So, you want to get into advertising?


June 17, 2013 by smallarmyjeff

I have a confession to make.  When I was a Senior at UNH, I applied for an internship at Arnold Advertising.  The rejection letter came back saying I applied too late.  But, the signature at the bottom of the letter caught my eye:  “Jon Castle, Intern Coordinator.” So, I immediately picked up the phone, called Jon Castle, and begged my former RA (Resident Assistant) from UNH to let me in.  One month later, I was a media intern (unpaid) at Arnold Advertising, and the rest is history.  I got into this business because of a connection (and begging). Thank you Jon!

Twenty-plus years later, as students, recent college grads and others ask for my advice about advertising, I feel compelled to share this story.  However, I do have a few  pieces of advice that I hope will help those considering a career in advertising:

1.  The hardest part about advertising is getting in.
As you already read, I got lucky.  But, for most people, getting into this business is the most difficult part.  Do whatever it takes to get in the door, even if it means working for free.  Once you are in the door, the opportunities are everywhere you make them.

2.  “Fun” does not necessarily mean “easy.
Advertising can (and should) be a fun business to be in – it’s creative, it’s collaborative and every day brings new challenges.  However, it is also full of tight deadlines, differing opinions, difficult feedback, long days/nights and big personalities.  It takes thick skin to be in this business.  Be prepared.

3.  It is a small world.
Everyone in this business knows one another (especially in Boston).  We’ve worked at other agencies together, met at industry events (there are quite a few), sat on panels together or even met in the lobby of a new business pitch (that doesn’t only happen on Mad Men). We compete with one another, but we are also friends with one another.  Be nice to everyone.  You never know what the future will bring.

4.  You don’t know it all – and you never will.
To me, this is the beauty of advertising.  Every day, we learn.  If you think you know it all, you do not belong in this business.  Every perspective, every interaction and every experience is a learning opportunity.  Take advantage of it, or you will quickly become irrelevant.

5.  Relationships are everything.
It’s not just about who you know – it’s about how they know you.  Be yourself and take the time to get to know others.  More than anything, we all want to work with people we like, trust and can have fun with.   Great work follows.  And, so does opportunity.

If you’re looking to get into this business, I hope this helps.

If you’re in this business, please feel free to add or comment to any of the above.

If you don’t fall into either of the above categories, please share this with others who you believe can benefit.


6 thoughts on “So, you want to get into advertising?

  1. Don Packer says:

    It was Hollywood for me. And a girl who was temping at a department store on my last night as assistant manager of housewares. She mentioned her mom was in the business. She took my number. She was very nice. I never saw her again. But six months later her mom, who was President of the Film Editors Union, got me my first gig sight unseen on her daughters recommendation. I never forgot that.

    Good thoughts in this article. Thanks Jeff.

  2. Jim Carney says:

    Couldn’t this be what’s exactly wrong with advertising? I did my stint in the industry working for free at Arnold Worldwide(Broadcast Production) and Hill Holliday(Media Planning) for an entire year. All I wanted to do was work hard. Unfortunately during the great crash of 2008, I saw the ugly side of the layoffs and entire floors being wiped out. It was quite scary to see so many hardworking people being let go.

    Advertising should be an inherently open industry instead of what it’s become like a “Second Hollywood”. Creativity and the power of advertising should be open to many many people, as in everybody. Advertising shouldn’t be about who you know, how you know them, and relationships.

    It should be about your success, your creativity, and the hours you put in creating a pitch to land a client, or optimizing a campaign to keep one. As for getting into the industry, getting a job in the industry should never be about your prowess to “work a room”, although that certainly is apart of it as with to extent any industry is.

    You bring up some really good points though Jeff! Do you think it’s a good thing the industry is like this? I’ve always thought about this exact thing about advertising, its such a peculiar industry to me.

    I certainly agree with number 2. and number 4, but i think the elitism in advertising needs to go, and more people should be allowed to create the next big thing, but the truth is that it could come from anywhere. I believe having one Hollywood is enough.

    • Jim, Thanks for the comments. I actually believe many of the points are applicable to whatever field you get into. At some level, regardless of industry, you need to build relationships to succeed. It’s not about “working a room” – it’s about being authentic, honest, hard-working, passionate, humble, curious and caring. At the end of the day, we all want to work with people we like – and, of course, they also have to be good at what they do. But, to answer your question: I don’t believe the advertising industry is peculiar, it just attracts peculiar people (as do most creative industries). And perhaps that is just one other thing I love about this industry.

  3. Michele Levy says:

    Great post, Jeff! And so true…My senior year in college, I decided that I needed an internship in advertising (since Harvard did NOT prepare you for a job in that field). Started calling through the phone book (remember those?!) and finally got someone (it took me til the letter “P”) who said, “we don’t take interns but we’re looking for a part time receptionist”. Thus a career was launched. And so glad I started there…not only a great view of the entire agency, but perfect training for what it takes to launch your own consulting practice, as well.

  4. Peter Seronick says:

    So, I couldn’t agree more with you. I teach part time at Emerson College in the marketing communications department. And I tell every student who asks me how to break in that they have to remember that no agency is waiting for you to arrive as the silver bullet. And if they are there are about a hundred others just like you (nothing personal, student person). It has always been a who you know versus what you know entry into this business. It’s not something we all like to admit to, but it’s reality. I tell every student that to find their first job in the business they first have to create their own personal network. Every name leads to another name (especially here in Boston).

  5. Ellen Lerner says:

    Great article Jeff—good sound advice to get a job in just about any biz.

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