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The advertising industry can be difficult to crack from the outside. Fascinating as Mad Men may be, it doesn’t tell us much about the ad execs of today – and crucially what they actually do. While we may be bombarded daily by campaigns on TV, on the tube, and through our tablets, what goes on behind the walls of the ad agencies can be somewhat opaque. So how do you find out? Ten points if you guessed: ‘get experience’. So how do you get experience without, um, experience? RHUL student Ayesha Ghafoor found out first-hand...
“At the end of my second year at RHUL I attended the Creative Careers Fair, mainly to wider my horizons and consider careers paths I had previously not thought of.
“Whilst there, I had the opportunity to chat to a RHUL graduate who was at the time working for JWT as an account manager. I learned that she had spent the previous week in Argentina. From that point on I was hooked to everything she told me. A job in advertising seemed to be exciting, fast-paced and dynamic. Her advice was simple; ‘Get experience’. I went straight home and downloaded the application form for JWT’s work experience scheme. I spent hours on it, making sure that it was the best it could possibly be. I even ended up drawing pictures all over it.
“A couple of months went past and I still hadn’t heard anything. I emailed. I emailed again. I emailed a third time. Eventually I got the response I wanted; I had been invited to complete two weeks’ work experience in the summer of my third year.
“I can’t really describe an average day, because every day was so different. However I got to experience what account managers actually do - I was working on real projects for real clients. There was no photocopying or tea making involved.
“The office was split into sections with small teams of account managers working for a particular client. I mainly worked on the Johnson&Johnson account, getting the chance to watch footage from focus groups on the new YouTube content for Listerine. I summarised the main conclusions into a PowerPoint for the client, and I worked on Calpol’s Facebook page coming up with the statuses. I compiled a competitor analysis for Wilkinson and I even got to sit in on an audio recording of the new Listerine radio advert in the studios. I tried to get as involved as I possibly could. When I had finished a task I would always try and find something else that I could do to help. This resulted in me helping on a pitch for a new client, which led to exposure with the creative team (the ones who actually create the advertisements).
“All in all the experience was great in that I had full exposure to the job; I received positive feedback and know that it’s a role I would enjoy in the future. However, it is a tough industry to break into. My two years of part-time work experience, a year-long internship in PR in Madrid, the two weeks worth of work experience at JWT and being on track for a 2:1 wasn’t enough for me to make it through to the interview stage of their graduate scheme. So my advice to anyone thinking about advertising is to get work experience (lots of advertising firms offer schemes ranging from 2 days to 2 weeks) and then do all that you can to be the best candidate! Be prepared to take a few knock backs and keep trying.
“Despite not getting through, there’s always a silver lining, a very bright and promising silver lining. I’m through to the final stage of Fujitsu’s project management graduate scheme and am passing through the various stages of Telefonica’s marketing graduate scheme. I have also bagged an internship with Barclays this summer in Operations and will be applying to two masters courses in London, just to keep my options open. For now, it’s back to working on an essay for my BA European Studies with Spanish degree...”
So, in summary: attend any events where you can meet and network with industry insiders. Be persistent with your applications - don't necessarily take silence as a "no". When you're in there, be proactive, enthusiastic and volunteer to get involved with everything going on - this can lead to the all-important exposure to new teams and contacts. Finally, don't be disheartened by a couple of unsuccessful applications - no-one gets there without a little (or a lot of) hard graft!