Career Guide: So you think you want a career in advertising ...

Trying to work out what you can do in a business as broad as advertising can be daunting. Here's a guide to who does what, where.


Account management is the catch-all term for the executives in an advertising agency with overall responsibility for satisfying a client's requirements and for maintaining a good relationship with the client.

The account handler, or "suit", runs a client's business with the agency.

He or she needs to represent the client within the agency and, conversely, be the trusted face of the agency with the client. The account executive needs to be both a diplomat and a manager.

It's the account manager's job to know the client's business as well as possible and to keep on-side with the client, building a relationship of mutual respect. So, it helps to understand the corporate balance sheet and client billing as well as know the marketing manager's taste in sandwiches.

The same relationship building needs to go on within the agency, with the rest of the account team. The agency person works closely with the planner on strategy and briefing the creative teams. He or she will also deal with pretty much every department in the agency on a regular basis; keeping tabs on work going through production and timetables with creative services; liaising with the media department or agency; ordering working lunches from the catering staff and gossiping with the receptionist.

On an administrative front, it's the account manager's job to hold the whole thing together: to plan a schedule with the client; to set up meetings; to ensure that all material for presentation and for an advertising campaign is prepared by the correct department, on brief and on time. Not surprisingly, powers of persuasion are vital if you want to succeed in this role.

Much of the working day in account management consists of rather tedious processes, or what Bruce Haines described in Excellence in Advertising as "being efficient and making sure the wheels don't fall off".

As a junior account handler, the job means writing up status reports and meeting notes, running up and down stairs with video tapes, booking rooms for client meetings, carrying bags and gradually getting more opportunities to present, steer strategy and charm everyone around you.

Senior account handlers will do much the same as the junior ones, but are just a little bit further up the ladder. The next step up is from account handler to account director, where the role becomes less hands-on, undertaking client liaison at a more senior level on a number of accounts.

Account directors can be promoted to the board and some, of course, go on to become top-level managers.

The accepted way into account management is through one of the agency graduate trainee schemes. The competition for places is fierce, with the high-profile agencies often receiving between 2,000 and 3,000 applications for a handful of jobs.

Graduates with good degrees from the top universities have the best chance of winning through.

Otherwise, there are many more small and middle-sized agencies across the country that do take on graduates from time to time. It may be worth sending a CV to several carefully researched agencies that you are interested in. Once you've earned your spurs at a smaller agency, you can then decide whether you want to try for one of the bigger agencies at a slightly more senior level.

The structure of graduate trainee schemes can vary from agency to agency.

Some take graduates round each department and may allow them to decide which role they eventually take up. Other schemes are more "on the job".

The IPA website helps out with many of the agency schemes (see - career/agency file).

It has been known for exceptional - and ambitious - secretaries or post boys to land a junior role in account handling. But it is by no means an accepted route in and not an approach many people would recommend.


Planning is all about getting under the skin of the consumer. When advertisers are spending large amounts of money on their campaigns, they want to be certain that they're hitting the target. The planner is there to line up that target.

The planner works closely with the client to research the market, using and communicating numerical data, as well as more touchy-feely forms of research. They inform, write and present the strategy for the advertiser.

An account planner needs to be able to find his or her way around a spreadsheet as well as be able to talk to people and find out what makes them tick - what makes them buy one product instead of another. They also need to present and express themselves clearly and confidently.

The career path goes from junior planners to senior planner, with a view to getting on to the board or becoming a planning director. Some planners go on to start their own agencies. One well-known example of this is MT Rainey of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. Others may go on to become consultants or move into research companies.

Many agencies wrap the planning role into the account handler's brief, so there are far fewer positions for planners. But others recruit separately and some, such as DDB London, are known for their planning heritage (see - careers/agency file for graduate trainee slots). Some planners switch from account handling while others enter the business sideways, through research companies, for example, but this is rare.


The creative department is where the advertising gets dreamed up. It's what most people think of when they first imagine themselves working in advertising.

But going for a job in the creative department is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. Applications are a gruelling process of knocking on doors, getting a foot in one and then inching it through. Once in, there's a continual pressure to perform - a creative is only as good as his or her last ad.

Creatives are generally hired in pairs - an art director partnered with a copywriter. An art director will normally come through an art or design school background; the route to becoming a copywriter is less obvious - they could as easily be a graduate from a top university as a school drop-out.

