The many varied roles in advertising all require a related educational background as a point of entry. This was not always the case. In the 1960s through to the early 1980s, advertising was often a career people stumbled into by chance. But now competition is fierce, and following a path proven to work in the current state of the industry is the way to go.
Beginning your advertising career may feel overwhelming at first. The education, the personality, even trying to get the interview can discourage you. You may struggle with some of the concerns anyone trying to find work in the ad industry or any creative field might experience, but having a degree under your belt always helps you get off to the right start.
If you're looking to be a copywriter, there are two basic routes available to you: a writing education, or a creative education. Many successful copywriters hold English or writing degrees. A large number of ad pros also have Communications degrees.
Even as recently as the 1990s, the writing education was still a possibility, but these days you'll have a hard time breaking into a major advertising agency. Copywriters are expected to think visually and should know how to work hand-in-hand with an art director or designer. So while a major in English may give you a good start, you'll need more.
If you want to be a copywriter, designer, or art director, consider an education in advertising, design, public relations, or marketing. Not every university offers degrees in advertising, marketing, or public relations. However, if you want to be trained in these areas in college, many colleges and universities do offer these programs.
You're not limited to a ad career in copywriting with a degree in English. However, as a communications major, you are exposed to a wide variety of courses that give you insight into different aspects of a career in advertising, journalism, marketing, and public relations.
If you're more interested in the account management side of things, you have far more options open to you. Account managers often have a degree in marketing or sales, and they hold a B.S. rather than a B.A. If you have an aptitude for lateral thinking, organization, presentation, and are good at persuasion, this could be the right approach for you.
Anything from English and communications to psychology and business management are great entry points into this type of career. Of course, you need to pair them with relevant experience, so getting an internship or two is vital.
Other Agency Roles
Like so many business models, advertising has seen a great deal of change over the past few decades. The impact of data and digital innovations cannot be emphasized enough, and agencies have had to grow and change to accommodate the always changing landscape.
If you are not into the account side or creative side of the business but want to work in the fast-paced world of advertising, you still have many options:
Make no mistake, tech is as big in advertising as it is in every other industry. Agencies want to be at the forefront of technical innovation and will often employ tech-savvy people to steer campaigns.
Tech experts are also needed to help build, run, and maintain the IT and communications networks, and they may need to be on call. For this kind of career, a degree in computer science or a related field is necessary.
Every ad agency relies on organized people that help the office run smoothly. From reception and filing to office supplies and paperwork, administrative staff are always going to find work in advertising agencies.
A four-year degree is usually not necessary for this, though an associate's degree is often preferred, but your resume must include experience that shows you can do the job.
Finance and Law
Ad agencies large and small need help with the books and budgets. Smaller agencies usually contract with a freelance accountant with multiple small business clients. Larger agencies usually have accountants and financial experts on staff. Larger firms also retain at least one lawyer on staff to assist with legal issues.
For an accounting role, a four-year or even a graduate degree is generally necessary. For a legal career in advertising, a J.D. degree from an accredited law school is essential.
Data, Research, and Analytics
Facts and figures are everything these days. Data is huge. Research is massive. Analyzing them to get results is a big deal. With so much data available, agencies rely on experts to help them weed through the many gigabytes of information to get to meaningful directions.
A degree in this field, or something similar, like actuarial training, will help you get your foot in the door. Your ability to turn data into success will keep it there.
Another way to get exposure to the industry is to intern. You want to get the most out of your internship and it can be a great foot in the door when you're out of college or if you find a part-time agency job while still in school. A lot of agencies are looking to fill certain positions with select interns, so take it as seriously as you would a nine-to-five job that pays six figures.
If you're committed to a career in advertising, you can get started without a degree. How far up the ladder you go without a degree will depend on a number of factors, including your career goals, but you can have a successful career in advertising without holding a degree.
That said, know that whether you pursue a degree in English, communications, or another field, having a degree to your credit gives you an advantage when going after your first advertising job. But nothing can replace the ideas and creativity that should be in your portfolio.