Spotlight Interview: Rebecca Gleichenhaus

REBECCA GLEICHENHAUS: Former Negotiator at OMD (Optimum Media Direction)

New York City

WFU Class of 2014

Major: Art History

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At the time of the interview, Rebecca Gleichenhaus was a negotiator for Optimum Media Direction (OMD).  Rebecca moved to New York City with no job and only a dream to make it in the City. Two weeks before she was going to move back home, OMD gave her a position. The rest was history. Now on her third year in NYC working for OMD, Rebecca talks to us about her journey and her connections that got her here. 

*Rebecca is now the Ad Operations Manager at Hyperallergic.

DeacLink: Tell us about your path since graduating from Wake.

Rebecca Gleichenhaus: I graduated and went straight into the START Fellowship for a year. After START I moved to the City and completed two internships in the arts. I was then connected to OMD through a friend from Wake; we were RA’s together on campus. I’ve been with OMD ever since! I’m so thankful for the Wake network because having City connections is how most people get jobs here.


DL: Very true. Did you arrive in New York with a job already secured?

RG: I didn’t have anything in place job-wise, actually, I just moved! Another Wake friend very kindly offered the spare room in her family’s apartment while I was starting out. I was given three months and luckily the OMD position came up just two weeks before I had to head home to Colorado. The timing of their offer couldn’t have been better.


DL: What was the interview process with OMD like? How important was it to have an inside connection like your WFU pal?

RG: OMD was actually the first place I interviewed upon arrival to New York. I didn’t hear back from them until my three months was nearly up. Like many agencies in this industry, OMD hires mostly based on inside reference. Having a friend pass my name along was crucial.


DL: What sort of skills from undergrad or work experience has translated to your role at OMD?

RG: Honestly not a lot. Here they train you from the ground up, so it's mostly learning as you go. I wasn’t really told about the industry prior to being in it. There are practical things I learned at START Gallery, such as sending a professional email and being meticulous with a process which carried over of course. But otherwise, I had to start from square one.

I’m also not on the creative side of advertising like a lot of people may think. There are two separate entities within agencies- the sales side and creative. You can’t hop from one to the other easily, either. Cracking into creative for instance would require me to start all over again, and to learn a new skill set.


DL: Did you feel prepared for the working world coming out of Wake?

RG: No, but not for the same reason as a lot of people. The START fellowship was such a great first job and my mentors such as Paul Bright and Leigh Ann were wonderful. I had a lot of responsibility and freedom working at START since I ran all aspects of the gallery. It was a pretty cushy setup because I got to work with professors and students I already knew and people trusted me to do my work well and be innovative. Going from that into huge corporations put me into an opposite situation. Being the lowest on the totem pole without a soul who knew me was difficult. It does, however, force you to step up and prove yourself.


DL: What could Wake have done to better prepare you for life after graduation?

RG: The education system is just so different from working in the real world. At school, you’re talking entirely in theory and you learn how to think critically but you're not really doing anything that practical.  I really liked that in a way but unless you’re a business student, the skills you pick up in undergrad won’t directly translate to life afterward. That said, I wouldn’t have changed my educational experience just because it’s different. I think there is a lot of value in the liberal arts education because it teaches you to think critically about the world and gave me time and space to explore new ideas.


DL: Are there any seminal learning points or experiences from Wake that have stuck with you?

RG: All of Jay Curley’s art history classes were stellar. The Management in the Arts course was also very impactful for me. It’s the only l art course that I took that discussed the art market and how business and art interact outside of an academic setting. It was very eye-opening and showed me what sort of avenues exist for those wanting to pursue careers affiliated with Art World. I did have a lot of private conversations with professors in the art department, where I got the real world advice I was after about what working in the arts post-undergrad was like.


DL: What sort of work experience did you garner while in undergrad? How did you find and apply to these roles?

RG: I did a local internship at SECCA during undergrad, which the WFU art department helped facilitate. I also did a summer with Denver Art Museum between junior and senior year. My mom’s friend knew someone in the curatorial program so I came in once a week to help with provenance research. During a semester abroad, I was linked to University College London’s gallery internship.

The two internships I did in New York after Wake were also thanks to Wake connections. I was with ArtSpace, a competitor to Artsy (both online marketplaces for contemporary art). I was put in touch for an interview by Marie who worked for Cristin Tierney. Even though I’d only met Marie once, she was kind enough to pass my name along. I can’t state enough how useful connections are in New York!

