Friday, May 8, 2009

on breaking into the business

There's been talk going around about how the best creative young minds aren't choosing to go into advertising anymore. But I spoke recently with ad majors at City College and their smarts and enthusiasm waylaid any doubts I had about the caliber of the next generation of Mad People. Perhaps what I told them might prove useful to a jobhunter you know who is about to take the step of moving permanently off-campus.

When I got into the business, it was a different business. Copy was mailed to a client, with stamps. Art directors could draw. Cut and paste called for blades and rubber cement.

But you? You’re coming into advertising in the throes of a maelstrom. Longheld rules of marketing are changing and ad agencies are going through gyrations, trying to keep up. Creative directors are scrambling to retrain their staffs, to figure out how to stake claim for brands in the new, digital world. A few years ago, “doing interactive” meant coming up with banner ads. But web 2.0 has made the medium more challenging and creative directors are hoping that you, the first generation of digital natives, will come up with brilliant ideas for exploiting it.

Don’t get me wrong. To get a job in advertising, you still have prove your creative prowess in print and TV. But now every concept also needs a digital component that shows you understand the shift to conversational marketing. The ideas that are most likely to land you a job are ones that promote brands across multiple platforms: print ,TV, Facebook, Twitter or whatever is the latest application du jour.

That’s why the best way to show your book isn’t a book. It’s a website. Claim your name (or some variation) in a URL and create a case for yourself on the web. Once your work is online, creative directors can look at it whenever, wherever they please. And a digital “book” has the added advantage of never getting lost or tying up your chances at an agency because another agency, after three weeks, still hasn’t gotten around to looking at it.

Your website doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep it as simple as possible. Creative directors are looking to assess your concepts, not your mastery of widgets and code. They won’t take kindly to being made to wait, no matter how cool your site is when the flash finally loads. They make time for your work and you make your site so heavy they have to stand by watching a bar fill in? You’ve just demonstrated a cardinal sin in advertising⎯not knowing your target. Click. Through.
What else?

1. Make a list of where you want to work. This may sound basic, but I’m always surprised by people who don’t think to do this. Look for agencies instead of job offers. Where you start in the business is the most important career choice you’ll make, as the connections you form there will help determine the jobs you’ll get next. Success in advertising, as in most businesses, depends partly on who you know and who knows you.

2. Twitter search for a job. Despite Twitter's exponential growth, the community it hosts is still relatively small. Which makes it easier for you to get the attention of someone who might not have time for you in the real world. Go to twitter search and plug in the names of agencies where you'd like to work. Follow people who work there. (Usually employed people put job affiliation in their profile description.) Start up a conversation with them. Do this by publicly commenting on something they posted. (Do I have to say this--do NOT make your first contact a direct message, or one that asks for a job.) Some connections you make may turn into F2F meetings. And you'll impress people by proving you're savvy about conversational marketing by marketing the most important product you'll ever sell--yourself. This may prove especially effective with senior execs (your target!) desperately trying to figure out "this twitter thing" for themselves.

3. Know the good campaigns. What won awards last year? Which do you admire? This is a common question in interviews and answering it gives a creative director an idea of what you think is good, and if it dovetails with her own ideas. Don’t go to an interview without having an opinion or two about what kind of work you’re seeking to emulate.

4. Read the ad blogs. They’re a great source of what campaigns are being talked about now, what it’s like to work in an ad agency, even what to wear on your first day at work. There are lots of blogs to choose from. I'd suggest beginning with DearJaneSample, ToadStool, Why Advertising Sucks and Scamp--each of which offers good advice for newbies. But don't stop there. The Ad Age Power 150 is actually a list of over 900 blogs, each appealing to a slightly different sensibility.

5. Read the trades. Adweek. AdAge. BrandWeek. Doing so will feed your head in a way that sets you apart from most applicants who limit themselves to Creativity, Communication Arts and Campaign. (Which you should read, too.) Remember. Advertising is an art, but it’s also a business. Creative isn’t creative if it doesn’t ultimately sell.

6. Clean up your Facebook. Google your name. See what comes up. Is that something you want prospective employers to see? Trash those photos of spring break when you were a sophomore. Get a LinkedIn profile. Take yourself seriously. Until you do, nobody else will.

7. No doubt I'm forgetting something important. Another lesson: in advertising (as in life) doing it perfectly is the enemy of doing it at all. If you're already in, please add to this list. Some young talent might find it helpful and hire you freelance someday.


Teenie said...

No joke, I started in advertising by answering a help wanted ad in the local paper.

Studio Maven said...

And then go to Craigslist and work for FREE!

Kristin Kowler said...

As the parent of a college student, another reminder: Tap into the power of your parents' and your parents friends' networks.

No one is more eager to help you find a job and make connections (and get off the payroll) than the devoted souls who've been supporting you for twenty odd years!

Along the way you will meet many people who will help you out, don't forget them once you've found that first job!

Continue to check in with them, let them know how you are doing and offer to return the favor and help them out in any way you can.

M.M. McDermott said...

Network, network, network. I've seen folks with nothing but a connection land bigger gigs.


Max said...

In my recent experience, there's so much interactive work now that having a traditional component in your book is far from necessary.

That being said, speaking from the Boston corner of the planet, most of the shops up here have yet to trust handing the reigns of an account over to a creative with a new media background...this is something I'm sure will change over time.