I always knew a career in advertising was going to be tough. Whether due to its Darwinian competitiveness or tendency to only hire those who know a friend in the industry, it’s fair to say that getting my foot in what seems is the narrowest of doors is proving impossible. This blog illustrates my experience of hunting for internships so far and highlights the frustrations and pressures I believe many students face, particularly on my course, in pursuit of the elusive agency placement.
Knock, knock… Knock, knock…
The saying “no news is good news” is a questionable one. After contacting what must be at least 50 advertising agencies across the UK, I have had replies from approximately 10. Not offers, replies. With every website stating sentiments such as “We’d love to chat”, “Pop in and see us” or the cliché “Our door is always open”, the reality of it all is entirely different. Despite many emails students send simply enquiring whether that agency does offer placements, the lack of replies is astounding. Yes, everyone in advertising is rushing between client demands and last-minute strategy swapping, but if aspiring new talent cannot get past the first hurdle, how are we meant to be part of the race at all?
“My old man’s a dustman”. “Mine’s a Chief Strategy Officer”
One thing that is hard for many students is the apparent sense of nepotism within advertising (albeit maybe just at entry level). Countless times have I seen students spout the “Well, my mum knows this guy…” line, with this often ending with “so yeah he made a few calls and I start next week!” I realise this is probably the same with every industry (heck, it is in politics), but seeing endless years of hard work come to nothing just because you don’t have the ‘connections’ others do is gut-wrenchingly disheartening. This probably comes across as a bad case of ‘sour grapes’ (and yes, you’re right for thinking that), however this is something I have not only experienced myself, but also seen first-hand in the frustrations of others at my university.
“Seeing endless years of hard work come to nothing just because you don’t have the ‘connections’ others do is gut-wrenchingly disheartening”
The hidden gems
Before you think this blog is purely negative, it isn’t. My hunt for internships so far, paid or unpaid, hasn’t been completely fruitless. Every now and then, after calling an agency, I get the chance to speak with someone who has ‘been in my shoes’, knows how it feels and understands my frustrations. Whenever this occurs, I find myself giddy with excitement at the prospect of this agency being ‘The One’ and the fact I haven’t just been re-directed to another seemingly false email address. These rare occurrences have seen me speak to some of the kindest people I have met in advertising, with many being of highly important roles within the biggest agencies. To these wonderful humans, I cannot express how grateful I am for your time, attention and empathy.
Advertising and proud
If you could design a graduate for an advertising job, what would they be like? Creative? A crafter of killer strategies? A good knowledge of the communications industry? If you answered yes to any of those, it’s likely you’re the minority. Time and time again we’re told that the ideal graduate for advertising would’ve studied Maths, History or The History of Maths; not advertising itself. As a student of Bournemouth University’s BA Advertising programme, I strongly rebuke this view. My course thus far has given me an incredible amount of theoretical and practical knowledge on advertising, marketing and society itself. Project after project, my work partner and I find ourselves thinking more strategically than ever before. Whether this is during the mining of deeply-rooted insights or creation of juicy copy, we are now seeing ourselves become more and more like the advertisers we see during our agency visits.
The door is closing…
Someone recently described the advertising industry as “on lockdown for new employees” to me a few days ago. Before this, a lecturer reminded us that there are 800 applicants for every 1 job in advertising. This left many of my class with jaws agape and optimism shredded. And so it should. This is a terrifying statistic to someone who has spent the last three years doing everything to give himself an edge and, whilst it may not be that way in 5 or 10 years, it certainly makes entering the industry right now a vertical climb. So many students I know are doing all they can to climb what is the slipperiest of advertising ladders: volunteering at events, paying expenses for unpaid work experience, spending countless Sundays in the library. Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that this generation is incredibly hungry to make something of themselves, no matter how tough it may be.
This is my experience on the hunt for internships and I hope to end it soon.
The voice of the industry: what should you do?
By Helen Brown, Global Chief HR & Talent Officer at MediaCom
First of all, having been there myself, I understand the frustration of not receiving answers to your request for an internship and I hope this is the exception not the rule. I also appreciate that you may be aware of the pressures the people you contact are under, in many cases they are working very long hours, constantly accessible via their mobile and quite often this doesn’t stop just because it’s late in the evening or the weekend. Then your email arrives out of the blue. They don’t know you, they don’t know anyone who knows you but like me, they remember how hard it was to start out, so in their heart they want to help and in their head they make a mental note to contact you. And a week later you’re still on their ‘To Do’ list. And then a month later another stack of urgent client, team, legal, financial, structural, developmental requests have hit their desk and suddenly their best intentions to reach out to you have been swallowed up because they have a full-on highly pressurised job, and I’m sorry to say; that job doesn’t always include responding to internship requests from students as yet unknown to them. And then of course you have to contend with the fact their family and friends may also be asking them to help find jobs for their kids because they are in a position to do so and whilst nepotism isn’t to be applauded, I don’t know many parents who wouldn’t help their own child to get their first job.
So how do you ‘get in’?
Let’s not forget you are entering the communications industry where building a connected and broad personal network will be invaluable to you in your career, so while time spent in the library is useful if you need to study, I suggest you start to find out who amongst your relatives and friends might just know someone, who knows someone at agency X. And if they don’t, then build your own relationships. If the account director I referred to above doesn’t know you the first time you emailed, what about the 2nd, 10th, 50th? What about sending articles to a contact in an agency that they might be interested in or tweeting congratulations on their recent pitch win – it’s easy enough to find this information in industry publications. Did you continue to contact them at all, or did you just label them as just another agency person who never responds?
Jack, thanks to your blog for Inspire! by EACA and for your shout out to the industry, you now know someone to talk to, so do some research, see if you like the idea of media (not advertising, we tend to hire more neuroscientists) and email me to arrange a conversation that might open a previously closed door.
I hope to hear from you,