Looking for a Job? Adland's Bigwigs Share How They Got Their Start

Some of Today's Top Execs Went to Unusual Lengths to Get Into Marketing -- Even Climbing Into the Mud

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For Rosemarie Ryan, most recently North American CEO of WPP-owned network JWT, breaking into the ad business took some guts. Ms. Ryan -- raised in Clapham, a district in South London, England, and a graduate of Middlesex College -- had been toiling in the research department of a TV station for 14 miserable months when she asked a friend who worked in the ad business for job advice.

The answer? Try account planning. But there was just one problem; Ms. Ryan didn't even know the names of any ad agencies, let alone anything about the advertising business. So, she opened up the phone book, starting with A (Abbott Meade Vickers) and went from there. She jotted down several agencies' contact information and sent the same letter to each. It recounted the tale of famous English soccer player Chris Waddle, who started working in a sausage factory and wound up playing in the World Cup. "I said just like Chris Waddle worked his way up, I want to start at your agency and one day end up owning my own."

The plan worked. "I got eight responses, and they all called me in because they said my letter made them laugh." Among them was Bates, and BBDO, where she began in 1986 as a junior planner. In the coming weeks, Ms. Ryan is expected to launch the details of her own venture, with former JWT North America chief creative Ty Montague.

David Shulman, president, Wunderman New York, went to the University of Massachusetts with the idea of pre-med but along the way he realized it wasn't going to be a good fit so he switched majors to psychology. "I chose psychology [as a major] making the link between the connection between the mind of the consumer and marketing," he said. While working at the career center on campus he learned that Ford was coming to his school on a recruitment trip, but the automaker was only recruiting business majors. "I wanted to work for Ford," he said. "So I conveniently added myself to the interview list. Ford spoke to me and was intrigued by the connection between marketing and psychology." The interview landed him on Ford's sales and marketing department's payroll.

Constanza Peuriot, global network development manager for Havas' MPG, calls her journey into agency world "how to achieve the American dream in one month." Originally from Argentina but having lived most of her life in Spain, Ms. Peuriot was interning at a creative agency in New York about two years ago but wanted to move to the media side of the business -- but she needed to find a new job within the next month to be eligible to stay and work in the U.S.

As luck would have it she had a connection, through the boss of a friend, to MPG's global CEO Maria Luisa Francoli. Ms. Peuriot wrote to her immediately; Ms. Francoli called her back at 9 p.m. that night asking her to come in for an interview that next morning. Unfortunately there wasn't a job for her but Ms. Peuriot followed up with Ms. Francoli and her team every day for three weeks by phone, email and in person lobbying them for the chance to work at MPG. After nearly a month of badgering, and just days before her deadline, Ms. Francoli was impressed enough with her to offer Ms. Peuriot a newly created position on the global marketing team.

Brad Casper, now CEO of Henkel U.S., was a financial analyst at General Electric's Aircraft Engine operation near Cincinnati when, by a stroke of luck, he was introduced to the world of marketing and package goods in late 1984.

He was at the wedding reception of one of his best friends, who was hosting a reception at one of Cincinnati's private clubs. While standing in line to greet the bride and groom, he stood next to a Procter & Gamble Co. executive, who began discussing the merits of P&G (as they are prone to do).

"I began discussing my dissatisfaction with being a 'bean counter' in an engineering-oriented business," Mr. Casper said in an email. By the time I kissed the bride, he had convinced me to consider a career in either sales or brand management."

Mr. Casper later had brochures sent to his house and set up an interview with P&G's beauty-care business. "I fell in love with the idea of being a brand manager," he said. "And a few weeks later I became a P&G marketer."

Australian product design graduate Matt Griffin was working long hours at Wagamama noodles restaurant in Soho, London. His dream was to work in digital design, but it was 1996, and there were few jobs in this new area of communications.

After a holiday in Greece, Mr. Griffin returned to Wagamama, but was fed up of explaining the complicated ordering system to confused customers. On his first night back he approached the job with even more attitude than usual, until eventually one disgruntled diner asked him, "What's your problem?" Mr. Griffin replied that he was sick of his job, and after a bit more chat, the diner asked him what he really wanted to do. "I'm a designer waiting to happen," was the bold reply.

The diner then revealed himself as Sean Blair, director of the Design Council, and suggested that Mr. Griffin call his friend Gary Lockton, founder of Deepend. Mr. Griffin was given a job. Two months later he was running the Renault Clio account, and three years later he set up Deepend Sydney, followed by Deepend Melbourne.

