How to Work for an Advertising Agency
So, you've made the decision. You've measured the pros and cons, and you've come to the conclusion that a career in advertising is right for you. The next step is following through on that decision, but that can be a lot harder than it sounds. Back in the fifties and sixties, it was relatively easy to get a job at a good agency and work your way up through the ranks quickly, if you had the talent. But these days, the competition is intense.
There are schools devoted to producing highly-skilled art directors, copywriters, and account teams. There are graduates out there who have portfolios more polished than those of agency veterans. And agencies are inundated with hundreds of applications from around the country, and the world, for one or two open positions. So, how are you going to get in? What's your game plan?
Here are 10 ways to get your foot in the door. Of course, you will have to have a body of work that appeals to the agency you're applying to, and the fortitude to keep on trying after every rejection (and there will be a lot). But, if you have the passion, and the staying power, you can do it.
Intern at an Agency
For an ad agency, an intern is a win-win situation. Most of the time, interns are working for free, or minimum wage, yet they will be doing work that can generate large sums of money for the agency. Not only that, but it's also a very easy way to test-drive potential employees, and grab the talented ones before another agency can scoop them up.
So, if you have the opportunity to intern at a good shop, jump on it. Interning will help you get an "in" to the agency, but you'll also be able to work in various areas you wouldn't otherwise. Speak up and let the agency know you're eager and willing to learn to get the most out of your internship. The experience you gain as an intern is invaluable and could lead to a permanent position. At the very least, you'll get some great work for your portfolio, and the kind of hands-on experience you cannot get anywhere else.
Take an Entry Level Position
If you can't get a great job at an agency, just get a job. Period. Many people have successfully started their career in advertising by taking ANY job in an agency, and then working their way up. Don't be afraid to work outside of your job description. Get in there and learn everything you can. If you're unable to move up within that particular agency, you can still use that experience to get you a job somewhere else.
Some people say that you will be looked upon as that employee who is only good enough for the mailroom, or the assistant to the building supervisor. Nonsense. If you have the skill, you will find a way to showcase it. Get friendly with the people who work in the departments you want to work with. Show them your ideas. Get under their skin. If an agency can hire someone who was homeless (that actually happened), they can hire from their own ranks.
If you're interested in being a copywriter or graphic designer, consider freelancing as a way to get into the business. Coming up with your own rates, your own campaign to advertise yourself, and approaching small businesses (and even agencies) are all tools you can use in your agency job hunt. You should have an online portfolio ready to go and be available to network like crazy.
This is not only a great way to do a lot of networking, and build a portfolio of legitimate published work, but it gives you a wide range of projects and campaigns to hone your skills. One day you're working on ice cream, the next on credit cards or vitamins. And you get real discipline, real quick.
Create Spec Ads
SPEC ADS take two forms. First, they can simply be your version, or recreation, of a published ad. You might think that you can do better than a major automaker's print ads running in your favorite magazine. Or your local barber shop's newspaper ads might need some reworking.
So, you do it again, but better. You can also do something completely off the wall, for products and brands that don't even exist. The purpose of spec work is to show your creativity, and how you solve problems. If your spec ad is good enough, it could go viral. When it hits thousands (or even millions) of views, either on YouTube, Tumblr, or some other format, the ad agencies will take notice.
Contact Radio and Television Stations
Many radio and TV stations have employees who specifically write commercials. They may also produce certain types of shows for the station. This is a great opportunity for you to get started in the business. Since most radio and TV stations don't pay very much for these types of positions, there's both a high turnover and an opportunity for people with little or no experience to break into the field.
Unfortunately, a lot of the work done here is not going to be rewarding, creatively or strategically. The ads are formulaic, and the clients usually like them that way. Basically, it's a patronizing scenario that spells out the benefit of the product or service, followed by multiple reads of the phone number or website. However, you may make some great contacts here that can lead to bigger and better opportunities.
Get an Advertising Education
Getting an education in advertising doesn't just apply to college students. If you're serious about working in an agency, you can learn a lot by taking a course. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to pack up and move to your closest advertising school.
The Internet has given so many people the opportunity to learn about advertising and what it takes to make it in the business from the comfort of their own home. If you're currently employed in a different field of work, consider night classes or online lessons that can be done on a flexible schedule.
Introduce Yourself to Key People
If you're looking for a position on the creative side of advertising, send an email or write a letter to the Creative Director. Introduce yourself in a friendly, professional tone and give a brief bio. You may even go as far as creating your own social media campaign, or viral video.
Be sure you find out who the Creative Director is and not just address your letter: "To Whom It May Concern." You want to approach this person just as you would a friend so get their name and the spelling right. You can follow up in a few weeks with an additional letter or you can give the Creative Director a call. Just don't cold call them first. Anyone in an agency is going to be busy and especially someone in a management position who is juggling many projects at once.
Network, Network, Network
This is one of those businesses that live by the rule, "it's not just what you know, it's WHO you know." Sometimes, all that separates two very talented people is an association with someone in the agency. Don't be the one left behind because you don't know the right people.
Look for opportunities to meet with people in your area that are actively working in the industry. Many cities have local advertising clubs that sponsor special events, educational seminars, and professional workshops. Get out there and meet the people who could be your next potential employer.
Try Working In Sales or PR
It's not exactly the same. There's a big difference between advertising and sales, but being an account executive at a car dealership, for example, can help you bridge the gap between no experience and working in an agency. It's also a good way to meet people, improve your selling techniques, and find out your own strengths and weaknesses.
PR and advertising are much more closely related, but again, they're not the same. However, there is a lot of crossover here, and if you find a good, creative PR agency, you can be doing some very fulfilling and award-worthy work.
Be Genuinely Enthusiastic
Are you passionate about working in advertising? Really passionate? Are you a hard worker that's willing to commit to the job, even when that means you're working well past the typical 9-5?
These are just some of the questions you have to really evaluate if you want to pursue a career in advertising. If you can honestly say, "Yes, absolutely," then you need to convey that to a potential employer. Even in this day and age of hustle and bustle, employers are excited to see someone with genuine passion and enthusiasm.
There's a reason they got into the field and your energy is a reminder of that. People with a lot of experience have been beaten out of the job by someone with less experience but a lot of heart. Personality goes a long way.