Career Guide

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.

Just getting started? Check out our Career Guide to jump start your career.
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