The creative side of advertising is a glamour field that many want to get into. But it’s also becoming increasingly crowded. Far more so than when I got into the creative end.
It’s important to note that advertising is unlike any other type of work. While on the surface it may seem laid back, with people in creative bullpens wearing t-shirts, shorts and sandals, if you don’t produce, you’re history. The ad business is ravenous for fresh, new ideas that make people want to part with their hard-earned money. In advertising, the buck stops with you, the creative team—usually a copywriter and an art director.
Okay, so you’re convinced that a creative career in advertising is for you, and you’re ready to pull out all the stops to break in. Assuming you already hold a four-year liberal arts degree in either design (for art directors) or English/Marketing/Journalism (for copywriters), there are certain things you can do to move the odds in your favor:
Take a Course in Advertising—Not from a college or university but from people working in the field. Try to get a course where you create dozens of concepts and copy for “mock” ads. Courses that brutally critique your work are best. This will help you develop a tough “skin,” something you’ll need in this business.
Study Great Ads. Consider every nuance of what makes them great. Do this after you’ve completed step 1. Having attempted great advertising yourself, you will have a greater appreciation for how difficult it is to come up with a truly fresh idea that is both persuasive and informative. Remember, a great ad must do three things: Break the boredom barrier; make human contact; and answer the question, what’s in it for me.
Create a Portfolio of Great Ads. Pick a few popular products and create mock ads for them. Show them to your teachers (from the course you took in advertising). “Kill your darlings,” i.e., dump the ads you absolutely love and hone those that your teacher liked the most.
Attend Ad Award Shows. These are the best places to meet agency creatives. Here, peers get together to congratulate each other on their great creative work. Drinks usually have everyone in a great mood and people will be receptive to talking to new creatives eager to break in. Wait until the official awards ceremony is over and everyone is sufficiently “lubed” to approach copywriters, art directors and creative directors. Try to set up an interview with as many creatives as you can.
Get up to Speed on the Agency. Before going on your interview to pitch your portfolio, study the agency’s client list, the ads they ran for these clients, and the awards they won at the ad show you attended.
Pitch Your Portfolio. Go to as many interviews as you can and follow the general guidelines for job interviews discussed in these blogs. Be ready to accept an internship—paid is always nice, but unpaid with the promise of a job at the end of 6 months will work. Either way, you’ll be able to work on some real ads and possibly add these to your portfolio.
Good luck. If you have suggestions on breaking into the ad field, post them in the comments below.
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