A.G. Lafley was certainly a legendary figure at Procter & Gamble Co., so it stands to reason he came into the company in a legendary way.

Speaking to P&G alums at a reunion in Chicago in June 2000, shortly after he was named CEO, Mr. Lafley recounted one of a series of job interviews with P&G executives as he was preparing to graduate from Harvard Business School.

Mr. Lafley had listed on his résumé fluency in Hebrew, something he'd gained during an assignment as a Hebrew interpreter while serving in Naval intelligence in the early 1970s.

The late Robert Goldstein, the legendary VP-advertising of P&G, was one of the interviewers. Upon reading about Mr. Lafley's linguistic skills, Mr. Goldstein began conducting the interview in Hebrew. Mr. Lafley admitted to the P&G alums that his Hebrew wasn't as fluent as he might have liked, but he still got the job.

Mr. Lafley added through an assistant at Clayton Dubilier & Rice, the private-equity firm where he's now a partner, that he had also listed a year of study in Paris on his résumé, and thus Mr. Goldstein also conducted part of the interview in French.

Mr. Lafley was at the time leaning toward joining McKinsey & Co. as a consultant, his assistant said. But the interview, sweaty palms or no, helped convinced him to go with P&G instead, where he also learned a thing or two over time about the need to back up advertising claims.

Alex Lopez Negrete, who has owned his own ad agency almost as long as he's played in bands, moved to the U.S. from Mexico to immerse himself in music. "I came up here for rock and roll, to be a musician," he says.

He met his wife, Cathy, while working the night shift at a 24-hour record store in Houston and going to college by day. After a serious discussion about their future, Mr. Lopez Negrete headed for the college-placement office and heard about a job as a radio sales rep. Not knowing the business, he envisioned a role closer to DJ than salesman, and turned up for the interview with shoulder-length hair and a playlist of music. He was hired anyway, and handed a rate card. "Then I called everyone I knew to ask what a rep does," he says.

Married at 21 and a father a year later, he kept working. He soon moved to a small local Houston agency where he did new business, copywriting, type setting, photography, media and billing before setting up his own agency in 1985. Today he is president-CEO of Lopez Negrete Communications, the No. 5 Hispanic agency, and Cathy is CFO.

And the music? He still plays in bands, and co-wrote the songs used in Dr Pepper and 7 Up's current Hispanic TV commercials."

Telisa Yancy, advertising director at American Family Insurance, was graduating as a marketing major and figured the best way to get experience in the industry would be to get a job at an advertising agency. She beat the streets and the career centers at the University of Illinois looking for opportunities at some of Chicago's iconic agencies, and in the lobby of one while waiting for an informational interview she ran into one of the agency's clients, also waiting for a meeting.

The client told her if she really wanted to be a great marketer, she should learn the practice from the client side. His advice? Learn sales, customer satisfaction and how to "make the cash register sing." She made a 180-degree turn in her approach to getting hired and interviewed only with brand-side companies that offered both sales and marketing experiences. She said that 10-minute conversation changed my life and how she approached her career.

Spending the early part of her career rotating between sales and marketing functions helped her merge the brand management discipline with the ROI-based realities of the current marketing environment.

Credit: Scott Gries
For years, Steve Mandala had resisted the broadcasting industry. After all, his father, Mark Mandala, had long been in the business (eventually rising to run ABC's owned-and-operated stations, then to become president of the ABC network itself), and the son wanted to carve his own career path. But in 1987, Steve returned from his honeymoon to find the commercial production company for which he worked was closing. "I had no job. I was slowly giving up on that conviction," he recalled.

So he paid a visit to a headhunter, who told him to head over to Telemundo's Los Angeles TV station for an interview -- but didn't tell him who he was meeting or even who to ask for when he got there. The headhunter did the same thing with the executive Mr. Mandala was meeting.

So he was surprised to find his meeting was with a boyhood friend who had known his father. The headhunter "had done us both a great favor by shielding from knowing who we were meeting with," Mr. Mandala explained, since the recruiter knew Mr. Mandala was intent on walking his own career path. Otherwise, Mr. Mandala might have avoided the interview.

He was offered a job at KVEA in Los Angeles, which became part of NBC Universal when the company acquired Telemundo in 2002. Today, Mr. Mandala is exec VP-cable advertising sales at NBC Universal.

