THE GRADUATES - THE NEW RECRUITS: What makes graduates decide to enter media or advertising rather than better-paid professions? Jenny Watts finds out

Anyone who has been through the rigours of the advertising agency interview process - such as Jonny Madderson in our feature on job seekers last week - knows exactly how committed you need to be even to get past the first round. Advertising is no career to flirt with until something better comes along. It requires blood, sweat and passion, and the ability to keep getting up when those smug gits who've already made it in the business keep knocking you down.

Agency chief executives might moan that the younger generation doesn't have advertising in its DNA like the industry giants who built the business in the 70s and 80s, but today's recruits don't even get a toe in the door without grit.

Once in, though, how do these new recruits find the business they've fought so hard to enter? Are the long hours and modest pay (compared with the top-end graduate career options such as management consultancy) outweighed by the variety, the stimulation and the sheer damn sexiness of the ad business? Oh, and by the chance to make quite a bit of money down the road if you're really good (salaries well above the £300,000 level are increasingly commonplace in senior agency management)?

As part of a major study into the early careers, thoughts and experiences of the industry's newest recruits, Campaign is tracking a handful of last year's graduate trainees across the next two years, monitoring progress and how their jobs and opinions about the business change during that time. We've chosen a broad range of graduates to monitor and all have agreed to be open and honest about their experiences; there's no room for corporate PR in this study.

It's an interesting time to be taking the temperature. The new IPA census figures show larger agencies cutting their workforce by 4 per cent, while the majority of staff are aged between 25 and 34. Reduced workforces mean graduates are more likely to be thrown into the deep end and perhaps have a shorter timeframe in which to make their mark.

In this latest installment of our series, we're introducing the graduates who will be taking part and finding out why they have chosen a career in advertising, how they got in and their early impressions. We'll be returning to the five trainees in a few months' time to find out how their careers are shaping up, and whether advertising is turning out to be quite the business they thought it would be.

DAMIAN BRADFIELD

Agency: Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners

Title: Account executive

Age: 25

University course: Geography at London School of Economics

Starting salary: £18,000

While juggling a job doing accounting for the Gucci group with his degree at LSE, Bradfield was also developing a feel for the advertising industry by setting up a business producing calendars for universities, funded by selling ad space.

A little older than many of his peer group, Bradfield has been around the block more than most graduates. He spent an abortive year at Oxford Brookes University before dropping out and moving to South Africa. On his return - via a spell in Holland - Bradfield worked as a trainee accountant "just because it paid the best wage".

Bradfield, who currently works on COI Communications' adult sexual health and teenage pregnancy business, as well as on the Bank of Scotland account, has the kind of ambitious streak you'd expect to find among those who've made it through the gruelling intake process. But like many of his peers, he found getting into the industry wasn't easy. He condemns university careers advisors as "tedious and completely unhelpful", but was lucky to see the DLKW position advertised on a website.

His early observations reveal the concerns of young recruits. "The industry can be quite hierarchical, which is unnecessary these days. It's about a team effort," he says. He adds that he can understand why grads get disillusioned, warning: "Don't give them donkey work." Agencies, he reckons, should give grads proper tasks, but adds: "There should be room for making errors."

He's also under no illusions about what the industry needs to do to make advertising more attractive to grads. "It's got to be money," he says.

"I'd done the unglamorous side of marketing, and while management consultancies and ad agencies have similarities in strategic thinking, I realised I wanted to do something I enjoyed. But there obviously has to be a potential to earn more money. I don't want to be earning £18,000 for the rest of my life."

JAMES MORRIS

Agency: TBWA/London

Title: Account executive

Age: 22

University course: Philosophy at Cambridge

Starting salary: £18,500 + £1,000 bonus

After flirting with the idea of a drama career, Morris chose to explore a career in management consultancy, while also applying for a graduate position at TBWA. Having accepted a job with a consultancy, he nevertheless went to the TBWA interview, where he was struck by the agency's attitude.

"People here were relaxed and confident in what they were doing, and very interested in creative work," he explains.

Opting to choose an ad agency job over a more immediately lucrative consultancy career was a no-brainer, he claims, saying: "Of the management consultancies I met, I very rarely thought I'd be at all disappointed never to see them again." Still, he admits the cash deficit could well be a deterrent to others: "It probably does put people off." Morris likes account management and has no interest in changing disciplines.

Having already worked on a pitch and sat in on brainstorms, he believes that as long as agencies promote people according to their skills, grads should have a reality check, and not be dissatisfied with their lot.

"You shouldn't be photocopying in order to earn your spurs, but the reason you're doing the photocopying is because you can't run the client meeting yet," he says.