The important thing is their book, which contains examples of their work.

This needs to be impressive - of course - and it needs to find its way under the nose of a creative director. If you're on an advertising course, you may be lucky and get some experience in an advertising agency, but otherwise it's all about knocking on doors.

Once through the door, creatives start off on a placement. If they do well, they'll land a job as a junior creative team. From there, they rise to senior team and maybe, one day, become a creative director.

There are organisations to help copywriters and art directors pair up, including the Book Club and the D&AD Cellmates scheme (see the link on


Say "media" to most students and they assume you are talking about jobs in journalism or television. However, in advertising terms, "media" covers everything from working in the media department of an agency, where you will be responsible for choosing and planning the appropriate media - TV, posters, press and so on - for a campaign, to negotiating for and buying space in that medium on behalf of the client. An army of researchers, statisticians and analysts works in media. And with the advent of new technology such as the internet and mobile phones, opportunities in the discipline have increased.

Media has boomed in the past decade. And media fragmentation has made the job of finding the right space to run an ad into an expert's game and no wonder, seeing as there are almost 300 potential channels through which to air those messages. Media agencies have flourished, as have media departments in full-service agencies.

Media planners and buyers are part of the same team as account handlers, planners, creatives and so on, even if they're in a separate agency. The planner plots where the advertiser should buy space - which TV channels, magazine or websites. The best buyer is the one who negotiates the best rates and the best positions. Some smaller agencies merge the two roles.

Junior planners and buyers can go on to become directors, running the media side of the business for a client. There are opportunities in larger agencies to specialise in certain media. And, of course, every agency including a media agency needs top dogs.

Competition for jobs in media isn't as fierce as it is for jobs in creative agencies. The big media shops now have graduate trainees slots for planners and buyers (see - careers/ agency file). Medium-sized and smaller agencies will take on graduates on an ad hoc basis, frequently drawing on the file marked "unsolicited CVs".


The global digital boom (and bust) of the past decade has presented agencies and advertisers with a wonderful, yet daunting, question: given the chance to use the internet, how do you sell your products and services to the entire world?

Digital agencies are the product of the new-media revolution. They had something of a roller-coaster ride in the first few years of their existence.

Online advertising has shown the biggest growth rate of any medium in the past few years, despite the shock of the bursting of the internet bubble. But such agencies are now an established breed and are competing with the traditional advertising agencies for the best recruits.

Digital advertising agencies are marked out by their expertise in handling any aspect of advertising and marketing involving a digital medium - from websites, through mobiles to personal organisers.

As is true of traditional agencies, some digital agencies focus on media planning and buying. Others concentrate on developing creative solutions for digital advertising campaigns and others offer a full service, including building websites.

Digital agencies offer the same job roles as found in other marketing services agencies. You'll have account men and media planners/buyers.

But, as well as creative teams, there are often producers and designers and the more technical roles, both within creative and in general.

The larger agencies also have specialist divisions that will deal with the likes of search engines, affiliate marketing and customer relationships management, to name a few.

At present, very few digital agencies are offering graduate trainee schemes because of their small size. But, because most such companies are pretty small, they may have a job for a graduate on an ad hoc basis. One way in could be to work in a smaller, traditional agency and then cross over at a slightly more senior level.

In the future, the distinction between the television set and the personal computer will only continue to get more blurred. Advertising agencies have their place reserved in the environment, but the best digital agencies, for many clients, will only gain a greater share of voice and of budgets.

Marketing Marketing communications is an umbrella term for pretty much everything that any marketing agency does. It includes advertising, as well as sales promotion, direct marketing, PR, event marketing, field marketing, sponsorship, market research, media agencies and so on. What it really means is if you want to go into marketing, advertising and media are not the only options.

Some agencies specialise, others call themselves "integrated" and aim to weave the various disciplines into a single solution. Each discipline has a different emphasis and requires a different skillset or range of interests.

Working at an integrated agency will require a broad understanding of various marketing methods. Data management is now a big business that needs strong numeracy skills. For those who want to throw huge parties regularly, event marketing might offer therapy.

Both integrated and specialist agencies generally have the same job roles as traditional agencies. Account management is a staple and there may be planners and almost certainly creatives and designers.

