How do I get a graduate job in advertising?
Advertising is about getting a message out there but, unlike PR, a company has to pay for the privilege.
You may want to consider bulking out some of your experience with a sales job before applying to a major grad scheme.
How to get a graduate job in advertising: Entry-level roles
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.
Advertising is a competitive industry and graduate roles are likely to be highly sought after. This may especially be the case during the coronavirus pandemic: while the advertising industry is able to operate in much the same way as it did prior to the pandemic, reductions in spending by clients and economic uncertainty in other sectors is likely to affect ad agencies. As such, advertising employers may alter their graduate recruitment plans compared to other years. You can find out more about job hunting during the pandemic here.
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.
You don’t need a marketing or advertising-related degree to work in advertising, but one may be beneficial. Relevant degree subjects include public relations, marketing, advertising, design and creative writing.
- Advertising professionals aren’t just hired by ad agencies, large organisations with internal marketing departments (particularly retailers, FMCG and media companies) will often hire advertising professionals. Start your job search by looking at the most popular media and advertising employers, as voted for by students in The UK 300.
What are some entry-level advertising roles?
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.
- Finding a career in sales might be made easier with experience in promotion or telesales, which will also help build marketing-relevant skills. Find out more here.
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.