Advertising agencies... a mystical doorway to a commercial, creative universe and your dream career. But understanding what’s on the other side of that doorway can be hard, and it’s even harder to find a way through. Particularly if you don't have a bunch of experience and brands on your CV already.
A uni degree is a good base, and usually expected. But everyone else has one too, and even high distinctions don't really help you navigate Agencyland. It’s likely you’re interested in strategic planning, but its unlikely you’ll begin as a strategic planner. You won’t jump from a role in account management to creative or design. But no one tells you that!
So what are the steps you can take to find a way in? Here are seven tips to help find the hidden door.
1. Know the roles on offer
You will almost certainly start as an account executive, media executive, or digital executive of some sort, such as digital campaign coordinator. You might land a role in production, most likely content creation. You should research each of those roles. They are demanding and interesting, and where most people begin their agency career. It’s OK to be open about not really understanding how it all works yet, if you understand those basic starting points.
2. Look for stepping stones
I know Account Directors who have started on reception. Award-winning film directors who were unpaid photography assistants. Producers who began as account coordinators. And you can get there too, if you get a foot in the door first and prove your stripes and the opportunity opens up and you get it. Don't be deterred! Just look for where you can realistically start, and say yes to anything and everything. Start small. Then go big.
3. Think digital, consider media
Agencies and clients are looking for competent digital people right now. Think about the digital experience you already have, and how you can talk about it in a professional context. Another way in that surprisingly few consider is media. Not a journalist or television anchor or sales rep. Media planning and buying – there is a range of media agencies in Perth you’ve never heard of, working daily with Perth creative agencies and their clients. Market research companies are also a great option, particularly if you loved statistics or consumer behaviour at business school. Look them up.
4. Get involved
Put yourself in situations where you can meet the right people. Go to seminars and events. Join Youngbloods and go to everything they put on. Talk to the young crew at those events who are already in agencies. What’s their advice? Who can they introduce you to? When you get the chance to meet senior people in the industry, make sure you’ve done your homework – find out about their agency, their clients, and work. Be smart, be friendly, be keen. Always be professional, even at 11pm.
5. Ask for coffee - not an internship
Getting work experience at an agency is critical, and hard. You’ve probably found that already. If you meet someone senior, or get an introduction or contact details, ask to find 30 minutes in their diary in the next couple of weeks. It implies no strings attached for them, and will give you a better chance for a chat and further introductions than if you ask straight up for work experience. It won’t always work, but if it does, ask for their view on your skills, career options, the market at the moment and who you should speak to next.
6. Learn to sell
When you do get work experience or attend a particular seminar or course, think about how you’re going to use it on your CV and at your next interview. What did you learn? What brands did you work on? What did you deliver? Frame it as the skills and knowledge you can now bring to the job you’re going for. Organisational skills, basic project finance, traffic in and out of studio, client relationship fundamentals. You can start to learn and talk about some of those skills after working on simple client amends for a brochure.
7. Have a thick skin and persist
This is important, and can definitely be the hardest thing to do. It takes a lot of guts to reach out in the first place, and a lot more to keep doing it when you’re getting knocked back or ignored. Stay committed. Keep putting yourself out there. Your time will come.
As a final tip, you should apply for the Communications Council Jumpstart graduate program next year if you haven’t found another way through the door by then. Getting in to Jumpstart isn’t easy, and the application process takes a lot of commitment and work. Not everyone does get in. But that pool of graduates is more likely to get a job in Perth agencies in the following 12 months than any other group. Do it next year.
For our juniors we’re looking for bright, proactive, enthusiastic, committed, personable, future superstars. That’s probably you. So keep moving forward, be yourself, and don't give up. Go get em.