On top of the agency possibilities, there are also a number of marketing and strategic consultancies that are less high profile and often quite small, but that can be very influential.

And don't ignore client companies. Larger companies often have dedicated in-house departments dealing with direct marketing, PR and other marketing disciplines.

Of the major marketing communications disciplines, PR is the one where a number of big agencies offer formal graduate trainee posts (see - careers). Several of the larger below-the-line advertising agencies, which tend to focus on direct marketing and sales promotion, also offer graduate trainee jobs (see - careers/agency files). Marketing qualifications can help when applying for jobs. But they aren't the be all and end all. Employers are looking for the best applicants, not necessarily those with dedicated training.

The ultimate marketing communications graduate trainee scheme must be the WPP Fellowship. Grandly named, the places are a great prize, with around 1,000 people applying for a place. The privileged Fellows get the chance to work around various WPP group companies, providing them with a bird's-eye view of an international marketing communications empire.

MORAY MACLENNAN - Chairman, UK group, M&C Saatchi

Tips from the top: account management

Account management is about understanding people. So what it takes is: - Good antennae: the intuitive ability to get people, to read a situation and react accordingly - Intellect and confidence: to listen a lot, say a little, but make it count - Imagination: to understand people's lives that are very different from your own - Enjoy people - the diversity of both clients and consumers. They are infinite in their variety - A well-developed sense of humour helps enormously

MIRANDA POUNTNEY - Account manager, JWT London

9.00am Drain grande cappuccino. Check e-mails. 10.00am Fitch Design Consultants team presents work for Smirnoff initiative - admire their vision and hot pink presentation materials. Make follow-up calls. 11.30am Put British Advertising Clearance Centre on ringback. Brief in research boards. 12.30pm Meet with NY Smirnoff account team over working lunch (finger food of the gods). Big ideas flowing both ways. Leave on high. 3.30pm Finance meeting. Inhale cookie from The Comm (JWT cafe/bar) selection to regain high. 4.00pm Crunchy Nut adcept session (rough advertising concepts). Take plenty of coloured pens to prove creative merit. 7.00pm onwards JWT Brain Game. Drown shame with a new Smirnoff signature drink devised in "brainstorm" earlier.

NIKKI CRUMPTON - Planning director, Fallon

Tips from the top: account planning

Planners do the hard thinking and analysis, so they need to be: - Proactive - So buttoned down they could make a Royal Marine look flaky - Technologically savvy - Emotionally connected to all walks of life - Insatiably curious - Adaptable and intuitive - Open and experimenta - Fearless and direct - Crackling with energ - Intellectually generous - Committed to results - Unpretentious

RIC NICHOLLS - Account planner, DDB London

9.00am At desk after invigorating run/brisk walk/hour in bed hitting "snooze". 9.30am Team catch-up (with bacon butties). 10.00am Start drafting brief for creative teams. Check e-mails. 11.00am See strategy director with brief. Discuss, then change brief. 12.00pm Persuade client of the merits of brief. Liberal use of phrases such as "creative fertility". 1.00pm Lunch at Le Gavroche/Pizza Express/desk. 2.00pm Brief creative teams. Pray for creative fertility. 2.30pm Prepare client strategy presentation. 3.00pm Change presentation on train. 3.30pm Give presentation to applause/silent assent/violent disagreement. 5.00pm Swift pint to celebrate/express relief/drown sorrows. 6.30pm Check e-mail. Make tea. Prevaricate. Go home.

MARK ROALFE - Chairman and executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

Tips from the top: creative department

To be a creative, you need: - Passion - Self-belief but not arrogance - Team spirit: you need the help of account people and planners - Sensitivity: you have to listen carefully to others' problems - Resilience: when you suffer knocks you have to come back with something equally good - Bloodymindedness: you have to know when to hold and when to fold - To be tough on yourself - To be chameleon-like, adapting your style to suit different brands - To learn from those better than you - To be unafraid to make mistakes

ADAM RIMMER AND PETE DAVIES - Creative team, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

8.30am Arrive at work. Faff. 9.00am Run through ideas for Guinness TV ad. Most are crap. Polish up stuff we like. 12.00pm Present scripts to creative director. Likes 'em. Phew. 1.15pm Cab to Soho to record BT radio ad. Write alternative gags on way. 1.45pm Arrive studio. Check music options, make latest script changes. 2.15pm Record first voice. Get hung up on one particular line. 3.00pm Record second voice. Funny guy, good laugh. 4.00pm Mix ad. Engineer very patient. 6.00pm Cab to agency. 6.15pm Two more BT scripts needed for tomorrow. Run through a few ideas. 7.30pm Brains starting to hurt - leave agency, do more work at home.

