How To Get a Job At A Creative Agency: Top Tips from an Account Director

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The below ‘How to Get a Job At Creative Agency’ post interviews Senior Account Director Gareth, 35, who works at a global advertising agency in London.

In this insightful interview he talks about:

  • the degree he did in uni and why
  • how he got into advertising
  • the % of what he learned in uni he uses in his job now
  • what he would do career wise if he was 18 again
  • the jobs since he graduated; the hours, the stress, the parties
  • what he likes and dislikes about his job
  • his advice on how to get into advertising
  • what gets you further in your career

How To Get a Job at a Creative Agency: Background

What is your degree in?

Bachelor of Business Studies (Marketing)

Why did you do the degree you did?

I did economics as an A level, and found it very interesting; demand and supply, how that applies to people making decisions.

There were modules in my economics course about marketing, brands and creating a want and need for a product, which I really liked.

There was a course in Brighton that was business studies with marketing, so there was a bit of a balance.

I wasn’t doing just marketing and putting all my eggs in one basket.

online marketing, internet marketing, digital marketing
Why did you embark on a career in advertising?

My degree was a sandwich course, for the third year I did work experience with a famous luxury goods company in London.

I worked in the marketing department; my boss told me if I managed to get all my work done, then I could go and get involved with the really cool stuff.

So, I used to get all my work done by Tuesday, and then spend the rest of the week speaking to the new product development guys, hanging out with the PR girls, seeing how the adverts are made.

That work experience was amazing!

I asked the advertising guys and account managers what their roles were like, and what their jobs entailed.

That gave me such great insight into a career in advertising.

I couldn’t recommend work experience enough to young people these days.

What percentage of what you learned in university have you used in your day-to-day roles?

50% or 60%, I picked my modules to align with what I wanted to do after university.

I was quite lucky I figured out quite early what I wanted to do.

how to get a job at a creative agency
With the benefit of hindsight, if you were 18 again now would you do anything differently degree-wise?

I always liked drama and acting.

Where I grew up, it was quite poor.

I always thought you had to be from a wealthier background to be an actor or performer, as you wouldn’t always have money coming in, etc.

I was a bit risk averse and didn’t want to take a chance.

If I could go back now, I’d maybe follow my passion a bit more. That would be the one regret I have.

Group of drama students

How To Get a Job at a Creative Agency: Jobs You have Done Since You Graduated

What are the jobs you’ve done since graduating? And what have they entailed?

2014 – Present

Senior Account Director, Advertising Agency, London

Delivering several different campaigns, keeping the wheels moving on all accounts.

2011 – 2013      

Account Manager, Advertising Agency, London

Starting to manage campaigns and getting my own clients to manage.

2007 – 2010    

Account Executive, Advertising Agency, London

Entry-level position, helping the account managers and directors with admin.

What are the things you most like about your career in advertising, and the things you don’t like?

Like:

  1. The variety. I’ve worked on 6/7 accounts in 10 years. Every time you get a new account, it feels like you’ve got a new job.
  2. Working in a young creative environment – advertising is young and vibrant.
  3. The money – you get paid quite well.
  4. You get a lot of responsibility at a young age. When you are 24/25 years of age, you are responsible for budgets of £1m.

Don’t like:

  1. A career in advertising is very long hours. Very rarely can you meet a friend on a Tuesday or a Wednesday evening as you are working. It’s 9am – 7/8pm, it can be 10-11 hour days.
  2. The client fatigue – some clients change things so much that it’s not even the idea anymore. On the agency side*, you are constantly selling, trying to please people rather than being the decision maker.
  3. The career progression. On the agency side, the 40-year-olds still do the long hours and stressful days, whereas on the client side the big bosses just do 9-5. It’s always a treadmill in advertising – I’m not sure it ever slows down much on the agency side.

(*A marketing brand manager will tell the advertising agency what they want the advert to look like. The agency then must meet their expectations.)

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Which would you prefer to work for: a small company or a big company, and why?

I started off with a small independent, and it was great. Then I moved to a bigger agency and found it was tough to get things done.

Have pursuing a career in advertising meant working long hours over the years?

Yes, most people would say a career in advertising is a lot of fun, it’s the people you meet.

Also, clients would stab each other in the back as there is only one brand manager role in their company for that brand/product.

In advertising agencies, it’s much more of a family that tries and help each other.

If someone wins a pitch, we all go out for drinks; there is a nice feel to working in an agency.

If you could start over and you were 22, but you know all you know now, would you do anything differently career-wise?

I might have tried to get into the creative side.

When creatives start off, they must do a lot of interning, and create a portfolio of their work.

It’s a lot tougher than getting a planning or account manager role.

So, I might have tried to go more creative, but it’s not easy!

How To Get a Job at a Creative Agency: Advice for Young People

What advice would you give a young person who wanted a career in advertising?

– Think about what you like. You don’t want to end up studying something that you are not interested in. Think about what you might enjoy doing and go get work experience to test and see whether you do like it.

– A lot of the young ones we take in are A level students, who are on their fifth work placement in five weeks! When I was their age I was spending my summers in Ibiza; they are way more on the ball than I was!

– Some of the interns that work for us are not very good. I encourage them to go on holiday and enjoy themselves!!

Picture of Ibiza
What gets you further in your career – knowing people or being good at your job?

You must be good at your job.

Look at me I didn’t know anyone; I was a scumbag working-class boy from Wales!

Going to those graduate assessment days, they were all really posh kids. I remember thinking I’m not going to get far here.

Starting out, I went knocking on doors and started in a small agency and worked my ass off, and I’ve done pretty well!

If you found the above How To Get A Job At A Creative Agency post helpful and want more, check out the advice of 100 graduates 10 years out of university in my book ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’.

You can get the free ebook version here.

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Hi, I’m Paul. I’m a Finance Director with 14 years experience working for big multinational companies.

I interviewed 100 graduates about their career paths and advice for a young generation.

This blog aims to help young people figure out their career paths.

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