Close-Up: 'If I were joining the industry today, I would ...'

You need to be well informed to start a career in advertising, so here's some advice from those who've been there and done that.


I would avoid being sniffy about what some might call traditional media. I would study the best of it, and see how a great strategy can lead to a great creative leap. I'd then apply some of that to the now not-so-new new media. Because I think that's probably where the next breakthrough pieces of communication will come from.

I detect weariness with promises of absolute measurability, coupled with short-term stunts, among clients who have listened to the hype, but prefer results. So I might buck the trend and focus instead on compelling brand ideas that don't mind what media they inhabit.

That said, I think it's perfectly possible to build brands with long-term values (and value) solely online, especially as technology converges, where the TV and computer screen are interchangeable. Then I might register and become a consultant. It's easier and there's more money in it. But anyway, good luck, and if you're any good, give me a call.


First, I would congratulate myself on getting into the industry at the most exciting time since the advent of commercial TV.

Second, I would cling for dear life to my friends and family. Advertising's incredibly exciting, but ultimately narrow. By keeping close to those you love in the real world, not only are you likely to be happier, but you'll also be better at your job.

Third, I would study the principles of communication from the best in the business: in a world of change some truths remain. Yes, study the textbooks and read the IPA effectiveness studies. But also study political speeches, sales techniques, the timing of comedians ... We're in the business of changing behaviour and attitudes, so learn from other people who are also in this business beyond the world of advertising.

Fourth, adopt the broadest possible definition of the profession you've joined. We use the Fairfax Cone quote: "Advertising's what you do when you can't go see someone. That's all it is." How liberating is that? Armed with this definition, you'll resist the temptation to succumb to conventions and explore new and exciting ways of achieving your goal, whether that be designing the exterior of an aircraft, putting on a pantomime or advising clients how to reap a commercial benefit from Facebook.

Finally, I would gorge on the countless new possibilities open to us as communicators: never has the industry had so many opportunities to develop with so few ideas. Inspire yourself and those around you with all the possibilities, and do everything you can to contribute to the thing the industry needs more than anything else: some truly breakthrough creativity.


I would make sure I was able to talk the same language as the people I would come across. One area is financial language - knowing what a net present value is, for instance, is essential.

When I was a graduate, I didn't have a clue. But now, you have to be able to talk the same language with the internal customers that you're trying to persuade and influence. A few years ago in the marketing department, you could just about get away with doing the ads and working with a marketing budget, but no longer.

I'd see as many different companies as possible. One of the best ways to get that knowledge is to work in advertising: it gives you a good understanding of the ways in which different companies work.

Advertising experience also ensures that you develop a really good understanding of the consumer. I see very few graduates with any real business or consumer understanding. Most aren't really aware of what's expected of them, so they aren't really prepared for the language of business. The onus is on them to get some of that knowledge.


I would have boundless enthusiasm, assume no status quo exists and accept constant change as a permanent state. I'd ask lots of questions and challenge the answers I received, as those people providing the answers probably have a vested interest in trying to ensure that the future replicates the past. I'd accept that truly mass media in one bite was merely a transitory phenomenon of the past 30 years and that where we currently are, with many choices for consumers, is the way ahead. But, with that in mind, appreciate the real value of those "water cooler" moments that still are truly mass.


I wouldn't wait in line for the training plan to be given to me, I'd spend a week or two working out my own plan.

Wherever you look, across the industry, old rules and systems are increasingly becoming defunct, including the modular didactic approach to training with junior people on "receive" mode (until someone decides they've "made the grade" to take on an account).

I'd try and short-cut some of the distance between problem and solution, and also help to avoid some of the cul-de-sacs in the grey area between strategy and personality.

It would start with a period working in secondment with some of the key clients. For two reasons: quicker and deeper understanding of the business, but more fundamentally, to get inside the psychology of the client.

I'd then ask to spend some quality time way beyond communications and planning in the real world to build a personal bank of source material.

And then I'd ask other planners and teams to spend some time listening to any creative moments throughout the agency: briefings, reviews, presentations, pitch reviews, official and unofficial. This bit is about seeing it in action for real, when all the pieces come into play. It's about understanding the culture, language and style, and how to pitch and frame your material.


I would listen to the quietest person in the room, not the loudest.

I wouldn't worry about which agency I worked at, but more about which client I worked on.

I would make sure the project I worked on involved the future, not the past.

I would talk to the oldest person in the agency and ask them the single most important thing they had learned.

I would deliberately work on unfashionable business.

I would get involved with all the agencies working on a client's business.

I would work hard, but never all night.

I would find out as much as possible about how agencies make money.

I would practice public speaking - you can never start too early.

I would work abroad, preferably in Asia.

I would try to get to know the content makers as well as the media owners.

I would keep in touch with my client's customers by talking to them directly.

I would enjoy the social life as much as possible - the best thing about advertising is the people.

I would never forget it's a business, not a calling.

I would worry about getting my name famous with clients, not advertising people.