STEPHEN ALLAN - UK chief executive, Group M

Tips from the top: media

To do well in media, you need: - Communication skills: our purpose is to communicate with consumers on behalf of our clients. You won't be much good at that unless you can get your own ideas over to colleagues and clients - Creativity: the ability to think differently, to find unique solutions - Commercial understanding: your clients need to see a return on their communications investment - Competitiveness: you need a competitive streak and the ability to thrive under pressure - Numeracy: if you can't add up, look elsewhere - Negotiating skills: you need to be able to recognise a good deal and know how to get it

LAURA BENNETT - Media planner, OMD

9.00am Arrive at work, cereal at desk. 9.15am Read through industry news. 10.00am Compile competitive review of car market using agency research tools and internet. Speak to media owners for more info. 11.30am Team status meeting to review and plan. Update status report and send to client. 1.00pm Lunch with team. 2.00pm Brainstorm client brief, discuss media opportunities and initial ideas. 2.30pm Research target audience for brief. Identify most efficient media channels and discuss with agency media buyers. 4.00pm Meeting with media owner. 4.30pm TV planning. Use OMD systems to determine when to run TV ads and which channels to use. 6.00pm Meet team for one quick drink in the pub ... 10.30pm Tube home.

MARK CRIDGE - Managing director, glue London

Tips from the top: digital

Digital combines new media and old-fashioned creativity and to do well, you need: - Great passion for the creative - Intelligence, sharp thinking and the ability to adapt quickly - A desire to do the right job for the consumer - A belief that all media is becoming digital - An understanding of how interactivity changes everything - The ability to distinguish hype from reality - Natural inquisitiveness - Plenty of energy and stamina - A tight grip on the finances - The knowledge that there's never a good time for a holiday. Just go

ANAMIKA KOHLI - Account executive, Profero

9.00am Arrive at work, grab a piece of toast from the breakfast bar. 9.15am Try not to panic at volume of e-mails. 9.45am Liaise with creative, tech and media departments on what needs doing. 10.30am Call clients to ensure they feel loved. 12.30pm Meeting with Google, then taken to lunch by them. 2.15pm Attend brainstorm to conceive viral idea for new-business pitch. 3.30pm Run reports on current research marketing campaigns. 5.15pm Prepare presentation for teleconference call with global client. 6.00pm Go to bar downstairs for happy hour. 9.30pm Finish with a few games of pool, get Tube or taxi home (depending what side of payday it is).

CHRIS GORDON - Chairman, WWAV Rapp Collins

Tips from the top: direct marketing

To succeed in direct marketing, you need to be - Creatively minded: able to use your imagination when working through solutions, bringing challenge and an inquisitive mind to your approach - Strong communication skills: confident, persuasive and highly articulate - A team player: the ability to both lead a team and also provide a positive supporting role - Organisational skills: the ability to multi-task and prioritise. Numerate, too - To be excited by the challenge of understanding what makes a consumer tick and how the marketing and brand experience can influence their behaviour - To enjoy creating an accountable and measurable output

CHRIS CONDRON - Graduate account executive, Proximity London

8.15am Arrive at work, bleary eyed. 8.30am Second coffee, prise eyes open. 9.00am Finish checking e-mails, ordering music, planning weekend. 10.00am Interrupt creative team's mandatory "feet up on the desk" time to brief them on new job. 10.30am Status meeting with account handling team. 12.00pm Get all press advertorials artwork into studio. 1.00pm Lunch with clients at local Thai pub. 3.00pm Monitor studio work, sort DM pack copy queries and laugh at victims of last night's client entertainment. 4.30pm Check all work needing internal approval is dispatched, send approved work to client/printers/newspapers. 5.30pm To agency bar for a cheap one before heading into Soho. 8.00pm-4.00am (depending on success of night ...) Head home.


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