My graduate career in communications on the WPP Fellowship
In my second year at university I read an article about how communication can bridge gaps in society. Previously unsure about what I wanted to pursue after graduating, this concept drove me towards advertising and a desire to look into one of the most powerful methods of communication today. I completed internships in this area and, while enjoying them, felt I wanted to learn more about what else ‘communications’ could entail.
WPP is the world’s leader in marketing communication services, and owns a range of agencies that carry out every conceivable kind of communications work. I found out about WPP’s Fellowship during my internship at Grey, one of WPP’s advertising agencies, and learned that the program would enable me to experience a range of these different areas.
When my friends and I started applying for jobs I felt that there was a narrative that the creative jobs I would love would not be well paid or have structured development programmes. Looking into the Fellowship, I saw that this needn’t be the case. I could be in an environment that had rigour, pace and was intellectually demanding but also creative and fun.
How the WPP Fellowship is structured
The Fellowship is structured around three year-long placements at different WPP companies. Jon Steel, who runs the scheme, works closely with mentors within the different agencies, taking into account your interests and even factors such as which interviewers you got on well with, to give you guidance as to where you should spend your first year. He recommended that I spend mine at Brand Union, where I worked on strategies to improve organisations’ branding and then helped to put these strategies into action.
After the first year, you get a lot of say in where you want to go next. I talked to my assigned mentor and peer-mentor who, when I said I wanted to see the political side of communication, put me in touch with my current boss. The WPP Government & Public Sector Practice works with policymakers and public sector communicators to tackle the key challenges facing governments today. I work in a very small team, so my role can involve anything from writing research reports to conducting interviews over the phone to organising the Easter quiz. I’ve still got another year of the Fellowship and am in the exciting process of discussing how best to spend it.
I feel that graduates struggle between wanting certainty more than anything, but feeling scared of making the wrong decision or being tied down. This Fellowship really gives you the best of both worlds in that regard: you’ve got an employment roof over your head, but you have the freedom to try out different areas of work that interest you and change your mind. You’re not starved for excitement either. The scheme is able to give you opportunities that you’d not come across normally. Not only did I attend a training week at a French château, but I’ve helped to organise a meeting between the UN Secretary-General and the CEOs of the world’s biggest advertising holding companies at the Cannes Lions festival. In 2017, I assisted the launch of a report at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Challenges and support
The bittersweet challenge of the Fellowship is that you become attached to your placements. Once you get settled in, it feels like you’re leaving just as you’re taking off. It’s challenging and disruptive to start your life over again three times in as many years but the upside is worth it: going through change teaches you a lot and gives you a rare perspective on the industry. (And if there’s a placement you really love, you can look into returning there after the three years are completed!)
One thing I’ve discovered is that there’s no one route into communications and no particular set of skills that outshines the others. People who have done the Fellowship have included ex-army officers, physicists and artists. The most important thing is showing a genuine interest in the industry. Because everybody shares these interests and is following their own path, competitiveness between Fellows is very rare. This has created an amazing support network and a group of people with whom I would choose to spend my weekend as well as my working week.
My careers tip: don’t undervalue yourself
It can feel like students are constantly being told how difficult it will be for them to get a job and, while it is definitely a challenge, you shouldn’t feel as if you need to take the first job offer that comes along. If you end up doing something you don’t enjoy, you’re probably not going to be very good at it. Don’t undervalue yourself – it may sound a bit sickly, but you have skills and deserve a job that is right for you.