How to Break into Advertising

How to Break into Advertising

What's the most important qualification advertising agencies look for in young candidates, whether their interests lean toward the creative professions, account management or media buying? Industry experts say it's all about having the right instincts (and preferably some training) about how to deliver a crafted message to a targeted audience in the complex universe of advertising media. Here's a look at the industry landscape.

Advertising Talent Is in Demand

Even given the daunting challenges posed by the advertising industry in the 2000s, this is a good time to launch a career.

"Sixty percent of our May [2006] grads have jobs at the best agencies in the country," says Ashley Sommardahl, assistant director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Adcenter, which offers a master's program in communications. "A couple of years ago, it was the opposite; it was so hard to get your foot in the door."

That's not to say new talent is in short supply. "We're not having any difficulty getting good, bright young people," says Michael Donahue, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in New York City.

Interactive and Multiplatform Campaigns Are Where the Action Is

More than ever, today's advertising pros must bring a broad intelligence to their work. Graphic designers can't retreat into occupational silos. "In a creative, you're looking for a glimmer of talent that can be applied to anything," says Donahue.

"We're looking for people with interests in music, new media, gaming, fashion and an intellectual curiosity in trends and teen culture," says Mary Weber, director of talent resources at Fallon Worldwide, a 500-employee Minneapolis-based ad agency specializing in branding. "We want someone with a global view, not US-centric."

Print and television aren't dead; they're simply not as sexy as new media. "There is a huge opportunity for people now in interactive," says Sommardahl. "Students have to consider every single angle, including interactive games and product placements."

"You have to become a little platform-neutral," says Jim Tobin, a partner at Brogan & Partners Convergence Marketing in Raleigh, North Carolina. "You need to know how to write for multiple media; you can't put long copy on Web sites, for example."

"Historically, ad people haven't been numbers people," Tobin adds. "But the numbers are becoming more and more important. You have to figure out where your target audiences are" and how to reach them with an arsenal of advertising media.

Diverse Ad Talent for Multicultural Markets

The need to address ever-more diverse audiences also is affecting how agencies hire. "Our multicultural advertising intern program brings bright kids of color into agencies in their junior year," says Donahue. In the last year, the program placed 105 interns in 30 agencies.

But it's not like agencies typically discriminate when handing out accounts that involve multicultural markets. "You don't necessarily have to be in Miami 24/7 to understand their Latin culture," says Weber.

Ad Pros Pay Varies

Salaries for advertising agency professionals range widely by thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, depending on factors such as the size and prestige of the agency and the chief markets in which it does business.

For example, senior designers earn a median salary of $65,000 a year, according to AIGA/Aquent's "2010 Survey of Design Salaries." Going down the corporate ladder a bit, median salary for entry-level designers is reported to be $37,500. These medians also vary by region, with the median salary for an entry-level designer in San Francisco, for example, hitting $42,000.

Learn more about advertising careers.