convenient. It’s an online learning platform filled with go-at-your-own pace lessons and intensive tutorials. Lynda.com offers super-specific, skills-based courses. At this writing, Lynda.com offers almost 400 Photoshop courses, ranging from “Photoshop for UX Design” to “Adobe Pen Tool: Mastery.” Besides design, Lynda.com also offers all of the web development and backend courses you need to be fully fluent in digital.

Memberships start at $25 a month. I’ve worked at a few agencies that provide access to their employees as a benefit, and I’ve also known people who were able to get their Lynda.com membership paid for by the agency. Find out your company’s policy on extracurricular learning: you may be eligible.

Learn business basics and beyond with Coursera

What makes Coursera stand out from thousands of other online learning platforms is that it gives you access to classes from top schools like Harvard, Northwestern, and even Oxford that are taught by respected professors who are innovators in their fields. These are real classes that real students may be taking (and paying money for), so they are usually well-structured, with clear goals and expectations. You can choose to participate or not, and many classes offer certificate options for as little as $50 more that recognize you with a certificate and an online badge of completion for your LinkedIn profile. There are even blocks of courses, or specializations, to help you hone your mastery on a specific topic. For example, you can get into one of advertising buzziest trends, “Big Data,” with a six-course program from the University of California, San Diego.

In theory, both Coursera and Lynda.com are similar, but another reason I recommend Coursera is that it offers a broad selection of business and management focused classes. Not that you need an MBA to get ahead, but having this background will help you ascend to positions like associate creative director and beyond, and start thinking about your company’s business and financial goals.

You can be a lurker in any class for free, but to be recognized with a certificate and build towards getting certified in a specialization, you’ll have to complete projects and homework.

Find a mentor, no matter what stage of your career you’re in

Whether you’re just starting out as a junior creative or you’re more established in your career and need tips for getting ahead, nothing beats learning from someone who’s been in the industry and knows the ropes around your agency. Or you could find a mentor to help you nurture your business or entrepreneurial skills. There are a few different routes you can take to find someone who can help nurture your skills and your career:

  • If there’s someone you admire in your agency, simply ask them. It doesn’t have to be the creative director. Even if they can’t give their time, they’ll probably recommend someone who is available.
  • Your local ad club may have a mentor program.
  • Look online! In addition to community-based programs, you can also find organizations dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Never stop looking for opportunities to learn new things

Of course, there are countless other ways to grow professionally, such as going to see presentations at agency mixers, attending awards shows, and even going to open houses at your print, digital, and broadcast production vendors. Embrace the idea, and try to make it fun. Your career will thank you for it!


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.