How to get into the advertising industry without a degree
A view from Chris Pearce

How to get into the advertising industry without a degree

As school-leavers consider their careers after getting A-Level results, do university degrees still matter, asks TMW Unlimited's CEO.

The middle of August evokes emotional turmoil for 18-year-olds all over the country. The dreaded, yet eagerly anticipated, A-Level results. In today’s society it’s a coming of age. Those results – good and bad – are a gateway to adulthood, whatever that may mean.

For some it can be make or break for their career ambitions but do A-Level results – and ultimately university degrees – matter anymore?

We hire plenty of non-grads at TMW Unlimited but, it has to be said, not that many 18-year-olds. We do, however, recognise that for people who haven’t been to university there should be more opportunities to enable them to get into the industry. That’s why we are looking at the possibility of turning our internal training and education programme, TMW Academy, into a formalised apprenticeship scheme for people for those who choose a path other than university.

Eighteen-year-olds who didn't make it into university should not be despairing right now. Here are my three pieces of advice for people who want to get into the industry without a degree.

Life and work experience counts for more than you might think

Some of our most senior planners and creatives do not have a degree. They instead came to the agency with other "life experiences" before getting into the planning and creative departments. The life experience that they had was dealing with real people in real life. They had worked in call centres or been gardeners, band managers or fundraisers, but what they all did was get ideas for marketing and advertising by understanding what makes people tick and how the world turns.

Do your research about the industry and the work it produces

The reason many agencies may shy away from the idea of taking on an 18-year-old in these sorts of roles is the lack of life experience, but this should not put anyone off.

I would absolutely consider taking on an 18-year-old as an apprentice developer, community manager, producer or data planner, making sure that they get the right supervision and training to understand their role and how to develop professionally.

But anyone wanting to get into the business needs to show knowledge of campaigns and why they admire them. They also need to be able to articulate what attracts them to the industry – showing willing can get you very far at the start of your career.

Empathise with the work and connect with the agency

Don’t fall into the trap of approaching all the agencies under the sun – your career is not a numbers game. Identify the work you empathise with and the agencies you feel a connection to. You then need to work out why that empathy makes you a smart choice as the agency's potential employee. And of course, how to turn your personal narrative into a pithy and memorable pitch.

Hard work and ambition speak volumes – character eats qualifications for breakfast.

Chris Pearce is chief executive of TMW Unlimited