So You Want to Work at a Digital Advertising Agency

Here's How to Get Started

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Put together a book. Similar to pursuing a job at a traditional agency, the first step is to put together a smashing portfolio (better known as a "book") including at least half a dozen samples of mock digital campaigns you've done in school or worked up on your own, including "spec" ads (your reworking of an actual, existing campaign). Unlike in the case of a traditional agency, however, the "book" here exists, as one might expect, in digital form -- a website or blog that shows off your range of digital ad work.

Also, demonstrating your digital savvy in the application process in any way you can is, in the digital world, helpful, naturally. For example, one recruiter tells of an applicant who submitted a video of himself, explaining why he should be hired -- and it was really quite good. It is a great way to differentiate yourself from all the people out there that are looking."

Know what kind of work you want to do. Have some idea what type of job you would like to pursue at a digital agency before actually mapping out your strategy. As one recruiter relates, many of those entering the business say simply that they think it would be "cool" to work at a digital agency -- but actually have no idea what track they are best suited for and which they would be most interested in pursuing. "Is it account? Is it creative? Is it analytics? Is it strategy?" the recruiter says. "And the worst answer they could give is, 'I'll do anything,' and we hear it all the time."

Know the entry-level jobs available to you at a digital agency, and be prepared to build the skill set required for the job you're going for. On the creative side, junior positions include designer, copywriter, art director and production artist. In those jobs, you will need to be proficient in such programs as Flash and Adobe, and have a familiarity with rich media and video technology. Meanwhile, for those more interested in analytics and marketing-intelligence, the entry-level job would be associate contributor/analyst, for which proficiency in tools such as Google Analytics, Webtrends and Omniture is essential. On the sales side, an associate sales position will require you have some familiarity with CRM tools like Salesforce, to track client information, client calls and prospects. A recruiter says much of what the digital agency is looking for in the way of a new hire, regardless of the concentration, is "examples that people have of managing projects ... and have been part of a group and really show that they took some sort of leadership role and saw something from start to finish."

Where to start looking. As with traditional agencies, there are any number of resources for seeking out available jobs, including by way of popular industry job sites such as MediaBistro and Talent Zoo. And at a time when other segments of the ad business have seen softness in job opportunities, prospects at many digital agencies continue to flourish. For example, the Puget Sound Business Journal recently (September 2010) reported that Bellevue, Wash., ad agency Ascentium, with about 330 employees, had made 35 new hires since the beginning of 2010, with plans to recruit another 30 people, all driven by demand for those with expertise in digital marketing.

Of course, as with traditional ad agencies, strategies including interning, freelancing, networking and cold calling all equally apply in the digital world. (See "So You Want to Work as a Creative at a Traditional Ad Agency.")

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