So You Want to Work in Advertising

Here's How to Get Started

Published on .

The world of advertising and marketing is a huge one, with many different roles to play, so figuring out where you want to be can be confusing.

The possibilities range from figuring out who uses a product, how that product could be improved, telling people about the product and figuring out where and how to tell people about the product. Different kinds of agencies do marketing, advertising, promotion, public relations and media. Advertising and marketing jobs can also be found at companies of various sizes, from Procter & Gamble on down in their own marketing departments.

"There's this great mystery behind the doors of advertising and the truth of the matter is if you are a purveyor of pop culture and you love what's out there and you read books, and go to movies and cruise the internet and all that stuff, you're an excellent candidate for advertising," said Susie Steinberg, talent scout for creative at ad agency DDB in Chicago.

Marketing is being revolutionized by advancements in digital technology. No area is as affected as media.

At GroupM, the new premium is on "people who truly embrace the digital world," Tim Cecere, human resources director for GroupM, North America, the media investment and management arm of WPP Group. "There's really no excuse for someone graduating college now, having grown up in the computer age and taking cell phones and Blackberrys and iPads and iPods for granted, there's really no excuse for them not to be digitally fit for our economy. So the digital is very, very important."

In whatever area of marketing you choose, the keys to getting a job include a portfolio, which shows how, even while doing your class work, you've thought about marketing problems and how to solve them. These portfolios also provide glimpses into the applicant's writing and presentation skill and how well they work in a group setting. Good candidates also show their interest in advertising by being able to notice and discuss advertising and marketing campaigns that affect them.

"Whenever someone comes for an interview and they have a book, I love it," said Mr. Cecere. "Because it's an insight into what they're thinking and it's a leave behind and some of the stuff has great ideas. So that's a big predictor of success."

So what's the hot skill most likely to land a recent graduate a job?

Amy Hoover, exec VP at Talent Zoo, a career web site for the advertising, marketing and media industries, says agencies and marketers are looking for junior designers.

Today's students know not only design. "Almost every designer out of school knows the web programs too because of the times we live in," Ms. Hoover said.

After starting as a designer, these bright kids can advance to art director and creative director, and if they're working at a marketing agency, they might even have a shot at CEO or president, Ms. Hoover says. (That's less likely at a major marketer. "A package designer at P&G isn't going to run the show someday," she says.)

Student looking for a career on the account side of the agency business face a tougher road because of the slowness of the economy.

"If you want to be on the account side of an agency, account coordinator is what the entry level job is called," Ms. Hoover says. "I have not seen any up tick in those kinds of job, either for the assistant AE, which is sometimes what they'll call it, versus an account coordinator."

Ms. Hoover's suggestion: "If you're looking to go into account service at an agency, try to get an intern gig in any department, literally any department. Maybe it's media, maybe it's traffic, maybe it's account manager, maybe it's project management," she says. "Agencies tend to hire their junior AEs out of their farm team, basically, the interns."

Corporate marketing departments tend to recruit from graduate schools and MBA programs. "Whereas on the agency side, having an MBA really doesn't get you any further at all, it's basically a prerequisite on the corporate side," Ms. Hoover says.

Corporate marketing departments "don't tend to advertise many of their opening at all, simply because they are recruiting directly from graduating classes of MBA programs," Ms. Hoover says.

So where do you think you fit in? Scroll through the related stories to get a sense of the various roles in marketing and advertising and start planning your next move. The Advertising Educational Foundation also offers career advice and has interviews with young advertising and marketing professionals explaining how they got their first jobs.

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