How I went from intern to full time while finishing college and survived pharma advertising


By Rafal Napierala, Digital Art Director

I took my first steps into the pharma advertising world on October 10, 2016, when I walked through the doors of CultHealth. Aside from the stories my professors had told us about agency life, I had no prior experience in an agency. I was completely ready to be shadowing a higher level Creative, taking notes, doing coffee runs—basically all the things I thought an intern would be doing to learn the ropes before working on anything. Once I was introduced to everyone and had settled in at my desk in front of my battle station, to my surprise I found an email waiting for me in my inbox with the task of tackling actual client work.

The first few weeks were a bit of an adjustment period as I was now working Monday through Friday and leaving early on Tuesdays and Thursdays to take classes from 3 pm to 9 pm. Somewhere in there I had to find the time to work on class projects. Fueled by adrenaline, excitement, and caffeine, I eventually found my groove and was, in short, quite impressed with my newly acquired skills of juggling life and keeping my head above water.

I was assigned to the Digital Team and was able to touch a variety of different projects, including emails, websites, and banner ads, and was also asked to join brainstorming sessions for pitch work.

Every day was a learning experience for me. I was working with a solid team that always took the time to explain what to do and correct me when I was doing something wrong and was also open to hearing my opinion or why I approached a project a certain way. I was able to take everything I was learning at Cult and bring it forward in classes, and in turn everything I was learning in my classes began to click faster as I was gaining real-life work experience.

I was ravenous for the work and would sink my teeth into whatever was thrown at me. I always wanted to do the best I could and do it even better the next time around. When I first decided to pursue advertising, I never imagined it would be pharmaceutical advertising, and here I was, riding a designer's high from the experience and feeling unstoppable. I found that I enjoyed it because it felt like a puzzle to me. Due to the restrictions and tight regulatory guidelines of pharma ads, it was a matter of looking at design in a new light within that playing field and figuring out how to make something look amazing despite the industry restrictions.

My hard work was starting to pay off, and I was promoted to Jr. Digital Art Director in April of 2017.

This only fueled my desire to keep running at full speed, sharpening my skills every day. My team really appreciated the dedication I was putting into all of our work. Even though I was not hired full time yet, I was being put on more projects, and at this point I was running the design of the email streams for 6 brands we worked on and began to get involved in TV pitches as well, a completely new and different experience for me. At times I was feeling a little worn out, but what helped keep me going was the fact that I was quickly approaching my final term of college.

December rolled around, and I submitted my final project to my professors. The following day I was greeted with congratulations from everyone in the agency. I remember sitting at my desk and feeling relieved that I was finally done with that chapter of my life and was ready to tackle the next big thing.

After a day of pushing out projects, I was called over by the Creative Director of the agency, who told me that Cult loved my work and was ready to take me on full time as a Digital Art Director.

I immediately accepted the offer and hit the ground running faster than ever the next day. I haven’t stopped since.