Adland is notorious for being filled with outsized egos, but most execs in the business couldn't afford to have one when they were starting out. The majority have taken the long, arduous route up the corporate ladder -- and have some really interesting tales to prove it. Ad Age asked a number of senior marketing and advertising leaders to share their most interesting summer job experiences from way back when. It turns out the industry is filled with everything from former gravediggers and repo men to marketing mascots. Read about them here, and the lessons they've taken with them to their advertising careers.
Job: Kool-Aid mascot
Lesson learned: The importance of working your way up
When I graduated college in 1992, the country was in the midst of recession. I was far from a renaissance man, my only real passion being sports, so I doggedly pursued a career in sports marketing. That summer I mailed more than 40 cover letters to various firms, all of which yielded a polite "No, thank you" response. I put every one of the letters on my bedroom wall as motivation.
I eventually got an informational interview with a sports-marketing firm called PSP. PSP needed help working on a promotion for Kraft brand Kool-Aid but didn't have approval to make any full-time hires. I asked if they offered a summer internship program. They said they did, but that it was for students who were still in college and only paid $5.50 an hour. I said: "Deal."
I started working for a guy named John Ragals -- who is now the chief operating officer of 360i -- and our job was managing a nationwide sampling tour for Kool-Aid in large urban centers. We couldn't afford the funds to hire someone to be the Kool-Aid mascot so that job fell to the low man on the totem pole: me. For each event, in the blistering heat of August, I would slip into an inflatable Kool-Aid suit and wave at kids who were taking turns trying to knock me over like Humpty Dumpty.
A lot has happened since that summer, including being offered a full-time gig at PSP that eventually led to the start of my internet career in 1994. Yet to this day, I proudly display in my office a picture of me in the Kool-Aid suit with former Knicks star John Starks to remind myself and others of the value of unglamorous hard work. Starks autographed the picture with the inscription: "Starting at the bottom makes success that much sweeter!" He couldn't have been more right.
Brand director-imports and Leinenkugel's for Tenth & Blake Beer Co. (MillerCoors)
Job: Fly-fishing guide
Lesson learned: Motivation to buy isn't always intuitive
I was a fly-fishing guide one summer in Colorado. I picked up my trip sheet that summarizes who you'll be guiding, their experience level, age, etc. and it's two women in their 50s with no fly-fishing experience, with no gear. Great, I'm thinking, find an open field with no trees to get tangled in and give a casting clinic to a couple of old women who may land one or two fish max and spend the bulk of the day unraveling knots ... real fun. So I pick them up, and it's these two cougars in this sick mansion with picnic baskets brimming with wine bottles. Oh boy, throw some wine into the mix and this is going to be a disaster. Strange thing was, when we arrived at our destination, they were pretty explicit about how they wanted the day to go. They would be enjoying a picnic of wine and cheese, imbibing heavily, and simply looking on while I fished to my heart's content. For their visual amusement, I'd be removing my shirt. While visions of a Mr. . Robinson scenario did cross my mind, I was assured there would be no monkey business and that I was simply a visual prop to enhance their girls' afternoon, and the trip was just an excuse for them to get away from their husbands. While it kind of made me feel like a piece of meat, I had an incredible day fishing, and learned a valuable lesson: Never, ever assume you know someone's intentions, rationale, or motivations when they're buying your product or service.
CEO of the Martin Agency
Lesson learned: People are adaptable
I never intended to dig graves. It wasn't on my list that summer. They told me explicitly that I would not have to dig graves, just cut the grass in the cemetery. Liars. Never trust people in cemeteries. But I needed the money. Digging a rectangular hole 6 feet deep (yep, precisely 6 feet) is a pain in the neck, arms and shoulders, but it's not that hard. What's hard is digging it in tight proximity to another grave. On my third grave I got cocky and ran into the decaying wooden casket next door. I know.
When the funeral caravan arrived, we spadesmen were advised to lurk discreetly behind trees, so as not to confront the grieving with a reminder that someone actually digs these neat little cavities. I resented having to lurk because I was certain that even the most distraught mourner would have been inclined to compliment my craftsmanship. I found it interesting that the funeral home frequented by dead Caucasians used black hearses, and the one favored by dead African-Americans used white hearses. I always wondered if they had worked that out together. A white hearse looks fantastic.
Global chief marketing officer, Hershey
Lesson learned: Waiting on tables can prepare you for life's challenges
I've done everything from bank teller to selling Avon door-to-door, to salesclerk at a department store, to waitressing (my most consistent job from high school through college). I waitressed at lots of places, and I found waitressing the most aligned to my current job: fast-paced, multitasking; pay for performance (tips!), an ability to "read" your customers, balance of multiple skills -- creativity (selling various dishes and providing some entertainment to your customer), analytics (adding up all the bills -- yes, in that day doing it by hand or adding machine) and high interpersonal skills all necessary.
