How do I get a graduate job in advertising?
The sad truth is that advertising as a profession has very little in common with the Mad Men stereotype of clever last-minute taglines and witty pitches, but it's still a fast-paced career. In a graduate role you could be working front-of-house – buying up space on television, radio, the internet and in newspapers – and liaising with clients and different departments within the agency. If you’re a graduate from a design or media-related course, you may be working outside of the negotiations – designing adverts and concepts or copywriting.
In every advertising role you will be expected to be passionate and creative, and possess excellent people skills and concrete commercial awareness. Increasingly digital skills are in demand as the industry is shifting towards mobile and online platforms.
Relevant degrees: public relations, marketing, advertising, design, creative writing.
Entry-level route one: account manager (agencies)
There are many advertising agencies across the UK that cater to both domestic and international clients. Many are large enough to have their own graduate schemes and normally start their lengthy application process around October.
Agencies take on graduates across different specialisations, but predominantly look for trainee account managers. Check out agencies such as BBH, Grey, AMV BBDO, Leo Burnett, M&C Saatchi and Ogilvy. There are many more scattered across the country, so keep an eye out for opportunities near you.
As a junior account manager, you will likely shadow and assist senior colleagues as they deal with accounts and clients before you are allowed increased responsibility, your own clients and projects. Communication and people skills are key – even if you don’t need to charm clients, you’ll need to work with a range of colleagues and departments.
Starting salaries are comparable to many other graduate jobs in the marketing and advertising field (in the region of £20,000), but good promotion prospects can increase the salary substantially. Training and development programmes are also normally part of the package for the first year.
Entry-level route two: media planning and buying (in-house)
Many large companies, firms and charities choose to forgo the hefty expenditure of employing an agency to manage their advertising, which enables them to retain money, staff and creative freedom in how they present themselves. Much of the work in-house will be liaising with various media outlets – organising the assembly of an advert and buying space to display it.
A media planning role will be very similar at an agency and in-house. In-house, however, you will have responsibility for only one client and there may be more of a focus on social media or even local level advertising depending on the size of the company.
Starting wages are likely to be similar to an agency too (again around £20,000), but the environment may be less competitive and performance-driven. With only one client to deal with, media planning and buying are key roles, as is project management.
Entry-level route three: working in sales
You may want to consider bulking out some of your experience with a sales job before applying to a major grad scheme. The telephone skills, client management and time management skills that employers look for can all be gained through an entry-level sales position. There are many companies that recruit young energetic people to commission clients for billboards and advertisements in various public spaces. The workload can be heavy and wages are normally minimal (£15,000–£18000) or commission-based. However, the experience will look good on your CV, and employers will understand that if you perform well in that sort of environment, you may be the right fit for an advertising career.
Entry-level route four: art direction and copywriting
Art direction and copywriting are not easy to get into as a graduate. Some trainee positions are available with major agencies, but there is a wealth of competition from freelancers, aspiring writers, artists and more experienced workers transferring from other professions.
At entry level in both copywriting and art direction many graduates will start off working for content mills as a freelance. See our article on journalism and writing for the web for more information.
Graduate employers in advertising
Here are some of the employers that recruit graduates annually. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does provide a good snapshot of what's out there to help you get started. You can search for more advertising graduate job opportunities here.
- AMB BBDO is an advertising agency that works with brands such as BT, Adidas, Walkers and Mercedes-Benz. It runs a graduate programme called AMV Academy. Graduates are recruited into three of its departments: account management, strategy and project management. The agency does not specify a particular grade or degree subject.
- M&C Saatchi is an international advertising agency headquartered in London. It runs a scheme for graduates with a degree in any subject. The programme begins with seven weeks of full-time training alongside the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s course for new starters in the industry. The application process includes an application form, cover letter and one-side CV summary.
- Grey is a well-known international advertising agency that has worked with brands such as Lucozade, Bose and HSBC. It runs an entry-level scheme called 'Upstart', which hires people into either the account management or planning department. This programme accepts applications from anyone regardless of degree or previous experience.
Check out our graduate areas of work for more information on what advertising involves as an account manager, media planner or copywriter.