Career Guide

Career Guidebook

Breaking into the business isn’t easy. Most jobs in advertising require a college degree. Internships and related work experience can be helpful. Retail selling experience is also excellent preparation. In addition, getting a job in an advertising agency requires determination: there are few job openings, and other bright people, like yourself, want those jobs too. Nothing guarantees a job with an agency. Here are some basic steps to get you started.

What is Advertising?

To put it simply, advertising is salesmanship. It can make the difference between business success and failure.  It is a cost-efficient way of telling buyers what is for sale and what the product’s features are.  At the very least, it seeks to persuade someone who is in the market for a given product or service to consider a particular brand.

The business of advertising involves marketing objectives and artistic ingenuity. It applies quantitative and qualitative research to the creative process.  It is the marriage of analysis and imagination, of marketing professional and artist.

Advertising is art and science, show business and just plain business, all rolled into one. And it employs some of the brightest and most creative economists, researchers, artists, producers, writers, and business people in the country today.

How is Advertising Developed?

All good advertising includes some basic steps before it appears in public:

  • It defines its markets.
  • It assesses the competition.
  • It determines who the target audience is, and how and why it chooses the products it does.
  • It sets goals and a budget: what the advertising should achieve and how much must be spent to achieve those goals.
  • It determines the media: what vehicle (television, newspapers, magazines, outdoor) will best reach the target audience to be effective.
  • It creates a message: what pictures, words, and music will best attract and appeal to the specific target audience.

An advertiser usually hires an advertising agency to help them identify prospective customers, create the advertising, and buy the broadcast (television, radio) time and print space (magazine, newspaper, and outdoor) to carry the advertising work that consumers see.

Getting Started

Educate yourself about the business

Find out as much as possible about the advertising business, what an agency does, and the career area or department in which you would like to work. Read every bit of relevant material you can find – articles, books (see In Class for suggestions), and industry trade press such as Advertising Age, and ADWEEK.

Talk to people. Track down any contacts or friends you have in the business.  Sit down with your college instructors and career counselors.  Check professional organizations like the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Advertising Women of New York, the American Advertising Federation, or your local advertising club.

Remember, one source of information can lead to ten others. The more you know about your chosen area, the better you can present yourself as a first-rate candidate.

Target your prospects

Decide what factors are important to you about a company and evaluate prospective employers on that basis.

Make use of the Standard Directory of Advertising Agencies, popularly known as the “Agency Red Book”. It’s available at most libraries and lists all the agencies worldwide.  It gives names and titles of key people, size of agency (dollar billings, number of offices, and total personnel), the agency’s accounts, and a breakdown of the media in which the agency invests its clients’ money.

Read the trade press to learn more about specific agencies you want to target.

Develop a strategy

With all the competition for jobs in advertising, you must develop your own “unique selling proposition” to communicate your own unique qualities. It’s not enough that you are interested in advertising or that you made the dean’s list eight times or that you wrote for the school newspaper.  So did most of your competition.  You have to connect what you’ve done in the past, in a unique way, to what you will do for the agency in the future.  Developing a strategy gets your commitment, imagination, and analytical thinking out in the limelight.  It is key to making you stand out from other candidates.

The Essentials

Create a good resume

The primary purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. Used correctly, it can open doors.  Used incorrectly, it slams them shut.  A good resume connects your experience to your job goal.  Support your candidacy by highlighting relevant skills –e.g., writing, speaking, managing, marketing, etc.  Include any activities, jobs, or internships directly related to advertising.  Did you sell space for the school newspaper?  Were you yearbook editor?  Stage manager for the college theater group?  Add less-related activities only if they are outstanding.  Be selective.  Your resume is a selling tool, not a life history.  Keep it neat, clear, and precise.  Try to make it unique and interesting but not gimmicky.

Take pains with each cover letter

A cover letter works hand in hand with your resume. Together they create a first impression of you.  Your cover letter should work as a connecting tool between you and the agency you’re writing to.  Don’t let it read like a form letter.  Instead, include real knowledge of the agency, its clients, its work, its position in the industry.  Tell the agency why you are interested in them and why you think you’d be right for them.  And then make sure that you are prepared to discuss in your interview whatever you say in the cover letter.

And remember, you’re being judged on communicative skill. Watch spelling, grammar, and typing.  Most important of all, be clear, crisp, and brief.

Assemble a portfolio

To help you land a job in an agency creative department, you must prepare a portfolio that shows your thinking and imagination. If you’re an aspiring art director, this clearly has to include ample demonstration of your design ability and graphic sense.  If you want to be a copywriter, visuals are less critical than demonstration of your writing ability and marketing sense.

In either case, show your very best work. If you have not had any experience, pick some currently running campaigns, determine their objectives, and interpret them in your own way.  It doesn’t matter if your “ads” are not professional.  Your prospective employer wants to see fresh concepts and new ideas that prove you have potential.  Ask for criticism, and learn from this free counsel.  Then keep making changes to improve your portfolio.

The Interview

Prepare for your interview

At most agencies, an invitation to be interviewed reflects more than casual interest in a candidate. If you’ve made it this far, you’re at least in the quarterfinals.  And if you’ve done your homework, you should have nothing to worry about.

Before the interview, organize your thinking.

Review your resume and the cover letter you sent to the agency. Decide what key selling points you should communicate about yourself.  Think how you can best do this.

Review the information you have about the agency. Be aware of its current campaigns and any fast-breaking developments.  Commenting on these can help you to make an immediate connection with the interviewer.

Be ready to discuss your point of view on advertising in general and your area of interest in particular.

Be articulate. Be self-confident and enthusiastic.  But relax and do it naturally.  Don’t try to recite everything you know.  Selectivity shows you are thinking.