My other role was a sale internship at David Zwirner, which lasted just three weeks due to my job offer at OMD. A Wake friend who used to work at Zwirner referred me. Although this was by far the biggest and best gallery I’d been with, I knew I didn’t want to work in an environment like that. It’s a very particular person with a particular look working there. On top of that expectation, the competitive, pressured nature of daily work was rather intense. Everyone working there is very well connected and I felt that was never going to be my world. It was cool to see it for even a short time, though.


DL: Tell us about your role at OMD and what it’s like working at such a big advertising agency.

RG: Negotiators do all the media buying on behalf of our clients. I work for a specific client, go into a marketplace and buy all the media for them. It’s the sales side of the industry, so it can be very stressful at times. Clients are always calling for updates and adding new ideas to the pile, and it’s difficult to manage expectations. One major perk offsetting the stress is our access to lots of events and tons of free swag and merch. Everyone’s favorite time is ‘Up Front Week’- all the agencies have parties and host performances by big and emergent talent. You get to enjoy all the freebies and meet the performers, which is really cool.

OMD is a bigger agency as well so there’s lots of job security, which I like. If you lose a client at other agencies you can get fired. Here if that happens you usually get transferred to another team. It’s not the side of the industry I want to be on forever, but I am considering prepping to break into the creative side at some point. It’s possible my mind could change but in theory I’d like to switch over in the future.


DL: Could you talk more about how buying media works? It seems like it could get complicated.

RG: When you’re watching TV and see commercial, we’re negotiating the ad space that the video is airing in. For instance, if my client wants to air during a specific show say, ‘This Is Us’ on NBC, I’d have to call the network on their behalf and negotiate that ad space. We do national buying although there are local buying departments too. My company formerly only dealt with TV ad space but now we’ve expanded to the streaming realm and other online video platforms.

There is a set negotiation if you’ve been buying from someone for a while, with a certain inflation or a percentage of what you bought last year expected in the price. Both of my clients buy ‘up front’ which means buying ad space for a full year. When you buy ‘scatter’ it’s for a quarter and networks can charge more because their inventory is really tight. That’s where the negotiation really happens. I have to advise clients on the most effective use of their ad budget, which is always a difficult discussion.

Streaming wise, full episode players like Hulu are really good spaces to be in because it’s a solid network without much fluctuation and they have quality programming that is brand safe for advertisers. Places like YouTube are less predictable because the content or programming is user-generated ie the inventory isn’t as easily controlled. Clients can never be sure what type of content their ad will appear on or around.


DL: Any advice for readers wanting to work in your industry?

RG: If you get an interview with an agency, never tell them you don’t follow TV! You should be in the know of television shows and what’s going on, able to share on new developments you find exciting, and so forth. You also definitely need to reach out to someone who’s already working in this space. So many agencies only hire through reference so it’s extremely helpful to have a connection- even if it’s ‘soft’ or multiples degrees away. A name gets you in the door. For instance, there are already 4 WFU alums working at OMD.


DL: What other skills are essential to working at OMD?

RG: To be on the media buying side, the most important thing is to be able to build and maintain good relationships with people. Because it is more on the sales side of the industry, it is very social and it really helps to have strong relationships with the networks reps you work with! To be on the creative side you need digital video and editing skills. It’s mandatory to have a portfolio and expertise in the software they’re using.


DL: So name game and Adobe suite- check. Let’s play a scenario before we wrap up. Let’s say you don’t know a soul at any agency and you’re a student in your senior summer. What would you do to infiltrate the agency world?

RG: It’s funny you set this up because it’s similar to how I’ve operated before. There was this one creative agency I would love to work for, I would ask around when I met people in the advertising world and even joined a book club to branch out further in hopes of a connection to someone working there. It so happened that a book club acquaintance had a high school friend at the agency- I asked to be put in touch. Essentially, talk to everyone possible until you wiggle in and make it stick.

Another key piece of advice is to be in the city (or at least pretend you’re already in the city) if you want to get a job here. It really helps to list a New York address on your CV if you want to be in the city. There are so many qualified people applying to jobs from within the city; even if you have to fudge it like I did and use a friend’s address for a while, it’s worth doing. I have had friends use my address from outside since!