FIVE STEPS TO THE TOP: Want to make it to ad manager in just five easy moves? James Curtis gives you tips for the top

You’re in an interview, hands sweating, fielding questions from a couple of suits doing the Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. You sigh with relief when Good Cop asks the obvious question: ’If you get this sales executive job, where do you want to be in five years’ time?’ You know this one and say: ’I want to be ad manager.’

You’re in an interview, hands sweating, fielding questions from a

couple of suits doing the Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. You sigh with

relief when Good Cop asks the obvious question: ’If you get this sales

executive job, where do you want to be in five years’ time?’ You know

this one and say: ’I want to be ad manager.’

But then Bad Cop catches you off guard. ’Why don’t you tell us how

you’re going to get there?’ he sneers. Your mind races. Bad Cop taps his

pad with his pen. Good Cop looks at her watch. You’ve lost it. Time to

get your coat.

If the stock interview answer is to say you want to be ad manager in

less than five years, how are you supposed to get there? Is there more

to climbing the corporate ladder than sleeping with the boss or just

being good at your job?

Here are some tips from the people who are looking for the next

generation of managers. After all, they should know what it takes to

reach the top.

1. Contacts are everything

Schmoozing is a vital skill for any aspiring executive. As Dominic

Collins, business development manager, central sales and promotions, at

The National Magazine Company, says: ’Get to know and work with as many

people in your company as possible. You never know where your next move

will take you.’

And it’s not just internal networking that’s important - outside

contacts are even more valuable. A bulging Filofax will impress new

employers and your peers. Ross Webster, publishing manager for Emap

Youth titles, says, ’The first thing people ask when you start a new job

is who you know in the industry. The best way to quickly win cred points

is to pick up the phone and get straight through to a key agency

contact. Get yourself known and go out with agency people socially. It’s

important to have friends in the industry.’

Rachel Reavley, ad manager of Vogue, says, ’Go and see everybody. Don’t

be snobby about who you meet. You never know, you might be trying to

sell to them or asking them for a job in the future.’

However, the skilled networker knows where to draw the line. It’s

important to keep a balance between work and personal social time.

As Reavley says: ’I’d be seriously worried if any of my lot were out

with contacts five nights a week. But I’d also be worried if they were

moaning about giving up some of their personal time. There are harder

things in life than being asked to drink champagne and eat canapes from

time to time.’

As for the champagne, that’s another thing to watch. Knowing exactly

when to put a judicious hand over your glass will serve you well. As

Collins says, ’My grandmother always said, ’It doesn’t matter how drunk

you get, as long as everyone you’re with is more drunk’.’

Jane Girling, director of recruitment consultancy the Stevens Company,

says: ’It’s a tricky balance to get right. You have to do the schmoozing

because without the contacts you won’t get on. But you also need to be

able to handle the drink, the lunches and the parties without losing


’Losing it’ may be hilarious at the time and make you a legend in the

office, but it won’t mark you out as officer material. Which takes us to

the next point ...

2. Behave and look the part

To be a manager you have to be more than a great sales person. You need

to have the right temperament and your boss will be looking for key


The first and most obvious trick is to look the part. Vogue’s Reavley

may have higher fashion values than most (she admits to wearing clothes

by designers that she knows will impress certain clients) but she

insists that looks count for everybody. ’People judge on first

appearances, so you should always be groomed and presentable. Try to

reflect the values of the title you’re working on and never, ever, go

out to meet a client looking shabby.’

Reavley’s dress-as-your-magazine rule may be easier for people working

on Vogue than Dogs Today, but you know what she means.

As well as looking smart, good managers are team players who are

consistent in word and deed. The worst are those whose moodswings strike

fear and loathing into their teams.

Emap’s Webster says: ’Perform consistently and show that you can handle

pressure. Also, work with the rest of the team. If a new person has come

on board, help them out. Show that you can bring out the best in other


Without being an out-and-out brown-noser, it is also important to show

your boss that you are interested in going beyond your job


Volunteer for things, show an interest in training, take on tasks

outside your normal remit and do not be afraid of offering your point of

view or ideas when appropriate.

Gill Hollis, director of recruitment specialist The Davis Company, says:

’It’s good to show you have the curiosity and enthusiasm to go beyond

the limitations of your position, but be careful. Don’t go sticking your

nose in where it’s not wanted. Judge the situation carefully.’

