How I Got a Foot Through the Door of the Advertising Industry

The Multicultural Internship Program Teaches Important Lessons for How to Make It in the Business

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The 39th annual Multicultural Advertising Internship Program came to a close earlier this month with a "Face of Talent" event, hosted by the 4As in New York City to celebrate the achievements of this summer's participants. For this alumnus, it brought back a flood of memories.

I was introduced to the multicultural internship program as a senior at Howard University. Unfortunately my professor had given me the information on the day of the application deadline. I rushed to pull together the required materials, but just couldn't get the forms completed on time. The professor encouraged me to apply anyway. Maybe, in a one-in-a-million chance, I'd get an internship at one of the major New York agencies. I had my heart set on BBDO New York.

Sure enough, three weeks later I received a letter confirming that I had missed the deadline. But a note at the bottom from MAIP representative Tina Savier encouraged me to reapply. I did so, 12 months later. This time, I submitted not only undergraduate work but, being a year into graduate school, I included that portfolio as well.

During one of my many calls to Tina Savier to check the status of my application, the conversation took an unexpected turn. "Vann, I want to congratulate you," she said. "We have a unique situation. Usually the agency picks which student they want, however, you have the opportunity to choose where you want to go."

She continued, "There are two agencies that want you: J. Walter Thompson in Chicago and BBDO New York." I'd have to make my decision by the next day, she said. Whichever internship I did not choose would go to someone else. Without hesitation, I chose BBDO New York.


First internship lesson learned: You cannot give up in the face of obstacles, but must dig deep and follow your dream.

I started at BBDO as an intern and left as a VP, Creative Director 15 years later. Working at BBDO wasn't easy, but I never regretted my decision. My time at BBDO allowed me to witness some of the best talent in the industry, and I was honored to work with the likes of David Lubars, Susan Credle, Jimmy Smith, Andrew Robertson and Phil Dusenberry.

Second lesson learned: The ad industry is highly competitive, and you need to work hard and stay positive to find success.

That one seed planted by the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program has since blossomed into a career in which I've risen to my current position as EVP, Executive Creative Director at McCann New York. There, I have had the opportunity to work on brands such as American Airlines, the United States Army, MasterCard and Johnson & Johnson.

I owe my foot in the door into the advertising industry to the multicutural internship , which has helped me achieve my goals. From that first note from the MAIP representative who opened my eyes to the possibilities and who encouraged me not to give up after that initial application slip, the program has helped me knock down barriers and pursue my goals with determination and vigor. Without this program, I wouldn't be where I am today.

The irony of all this is if I had been accepted the first time I applied to MAIP I would have not been able to stay at BBDO beyond the internship's 10 weeks. Often, things work out just the way they're supposed to.

Third internship lesson learned: You've got to give back. The MAIP Alumni Association was founded in 1996 and in the recent years, thanks to advancements in technology, connecting alumni nationwide has become easier. With a more formalized and structured MAIP Alumni Association Council, we have been able to push the alumni offerings across the country.

In recent years, we have see a surge in past alumni reconnecting and giving back to the community that helped jump start their careers. They have served on panels, spoken at events, become mentors and participated in the graduation and The Face of Talent. Chelsea Spratling was a MAIP intern on my team in 2011. I took Chelsea under my wing as her mentor. After her internship ended, she took a position at mcgarrybowen as a junior copywriter. You can see what the alumni are up to at maipalumni.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
R. Vann Graves is EVP, Executive Creative Director, McCann Erickson NY.
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