Summer Reads

So you want a career in advertising? Here are 10 tips from Top Agency MDs

Propel your job search forward with guidance from the industry's best

By Avnie Bansal

Go beyond what you are asked to do, find a mentor, and knock on all doors.

Whether you are beginning a career in advertising or thinking of making a career switch, here are some tips from the MDs of top media and creative agencies. They talk about their experience in the industry, what helped them, what they look for in new talent, and give their top advice for people wanting to get on.

You can browse programmes and internship schemes running at various organisations here.

Victoria Day, Ogilvy UK

Do it! And don’t worry if you aren’t a graduate, or you are looking for a change of career, there are so many ways in and different roles. We take more and more apprentices on every year at Ogilvy UK across creative, account management, strategy and production, and finance and that is a fantastic way to come into the agency world I think, as it lets you get practical, paid experience and enables you to try out different clients and roles.

Lizzie Snell, Wunderman Thompson

Be yourself. Care about your team, the work, the clients, and trust your gut instinct.

Find a mentor. It can provide valuable outside perspectives and learnings that you wouldn’t come across otherwise, and when you feel ready pay it forward and help others rise. But most importantly, get involved in the industry because you love it. You have to have a passion for this business. It’s not a traditional job, and since I joined a lot has changed. There are times when the hours are long and the challenges are hard. But we do it because we love it.

Claudia Wallace, BMB

Mentorship has been hugely important to me over my career and I’m currently in the process of developing a mentorship scheme at BMB. Getting mentors in your life is key, but anyone starting out should know that you still have to do the work and put yourself out there.

I was lucky enough to have the legendary Jeremy Bullmore as my mentor since I started my career. When we first met, he told me: “No one cares about your career as much as you do. Get in touch with me as much as you want and I’ll always reply, but I’ll never contact you.” I’ve never forgotten that. My message to anyone coming up is to throw everything you have at every opportunity that comes your way, even if you don‘t think you’re qualified or don’t have enough experience. Ultimately, it’s down to you to make it happen.

Ed Palmer, St. Luke's

Whatever you want to do in advertising, you have to have taken initiative, and done something a bit different from the rest of the crowd. My journey through school and university was solid but uninspiring, and frankly, I wouldn’t employ 24-year-old me today.

This business deals in original ideas, which by definition have no precedent. A mindset that always gravitates back to the set path won’t tend to get you to them. You need to show that you have the aptitude for doing your own thing, breaking the process, and standing out from the crowd. It’s for good reason that our most long-standing initiative at St Luke’s has been the ‘make yourself more interesting’ fund.

Claire Hollands, MullenLowe (now CEO)

When I started out, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. I knocked on agency doors, emailed agency MDs and applied to every work experience scheme and job out there. I slept on sofas to get my first gig. From there, doors opened. I believe good things happen to good people. So, I would say don’t give up, be tenacious and never be afraid to ask for help.

Hannah White, New Commercial Arts

It doesn’t matter what you love - TikTok, a new brand, an old brand, a TV ad, an app experience - but be ready to talk about it and why you love it. There is nothing more exciting than talking to someone, particularly someone new to the industry, who brings their own excitement into the room.

Holly Ripper, BBH

Rely on your gut instinct. With the people you meet, the ideas you fight for, the jobs you get offered, the points of view you challenge, the time to stay put, the time to find a new adventure and most importantly, when to leave the pub.

Tommy Smith, McCann London

When starting out it’s worth getting to know the different roles within agencies so that you can then position yourself against them. Get out there and meet people. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to agency leads directly (LinkedIn is a game changer).

Thinking ahead to the role of MD. As you develop and progress in your career make sure you’re getting access and experience at all levels. Big and small clients. Local and global. Client leadership as well as departmental management experience. Running the numbers as well as nurturing the talent around you. And breathe…

In a nutshell, be open, approachable, human and fair (that’s what ai told me to write).

Carmen Vasile, AMV BBDO

I would offer the same advice as David Abbott had in his leaving speech – care for one another and when you do that brilliantly, everything else takes care of itself, including the work.

Caring for one another means providing clarity on where careers are heading and ensuring that everyone has clear career development plans. It offers peace of mind. Caring for one another ensures that everyone is supported across any major life change. It offers comfort and reassurance that no one is alone. Caring for one another also means wanting to spend time with one another. An internal culture that you want to be part of and belong to. Caring for one another means developing a diverse and inclusive culture where everyone feels heard and ‘at home’.

And when you do care for one another both as professionals and human beings, people are bold to try new things and innovate because they feel safe and secured to do the best work of their lives.

Carly Avener, Leo Burnett (now CEO)

So, the first thing is probably quite an obvious one - Work Hard. Work harder than the person next to you. It's not about long hours, it's not about burning the midnight oil, but it's not just doing the things you've been asked to do, but getting a little bit further because the people that do this, really stand out and really get supported to progress their careers. The second thing is self-belief. You've really got to believe in yourself and build your self-confidence and your ability to push yourself out of your comfort zone. These two are a recipe for career success.


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