In 1992, Paul Gunning, now the CEO of Tribal DDB, hadn't planned on sticking around Chicago. But things didn't turn out as planned. "My 1970 Volkswagen bus caught fire and I was stuck here. So I got a job," said Mr. Gunning. He disliked the job, selling payroll services door-to-door for Alliance Data Processing, but said it taught him the basics of selling. "I love the theater of a pitch," he said.

His first ad job came when his then-girlfriend's father (now father-in-law) ran sales for People magazine and introduced him to some agency people. It took him a dozen interviews and more than seven months to get an entry-level position making half of what he made previously.

Mr. Gunning eventually wound up at Tribal DDB after meeting with the agency's Chicago managing director. He was acting as a representative of his then-employer, a dot-com. "She was struggling with McDonald's and I offered to help. In truth, my dot-com was about to blow up and my first child was about to be born. I needed to find a new job for a year or two. That was 10 years ago last week."

Stu Klein's position as a research analyst for Colgate-Palmolive in 1983 was a bit of a letdown. So he resigned at 25, not knowing quite what he was going to do next.

A day after he quit, there was some noise in the package-goods sector in terms of account moves. Wells Rich Greene had been assigned a number of new accounts from Procter & Gamble, so Mr. Klein decided to walk into the agency, unannounced, and hand over a résumé.

He ended up with a position.

And just how did WRG end up with so much P&G work? Because Young & Rubicam resigned the business to take on a new global assignment from ... Colgate-Palmolive.

"Some things just never change in our industry in terms of following the new business movement activity," said Mr. Klein, who today is exec VP-managing director at DraftFCB Healthcare. "I always thought there was some kind of advertising karma there."

With social media playing an increasingly key role in digital marketing, it seemed only natural to Spencer Donald to put the platform to use while marketing himself to potential employers.

In June the 27-year-old associate copywriter at PPBH launched a fine-tuned campaign using Facebook's targeted ad platform to reach employees at the agencies he had applied to -- Crispin Porter and Sid Lee and Huge, among others. He hoped it would give him the edge he needed to get noticed. "I was sending out résumés and always getting that form email back," Mr. Donald said. "I wish I could get people to look at me for at least a second more than that. I thought, I really have nothing to lose."

It didn't take long for Mr. Donald's phone to start ringing. Employees at the agencies he targeted started seeing his ads -- which included a headline, a photo, a short blurb of enticing copy and a link to his portfolio website -- appear on the sides of their Facebook pages. He soon heard back from a total of seven agencies, some of which wanted to consider him for specific open positions. He was even contacted by a recruiter from Publicis who had heard of his efforts despite having never targeted that agency. In July he accepted a L.A.-based position at Visionaire Group, where he was offered a position as a copywriter and strategist. He'll start later in August.

He said he's excited to be working at a smaller shop, and is glad he took a less conventional approach to self-promotion. "That's what you'll have to do for your clients," Mr. Donald said. "There's nothing wrong with showing you can do that."

Stephanie George, exec VP of Time Inc. and president of Time Inc. sales and marketing, didn't start out pursuing a career in magazines. She went to school to be a teacher and then began doing just that, teaching speech and communications to art and fashion students in Dallas. "While I was there I asked several guest speakers to come into the class that were fashion- oriented," Ms. George recalled. "So I asked the publisher of Women's Wear Daily to come in and talk to the students. I got to know her, we spent some time together and she asked me what I ultimately wanted to do. I guess she was impressed."

When she asked Ms. George to sell advertising for Women's Wear in the Dallas area, Ms. George protested that she was already teaching. "She said, 'Teach your classes in the morning and you can sell advertising in the afternoon,'" Ms. George recalled. Eventually Ms. George's ad sales increased to the point that she left her teaching position behind.

When the now global CEO of BBDO Worldwide, Andrew Robertson, was 12 years old, he declared to his parents he'd like to one day become a civil engineer. Upon graduation from high school, he moved from his native South Africa to England to study at Imperial College, and in between partying and cramming for exams, was elated to land a job in his chosen field at a building site in the town of Windsor. "I thought it would be drafting tables but actually it was standing up to my knees in mud with freezing-cold fingers," said Mr. Robertson. "I lasted four weeks."