Remember, someone is interested enough in your background to invest 30 minutes or more in you. That person wants you to succeed.

Industry Roles

The business of advertising involves marketing objectives and artistic ingenuity. It applies quantitative and qualitative research to the creative process. It is the marriage of analysis and imagination, of marketing professional and artist. Advertising agencies handle a broad range of marketing tasks requiring people with experience and ability in overall management and specialized skills. In all agencies, the jobs usually fall into five categories.

Account Management

The responsibility of the account manager is to be the client’s representative at the agency, and the agency’s representative at the client’s organization. It is his or her job to get the best possible work from the agency for the client-but at a profitable return for the agency. This means knowing how to handle people at the agency so that they give the client their best effort without spending more time than the income from the client’s business justifies.

The effective account manager develops a thorough knowledge of the client’s business, the consumer, the marketplace and all aspects of advertising, including creative, media, research, and commercial production.

As team leader and strategist, the account person must communicate the client’s needs clearly to the agency team, plan effectively to maximize staff time and energy, and present the agency’s recommendations candidly to the client.

In the final analysis, the account person must be able to foster productive communication between client and agency staffs, identify common goals, and make sure that the final product is profitable and effective for the client and the agency.

Entry-level positions
Successful candidates have strong general business skills: the ability to write and speak effectively, demonstrated leadership experience, a capacity for statistical analysis, and developed organizational skills.

Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree and, in some cases, a master of business administration. A degree in advertising or marketing is not a prerequisite.

Career Opportunities
An entry-level position in account management usually leads to account executive and then to more senior positions, with responsibility for more than one account and for the work of several account executives.

Account Planning

Essentially, account planners make sure the consumer’s perspective is fully considered when advertising is developed.

The account planner works to continually focus and re-focus the agency’s strategic and creative thinking on the consumer, helping the team—particularly the creatives—understand what “turns the consumer on”. They study how consumers actually make use of marketing communications. Using that knowledge, they help the agency “break out” into new ways of communicating about products and services. They offer not only consumer insight, but a plan of action for approaching marketing communications challenges.

The account planner’s primary tool is research: consumer psychology and behavior, brand-sales history, competitive sales and customer information, consumer demographics, and much more. They use this information to determine how the agency can leverage a brand’s strengths in a strategic and creative approach.

Career Opportunities
There is no entry-level account planning position, nor is there a clear-cut path to a career in account planning–yet. However, most account planners have academic backgrounds in Liberal Arts, and certainly exposure to such subjects as psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology is beneficial. What planners tend to have in common is the ability to interpret and synthesize information, generating useful insights that can be readily understood and acted upon by others.


The creative department of an advertising agency is responsible for developing the ideas, images, and words that make up commercials and ads. While many people in the agency contribute to the process, the invention and production of advertising is mainly the responsibility of copywriters and art directors.

Entry-level positions

Junior or Assistant Copywriter
The junior copywriter assists one or more copywriters in editing and proofreading ad copy, writing body copy for established print campaigns, and developing merchandising and sales promotion materials. With proven ability and experience, assignments might include generating ideas for product or company names and writing dialogue for TV commercials and scripts for radio ads.

Although a bachelor’s degree is not required, most agencies look for candidates with proven intellectual ability and emotional maturity. Degrees in English, journalism, or advertising and marketing can be helpful.

Junior or Assistant Art Director
The junior art director assists one or more art directors in preparing paste-ups, rough lettering, and layouts for print ads and television storyboards, developing visual concepts and designs, and overseeing photo sessions and the filming of television commercials.

A successful candidate will have strong visual concept skills and good basic drawing and design ability.


The media department of an advertising agency is responsible for placing advertising where it will reach the right people at the right time and in the right place…and do so in a cost-effective way.

Planning and buying media at an advertising agency is exciting and challenging because ways of communicating are constantly changing and becoming more complex. Such technological advances as cable television and the internet, or videotext make an impact on what media are available for advertising and how viewership is calculated. A recent increase in the number of specialty publications enables more precise targeting of consumers.

It is the responsibility of the media department to develop a plan that answers the question: how can the greatest number of people in the target group be reached often enough to have the advertising message seen and remembered—and, at the lowest possible cost?

Entry-level positions

Assistant Media Planner
The typical assistant media planner reports to a media planner and gathers and studies information about people’s viewing and reading habits, evaluates editorial content and programming of various media vehicles, and about media vehicles, and becomes thoroughly familiar with media data banks and information sources.

To accomplish these tasks requires the ability to find and analyze data, apply computer skills, ask innovative questions, and interpret or explain findings with attention to quantitative and qualitative considerations.

Digital Marketing

If you have ever visited a company’s web site, you have been part of how interactive marketing is changing the relationship between advertiser and the audience.

An important point to understand is to realize that with traditional marketing vehicles, companies had to find you to get your attention. In the world of interactive marketing, the consumer seeks out the company’s web site and decides how long they will stay. They can tailor the experience to their own needs. This is why interactive marketing is the fastest growing phenomena in the media and marketing world.

Career Opportunities
Opportunities in the interactive marketing field are exploding and are most plentiful in the areas of design, marketing, and computer programming. Agencies need computer-based designers and programmers, as well as strategists who understand how marketers can use interactive media creatively and effectively. The advantage in job-hunting in this area is to those who have a strong knowledge of computers and the digital realm, and are on top of the daily changes in digital technology and its capabilities.

Career Inspiration

Memos for Account Management, by Bruce Kelley, The Martin Agency

Dear Interns, by Bill Koenigsberg, Horizon Media

"Our future marketing and advertising leaders are not just looking for a job, they are looking for a meaningful career that will make a positive impact on society."
— Gord McLean, President and CEO at ANA Educational Foundation