Lesson learned: Sampling efforts are a sound strategy for smiles
My father and his brothers owned a few bakeries in Boston called a.boschetto bakery. Starting the summer I turned 12, I had to work there to learn the value of a dollar. I became an expert at frosting cupcakes and filling cannoli. My Dad's motto was "surprise and delight every customer." So being true to that sentiment, every customer walked out with a free sample of a cookie or cupcake. To this day I still ask our account teams if they've given their clients the equivalent of a free cupcake lately, that little something extra that will put a smile on their faces.
Chief creative officer, Amalgamated
Job: Pool parts manager
Lesson learned: Know when to walk away
If memory serves correctly, I was fired from every summer job I had during my formative high school and college years -- from telemarketer to lab technician to bank teller. There are lots of stories to choose from, including my shortest-lived job where I was "parts manager" at Galvin Pool in Milford, Conn. In hindsight, the training program could have been stronger. On my first day, a name tag was placed upon me and, shortly thereafter, a customer brought in a large pool filter and demanded I repair it. I went down to a parts basement littered with thousands of pool parts, noticed an open door, and never looked back. This practice proved useful in a couple ad jobs as well.
Job: Repossession agent
Lesson learned: No two target customers are alike
I was a Repo Man in Paterson and Passaic, N.J. It was crazy and awesome all at the same time. People used to open their doors and sic seriously pissed-off dogs after me. Sometimes you'd go straight after your target . Sometimes, you had to get pretty creative. My philosophy was to never give up. It's kind of the unwritten code by which we operate. It's why we're here so late, and it's why something simple can seem so hard. It's why we're so satisfied with the end product.
Senior VP-global media sales, Electronic Arts
Job: Lift man
Lesson learned: Haste makes waste
I operated an Otis manual elevator in a five-story building in downtown New York one summer, after I had shoulder surgery in college and could not do my usual construction job. The building was home to a modeling agency and a dance studio. I learned pretty quickly that answering every time the bell rang on a floor was highly inefficient. Instead, I let them build up to a group ... not sure it helped out the passengers very much, but I certainly learned the lesson of scale and efficiency.
Chief creative officer, Martin Agency
Job: Cheerleading uniform factory man
Lesson learned: Look for ancillary revenue streams
The summer after my ninth-grade year, Mr. . Bailey, my English teacher, hooked me up with a job that paid somewhere around $3 per hour, at the Rouse Rouge, a cheerleading uniform factory in Cedar Hill, Texas. I was in charge of "the cage," our supply room with chain-link fence from top to bottom, full of fabrics and threads from all over the world. I arrived and found the cage in complete chaos. I spent the first month of the summer putting my OCD to work. And once the cage was masterfully organized, I started drawing to fill my idle time (when I wasn't sleeping on boxes which, obviously, took precedence). The seamstresses would visit me in the cage and put in requests for my art: horses, landscapes, and portraits of their grandchildren. My time in the cage confirmed what I suspected: I could get paid to do what I loved -- art. I actually made more drawing pictures for little old ladies than my minimum wage. I also learned that , contrary to a 14-year-old boy's fantasy, cheerleaders don't actually work in cheerleading uniform factories.
Effective September, chief marketing officer for the Engine Group
Job: Shoe salesperson
Lesson learned: You never know who you might be talking to
Summer jobs are wonderful things. They teach you so much and, not least, highlight just how ghastly some jobs would be on a "forever" basis. I was at UCL and in my last university summer (from second to third year) I went to work in a small posh shoe shop in Sloane St. On one sunny day a very glam lady came in and we got to chatting -- whilst I sorted out her new shoes for a variety of outfits and occasions! She asked why I worked there and I confessed it was a summer job. "What do you think you will do after the university?" So I explained that as a budding economist, I was destined for the city and a life in a dark suit. She instantly said I was mad and had I ever thought of advertising? Confessing I knew nothing of the industry, she talked me through her view of it. "And I think you would be really good at it -- plus you'll hate the city."
As she was paying, her last remark was, "I am serious about you should be going into advertising -- ring me and I'll help." And with that she handed me her business card -- turning out to be a non-executive director of Lintas -- at the time one of the largest agencies in the world. So I guess my summer job taught me the most important thing: Follow your heart and know when to listen to advice.~ ~ ~
Contributing: E.J. Schultz, Emma Hall, Beth Snyder Bulik