Morris, who works on PlayStation2 and AFC Wimbledon, reckons a career in advertising is an obvious choice: "You need to like, enjoy and understand creativity. If you enjoy doing those three things, advertising will suit you."

SARA-JANE FLEMING

Agency: Walker Media

Title: Graduate planner and buyer

Age: 22

University course: Spanish and English Literature at Durham

Starting salary: £16,000

Like many graduates' first experience in full-time employment, Fleming found the hard work at Walker Media a bit of a rude wake-up call, describing it as "the biggest shock ever". "I'm known as a lazy bugger," she jokes.

Like many of her peers, she didn't find her careers advisors useful. "They were always busy with earnest people who wanted to work for charities," she says.

With a broad idea that she wanted to move into the communications field, Fleming contacted both ad agencies and media companies using the IPA website to ask for work experience. She was eventually contacted by Walker Media for an interview.

Fleming admits that at first she was not particularly concerned whether she got a job at an ad agency or a media shop. "When I applied I didn't really know the difference," she says.

She's already had a fair bit of training, sitting in on a pitch in her second week. "It was amazing - I hardly knew what a pitch was at that point," she enthuses. Still, despite being very ambitious, she says she's realistic about the timescale for progression: "You can't moan about it. After three months it couldn't be any quicker because I don't know enough."

Fleming says she's the type to sacrifice money for job satisfaction, saying: "It's not about money. I'd rather be doing a job I'm interested in." While other people might be put off joining the media industry for its low wages, she claims her "biggest deterrent was joining a company I'd hate, like PricewaterhouseCoopers". She admits she's lucky to be solvent enough to afford that opinion though.

Fleming is enjoying learning the ropes, but says it's too early to say which media discipline she prefers. "I like buying because you get to negotiate. With planning, you use your brain, but you have to deal with all the systems. I've had a lot of training ... but this is far more maths than I'd imagined," she concludes.

JOE HEATH

Agency: Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

Title: Account executive

Age: 22

University course: Politics at Manchester

Starting salary: £19,000 + £5,000 bonus

Heath is one of six graduates who beat around 1,000 applicants to make it on to the WPP Fellowship programme.

To secure the coveted place, Heath was put through his paces in a gruelling interview process involving being grilled by 30 adjudicators during a two-day group session, culminating in a mock pitch to none other than WPP's group chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell. "The fact he'd taken the time out to come along to the interview demonstrated he takes the Fellowship seriously," Heath states.

He could have opted for any of the WPP companies, but chose RKCR/Y&R as "it's very me". However, despite his account executive role, Heath is also interested in planning, and for his second year, which will be spent overseas, he's considering a planning role in New York.

To fund his studies, Heath took on bar work, as well as spending a summer working at Andersen Consulting. However, he found his time at Andersen unfulfilling. "There wasn't much opportunity to be individual and do your own thing," he says. "I wanted to work in a creative environment, and advertising provides that."

As a WPP fellow, Heath has presented to students around London universities to help create interest in advertising. He thinks the industry lacks exposure , saying it was quite difficult to find out about advertising at his university. He only discovered the WPP scheme because a friend had shares in the company.

The confident Heath has already picked up the self-assured manner of an account man. Working on News International and Lloyds TSB at the agency, he says he's enjoyed "writing briefs and getting in there quickly".

He is exactly the ambitious, fast-track material you'd expect to find on the Fellowship scheme.

SAM D'AMATO

Agency: OMD UK

Title: Graduate trainee media planner

Age: 25

University course: Business Studies at Edinburgh

Starting salary: £17,000

Upon graduation, D'Amato was unsure what career he wanted to pursue, and received only basic advice from his careers advisors. "Banking and consultancy is where Edinburgh has good contacts," he says. "I can't remember any media or advertising companies coming to the University."

However, D'Amato and a friend had founded a free fortnightly paper called The Rental Guide. Entirely advertising-funded, the experience taught him a lot about regional papers.

After some months, he began to thirst for more: "I soon realised regional press and niche listings like this wasn't where I wanted to go. I wanted exposure to larger clients."

D'Amato says he likes OMD UK because it's a large company grown organically - and being in the same company as BMP DDB is a plus.

D'Amato refutes the common accusation that agency graduates are not taken seriously: "I haven't felt there was anyone who looked at me like 'you're only a grad'. I don't feel there's been anything negative like that since I started." But does the industry pay well enough? "We all take the job because we want to be in media. You get by," he responds.

Like Fleming, D'Amato feels he's on a sharp learning curve: "You put the industry on a glamour pedestal, but what you don't realise is the amount you've got to learn. You sometimes feel a bit swamped by it. It's about learning systems, but you have to do it to get to the more interesting bit."

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