So You Want to Work at a Media Agency

Here's How to Get Started

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With the explosion in media options -- from traditional media including network TV, radio and print to digital vehicles including mobile, websites and social-media brands -- media agency has gone from a backwater where rates over :30s and ad pages are haggled over to front-and-center in agencies' designing clients' communication strategies. Thus, if you're interested in working at a media agency, it is essential, naturally, to set out to first immerse yourself in all media, as much media as you can, all forms of media, all the time. A keen understanding of and appreciation for the vast media options out there today is an essential first step in your aim to get hired by a digital agency.

Be prepared to "wow" 'em with your sophisticated understanding of social media, out-of-home, niche cable networks, direct marketing, newspapers and the latest mobile marketing techniques -- and more to the point, fresh ideas about how a mix of media might be used to communicate a client's message. One interviewee landed a job at a major media agency after impressing the recruiter with a story about how he had noticed on the way to the interview that while bus shelters were papered with ad messages, the tops of the shelters (visible from passengers on the bus) were bereft of ads: a missed opportunity, he surmised. Not only was that person hired, now one of his jobs is buying space on top of bus shelters. As with any prospective employer in any field, come armed with creative and workable ideas -- it will make you look like the kind of person they'd want for their team. One recruiter says he asks prospects questions such as "What do you think works?" "What motivates you?" "Where's your passion for the industry?" "What's the last purchase you made, and why were you motivated to make that purchase?" Be prepared to respond to such questions, and with answers that are out of the box.

Know your numbers. Increasingly, recent graduates looking for a foot in the door at a media agency will need a solid background in not only digital but math and economics, skills much more valued today than when media was a more traditional field with less complex DNA. Whereas a decade ago, a journalism or psychology degree might have equipped you to work at a media agency, today those with degrees in mathematics or economics are more employable. And, media agencies nowadays are even valuing those with advanced degrees, notably MBAs. Says one recruiter: "In the past, MBAs didn't gravitate toward our business because it wasn't high on their priority of the type of business they want to be in, and they didn't think we did the type of work that would lend itself to the type of work an MBA would do. But we're in a world now of delivery channels and content delivery and measurement and true partnership with our clients in a business sense where we need the MBA skills now."

Know what job you want. As with traditional and digital agencies, know the jobs open to you as an entry-level professional. Among those with undergraduate degrees, assistant media planner typically has been the entry point, though media agencies have shifted toward calling them associates, to avoid pigeonholing new hires and instead make them a more integral part of the operation with a more valued and sophisticated (rather than simply "junior") role. Analytics and research positions require someone, as one recruiter put it, "who like to see what numbers do in commerce," someone who is interested in measuring results and using that data to predict consumer behavior and the outcomes of future campaigns. The so-called "number-crunching" side of the media business is a growth area, so prime prospects will be those who are comfortable absorbing and analyzing data.

Since this is a growth area, job sites including MediaBistro, Talent Zoo, Monster, Nielsen's Media Job Market and Ad Age's own Talentworks are a good resource for seeing what kind of jobs out there are presently available and which you would be suited for.

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

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