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How to get a job in advertising

The rewards of working in an advertising agency can be huge. The ‘work hard/play hard’ mentality of the advertising world can be attractive enough on its own, but there’s also great pay and the opportunity to advance quickly (if you work hard and prove yourself), and the ability to learn from the best minds in advertising.

The flipside is that you will have to start at the bottom and work your way up (although there are structures in place to help you do this), there’s a lot of work to do and you will be expected to work long hours to deal with the high workload.

Ad agencies recognise this and often compensate their loyal employees with great social environments, and staff perks like gym memberships, learning programmes, parties and breakfast.

There are many different roles you can do within an advertising agency. As well as the Creative Collaborators – those who make the ads, such as Art Directors, Creative Directors, Copywriters and Graphic Designers – advertising agencies need other critical team members to keep the ship afloat. Account Executives are vital for liaising between the client and the creative team and ensuring that briefs are met and the client is happy. Media Directors are responsible for placing the ads on TV, billboards, magazines and your mobile phone and have to negotiate the best possible price (an advertising spot during the X Factor Final costs around £200,000 for 30 seconds, for example, but that is one of the most expensive TV advertising in the UK). Traffic Managers are responsible for organising the huge amount of work that ad agencies do for all of their clients. This involves creating schedules, setting deadlines, distributing work and hiring freelancers if additional help is needed.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Here’s how you get your foot in the door:

Internships are a great way to get valuable experience in different areas of advertising, as well as meet important people who may remember you favourably when it’s time to fill a new junior position in their department.

Start at the bottom. Expect to take a junior position and work your way up, but remember you don’t have to start off in the job you want to end up in. There are so many opportunities to move upwards, sideways and diagonally in an agency. And if you can’t progress in one agency there are plenty of others who will welcome the experience you have gained.

Building your portfolio

If you want to work on the creative side of advertising, you’ll need a portfolio to prove your talent. Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience yet. There are a few ways you can build your portfolio without it.

  1. Freelancing – Offer your services on freelancing sites like Upwork.com and Guru.
  1. Create Spec Ads. These are ‘fake’ ads which demonstrate your creative talents which you can use in your portfolio before you get any experience. Try creating an ad for an existing company (the more challenging the better) or inventing your own brand and creating a mock media campaign.

Get a qualification

You don’t necessarily need a qualification for all roles, sometimes passion and talent is enough when you’re starting at the bottom, however a qualification will set you apart in a competitive environment. Some roles will require you to have a qualification, for example Graphic Designers need specific knowledge of design software. For roles in Account Management, Media Buying and Traffic Management, a marketing or sales qualification will be very useful, as will Maths and English. If you’ve already left college, you can supplement your skills and demonstrate your seriousness for making it in advertising by taking a short course.

Write a speculative application

Want to prove yourself to an ad agency and get hired without any experience? Impress them with a winning speculative job application. Try creating a Spec Ad for one of their existing clients and sending it along with a cover letter outlining what you can offer the company and why you want to work for them. Make it punchy and creative and show your knowledge of the advertising world to ensure you impress the right people.

Read our guide to speculative job applications

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