An interest in training can be particularly useful, especially if you

can wangle yourself onto a course covering management basics. That will

ensure you know the lingo when someone asks why you think you would make

a good manager.

3. Right moves at the right time

A healthy-looking CV is vital, and, as they say, a rolling stone gathers

no moss. However, it’s important not to move too often and to keep a

clear vision of the career route you want to take.

Hollis says: ’I’ve seen loads of people advance quickly up a company and

then realise they have nowhere to go. It’s vital to have breadth to your


So, if you’re in national newspaper classifieds, earning forty grand and

feeling great, you might not feel quite so good when you realise you

have hit a classifieds ceiling and can’t move into other areas. As

Hollis says: ’You might become a manager with experience in only one

discipline, but you won’t get further than that. Think of the long term

and where you want to be in a few years’ time.’

So, moving gives you breadth of experience in other disciplines and in

other companies. It also helps you jump up the ladder quicker, both in

terms of money and status, and allows you to reinvent yourself with each

new job. If the managerial prospects at your last company were dented by

too many lager-induced off-days, for example, then moving companies can

be a convenient chance to wipe the slate clean. Like Geri Halliwell

transforming herself from Ginger Spice to UN Goodwill Ambassador, it is

an opportunity to reinvent yourself. However, as Sara Stephenson, group

advertisement director at Cosmopolitan, says: ’It’s dangerous to move

around too often. If you flit around, your loyalties might be

questionable. It’s also stupid to move unless it’s up.’

4. See the big picture

In today’s multimedia world, it is more important than ever to be able

to think in broader terms than the medium or sector in which you

currently work. The people you are selling to have to think like this,

and so should you.

As NatMags’ Collins says: ’Look outside your immediate competitive set.

Have a good knowledge of media other than your own.’

Vogue’s Reavley says: ’Always remember you are a small cog in a much

bigger machine. You’ve got to understand where you fit in, how much of

the client’s budget you have a realistic chance of getting and how many

other people there are like you. It will help your negotiating skills if

you take these things into account.’

Understanding the wider media world also involves being able to talk to

clients about opportunities outside your brief. As Girling says: ’Look

beyond column inches to value-added services like covermounts,

sponsorship or online opportunities. Have a multimedia skill set.’

Seeing the big picture also involves thinking beyond hitting your

personal monthly target, or bagging that crucial ad. It also means

appreciating how your job is affecting other areas of your magazine,

your company or your sector.

For example, you may sell a fabulously lucrative sponsored supplement,

but are you sure the editorial team is happy with it? And can they write

it to the deadline you’ve promised the client? Also, think about how the

ads affect the image of your product. Do they fit in with its brand


Girling advises: ’Always remember where other people are coming from and

be diplomatic. Media is always about ensuring that the creative and

commercial sides work together.’

Of course, having the broad view requires you to know everything about

your own product in the first place. Upside down, back to front, in your

sleep -you must know every facet of it. Don’t just learn the basics,

like audience profiles. You need to be completely conversant with the

product’s brand values, how it fits into its competitive sector and how

it fits with the client’s brand. This requires homework, dedication and

a little swottiness. But, do you really want that ad manager’s job?

5. Do you want to be a manager?

With all these tips for the top, it’s easy to forget the most important

question of all. Do you actually want to be a manager? After all, there

is more to life than a company motor.

It may well be that you are a stupendous sales person, earning shed

loads, bagging deals for breakfast and generally being the darling of

the bean counters upstairs. That might be enough to get you a manager’s

job, but then you could find you are absolutely crap at it. You can’t

motivate, you can’t lead and you can’t organise your own time, let alone

everyone else’s. Ask yourself, is that what you want?

Hollis thinks this is a mistake people make repeatedly. ’Many people

have a fixation about management. This means all the good sales people

are trying to become managers as quickly as possible, but that means you

end up with not enough good sales people and too many bad managers.’

The problem is that many sales people don’t see a future in their

company unless they become managers. However, some companies, like Emap,

are creating roles for senior sales people who want to sell, not manage.

These ’market maker’ jobs are seen as a good way of holding on to good

sales people while allowing them to progress. It also means they can

probably earn more than if they went into management. Now there’s a



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