That unpleasant experience prompted Mr. Robertson to switch his major to economics, and take up working nights at a local bar. One of the regulars there was well-to-do, drove an Alfa Romeo, and overall seemed to be living the good life. "One day I asked him 'What do you do for a living?' and he said I work for an advertising agency." So, Mr. Robertson decided he'd do the same, writing a dissertation on magazine advertising which he on a whim sent to Campaign magazine. To his surprise, they published it as an op-ed piece with a photograph -- "I looked like I was in Duran Duran," says Mr. Robertson -- and while everyone else bombarded agencies with résumés and creative books, he simply sent shops a photocopy of that column. The result? Three job offers, two in account management and one in media planning, the latter at Ogilvy & Mather, which he accepted in July 1982.

A self-described "direction-less art major in college" in 1980, Mark Drossman happened upon a New York Times announcement: "Della Femina Travisano & Partners is proud to be losing three of its best people. Introducing Drossman Yustein Clowes."

"Considering that there aren't that many Drossmans in the world, I knew that the Neil Drossman at Della Femina's spin-off agency had to be related to me," said Mr. Drossman, who is now co-founding partner of health-care ad agency Extrovertic. "So I sent him a letter introducing myself and offering my services for an unpaid summer internship at his new shop."

Even though it turned out that Neil Drossman was a distant cousin to Mark Drossman, nepotism did not net the latter a job. Scheming did.

"I went back to school and I went to my department adviser and told him -- well, lied to him -- that an agency in New York had offered me a semester-long internship. I asked him if there was a way he could help me to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Mr. Drossman said. "He said I could sign up for four classes he'd be teaching in the coming semester, but I wouldn't have to attend them. Instead, I could go work in New York, and at the end of the semester, simply come back and give a presentation on my experiences.

"Next, I wrote to Neil and told him that my school was offering me an extraordinary chance to work in New York for a full semester's worth of credits. I would be willing to take any job and would work for free," Mark said. "I soon received a letter asking, 'When can you start?'"

In the early 2000s, Andrew Giangola was running global media relations for McKinsey & Co., which was a great place to work, he said, but the company known as the "Greta Garbo of management consulting" -- i.e. "I vant to be a-lone" -- didn't fit his aggressive PR style.

A friend asked if he was interested in a similar position at Nascar, a good fit since Mr. Giangola was a fan of the circuit dating back to the early 1970s. He was flown to Nascar headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla. The airport is situated not far from the famed 168,000-seat Daytona International Speedway, and Mr. Giangola had a few hours to kill before his interview, so he drove over to the track. He jumped out of his rental car and made his way across what looked like a grassy marsh to see if any gates were open to sneak in.

"I looked down and, oh crap, my suit pants were covered with mud," Mr. Giangola recalled. "I ran back to the rental car completely freaking out. I wanted the PR job, but more importantly, I didn't want to look like an idiot. I worked frantically. I used everything -- tissues, spit, the floor rugs of the car ... anything to clean my suit pants and wing tips."

After he cleaned up as best he could and started to drive to the interview, he noticed a sign around the bend of the Speedway -- "Track Tours -- All Day Today."

At the interview with George Pyne, then Nascar's COO, and Jim Hunter, VP-communication, Mr. Pyne looked at Mr. Giangola and said: "We're not gonna waste anyone's time going over your past experience. We just need to know one thing: Do you have the passion to do what it takes to succeed in Nascar?"

Mr. Giangola looked down as his soiled slacks and crusty shoes and said, "Gentlemen, let me tell you the story of a man who flew to Daytona and just had to see the race track."

He was offered the job on the spot.

Cindy Gallop is known for many things, to name a few: a successful 16-year career at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, art collecting, fabulous shoes, younger men, and throwing parties at her posh, black-walled New York apartment. But what some don't know about her is that her very first love was theater. As president of the Oxford University drama society, English literature grad Ms. Gallop didn't just act on the stage -- she wrote plays, directed them and was a stage manager. When she came to the realization that didn't have what it took to make it as an actor or professionally, she pursued designing promotional posters and marketing the shows.

She was so convincing that one day a woman came up to her and said, "Young lady, you could sell a fridge to an Eskimo." When she approached London agencies for the first time in 1985, they declined to hire her because -- in that typical chicken-and-egg way -- she didn't have enough experience. So she applied for a graduate trainee program in account management where she was accepted by Bates, working on DHL and Mars confectionary products, including Snickers.

Said Ms. Gallop, who these days travels the world giving speeches and running a few creative technology start-ups: "In my first month there, I drank more champagne than I had in my entire life, and I thought, this is the life for me."

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