Learning the ropes

Falling roughly between The Apprentice and The X Factor, ad agencies' graduate recruitment schemes tend to be just as much fun and with an equally desirable prize awaiting the best candidates. Here, budding adlanders describe their work experiences at four agencies.

McCann's grads on a break-out day
McCann's grads on a break-out day


Lucy Mahon, account executive

I started out on the McCademy: a breakneck six-week experience of lectures, workshops and learning the ropes on real client business. Putting together this year's McCademy has been important for the three of us who landed permanent roles, not least because that sickening process of "getting in" isn't too distant a memory.

For 2011, we wanted to refresh the way advertising advertises itself to grads: the unapproachable, in-club tone of voice that tends to infuse anything from application questions to interview advice. Plus the sugar-coated images of what your first agency role might entail.

So we set up "The Truth Line", letting applicants Skype us and chat to people of all departments and levels. We also created the "Win Your Way In" competition, travelling to 12 UK cities in three days to chat to potential applicants.

It has yet to be decided which was harder: pitching the idea without it sounding like a 72-hour university shindig, or the actual tour itself.


McCademy is a six-week Apprentice-style course, starting in September, where six grads are put on to working accounts and trained with courses and lectures. They are assessed throughout the six weeks, with two people awarded jobs at the end. The agency also keeps close contact with those they don't hire and uses its contacts to get them other jobs in the industry.

This year's scheme is about helping grads and removing the perceived arrogance of the industry, and also dispelling the notion of people in advertising having a "glamorous, Mad Men" lifestyle. In addition, the agency introduced a project called "Win Your Way In", where three grads from last year travel around 14 cities in three days. They leave clues through social media such as Twitter and Foursquare to their whereabouts in each city and the first person to find them gets an interview.


Tomasz Cnota, new-business assistant. Entering second year at the University of East London


When I applied to the Z Academy, I was really looking to take advantage of my summer holidays to begin focusing on my future.

From the age of 16, I've worked in a variety of sectors, and each left me a bit flat. What appealed to me about Z Academy is the opportunity to gain more practical experience than I would in many other programmes.

Z Academy gave me considerable access to senior management, both locally and globally. And learning how to deal with potential clients, what they expect and how to interact with them will stay with me. I'll definitely remain on this path beyond the three months, as I fully intend to continue my relationship with Wunderman after returning to university this month.

Wunderman's Z Academy markets itself as a total immersion approach that gives students international work experience on multimillion-pound accounts. Wunderman partnered with 12 universities globally, including three in London - University of the Arts, University of East London and City University - for the scheme.

Z Academy is a paid programme based on individual merit and talent. The "Zeds" on the scheme get hands-on experience to gain new skills and refine those already learned in academia.


Alex Blacklock, account executive

The Summer Scholarship was an intense mixture of account work, spontaneous grad challenges, inspirational talks and trips to the pub. It is, without doubt, one of the most challenging but rewarding things I've done, falling somewhere between The Apprentice and The X Factor.

One day, I found myself at breakfast with the managing director, Michael Rebelo, and then at Toyota's head offices sharing the latest work for the Yaris campaign.

Another day saw me helping to prepare work to send to the client in the morning and shooting a video at ITN to demonstrate to Saatchi & Saatchi why I was the one they had to hire in the afternoon.

It was a crash course in every aspect of agency life, where I was encouraged to explore everything and ask questions on anything I pleased. I was constantly encouraged to offer an opinion and to embrace the idea that "nothing is impossible".

Inspirational sessions marked one of the highlights, offering informal meetings with senior faces in the agency and providing some real insight into what it takes to build a successful career in the industry.

The overall experience was fantastically welcoming, a comprehensive introduction to an industry that I hope to spend the future in.

The Saatchi & Saatchi graduate recruitment scheme offers successful applicants the opportunity to spend six weeks at the London offices on Charlotte Street, fully immersed in one of the agency's client accounts while also experiencing agency life. The recruitment process requires applicants to undertake a series of challenges conveyed through a Facebook page, which this year included getting as many followers on Twitter as possible, recreating an ad of their choice and selling their CV in a five-minute Skype pitch.

The chosen ten graduates balance their account work against a number of fast-paced grad challenges, designed to test their creativity and strategic thinking while also giving them an opportunity to manage their own project and work with other grads.


Rachael Kendrick, a Kennedy

This is my first time working in the ad industry. After a few freelance copywriting jobs, I was longing to see if I could make it in the big leagues - but, without (much of) a book or an ad school background, I had no idea how to begin.

From that perspective, The Kennedys is an absolute godsend. Not only do we get a chance to learn and prove ourselves, we also get paid, which frees us to dedicate ourselves to our work.

People often ask me what my role is in The Kennedys, and the truth is we've only got one role, and that's to do whatever needs doing. If something needs doing and you don't know how to do it, more often than not you'll learn it on the fly.

My learning curve has been totally vertical; it's now my instinct to just open up InDesign or Photoshop or Premiere Pro and ham-fistedly make whatever I want to make and show it to the guys, whereas, before, I'd never have trusted myself.

But the best thing about The Kennedys is the mentorship. Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam has been incredibly welcoming of this team of six juniors, and everyone's so willing to talk to us about their experiences. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, for that, I'm incredibly grateful.

The Kennedys is a group of six young creatives selected to take part in Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam's new apprenticeship programme. It is designed for creatives from all disciplines who want to join the agency for a period of six months so that they can learn and create and produce real work. The scheme is open to writers, photographers, designers, film-makers, animators, tech developers, game designers or anyone with their own creative vision.

Participants work as a separate group within the agency on real assignments with real deadlines. Dedicated mentors are assigned to oversee the group's work and encourage success. Participants will refine their skills and learn the complicated process behind creative work for clients. The goal is for The Kennedys to have produced real work by the end of their stay, for one of the agency's clients or as an independent project for Wieden & Kennedy.