Graduates have divined all sorts of, frankly, potty ways of getting a job at their favoured ad agency. From broadcasting their wares on Charlotte Street via a sandwich board and a megaphone to stalking their would-be employers, no route is too humiliating or barmy.
Agencies, too, have been getting more creative about the recruitment process. The old reductive methods (milk rounds at selected universities or good old-fashioned nepotism) are no longer viable. The system used ten years ago is not sufficient to attract the best that's out there, and risks filling the industry with the same white, middle-class, Oxbridge-educated types, making it appear about as reflective of the population at large as the House of Lords.
Agencies are now focusing on coming up with new and interesting ways of attracting the best of the best from all backgrounds, helped in no small part by the advent of social media.
Tim Jones, the HR director at Aegis Media and the deputy chair of the IPA's People Management Group, says: "Agencies need to explore websites, forums, social media and searchengine optimisation, as well as the more traditional methods."
Keeping up with the new proactive, digital-savvy graduate is a necessity for agencies. Bartle Bogle Hegarty decided to ramp up its efforts two years ago to recruit a more diverse range of talent. The agency changed its approach because it was attracting what Louise Ablewhite, its HR manager, describes as "BBH replicants" - all from a similar educational, class and racial background. Ablewhite believes that agencies need to change swiftly to reflect the needs of the grads they want to hire. BBH has placement schemes, uses Twitter and is developing its Facebook presence, as well as broadening its search for graduates beyond London to cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.
"The kids coming up don't rely on recruitment agencies, they are on Twitter or on agencies' Facebook pages," Ablewhite says. They are much more proactive and we have to keep up with them." BBH is not alone. Many agencies, keen to nab the most impressive grads on the block, have developed new and creative ways to engage the next generation of adlanders. Here are three examples.
SAATCHI & SAATCHI
Michelle Greenhalgh, client partner, Saatchi & Saatchi
"Saatchi & Saatchi has been investing in graduate recruitment since the 80s. We've always adapted the way we do things to fit with what feels most relevant for the time, which is why this year we turned to Facebook.
"With 500 million users worldwide, Facebook felt like the right place to start our hunt for grads for our 2010 Summer Scholarship. So, we set up a Facebook group, which was joined by more than 6,000 hopefuls in under a month. Expectations were high.
"Over the next few weeks, we set a number of online challenges - we didn't want the grads to just tell us what they were capable of, we wanted them to show us.
"First up, we asked them to create a new Facebook group and get as many people as possible to join in just three weeks. At the deadline, the two top groups had amassed more than 237,000 and 188,000 members respectively. The latter, Secret London, was so successful that its creator attracted outside investment and dropped out of our recruitment scheme to start her own company. "Those with the most members went through, with a few wildcards thrown in - the ones that maybe didn't get the numbers, but the idea caught our eye.
"Over the 13-week process we asked the grads to do online tests against the clock, conduct Skype interviews with a very unusual Robert Senior lookalike and create video remakes of their favourite ad. Some baked the Skoda cake car, one recreated our 'Visa World Cup' ad, shot by shot, in Lego, and one even painted himself orange for the Tango 'slap' ad. Those who made it through came in for further, face-to-face challenges, with ten grads making it onto the six-week Summer Scholarship programme.
"By using Facebook and setting these challenges, we found that we attracted a much wider variety of people with skills that didn't always fit into the traditional 'suit' or planner role. And that's exactly the sort of people we want. Grads who bring something new and fresh to the agency, and so far they've done just that.
"For this year's scholarship, there was a 400 per cent rise in applications on 2009, with 871 new Facebook groups created and 150 ads recreated. It resulted in four full-time jobs - so Massimo, Nick, Camden and Chris, congratulations and welcome to Saatchi & Saatchi."
Liza Wostmann, new-business director, Dare
"At Dare, no sooner have we lined up five fantastic graduates for our 2010 scheme, than we're planning our recruitment for 2011.
"The 2011 intake will mark our fifth year of the scheme; a scheme that's rooted in the reality of how agencies actually work rather than a theoretical, academic checklist. We'd like to think it's the best unofficial marketing programme out there.
"Each member receives a full year's training, kicking off with a five-week induction programme specifically designed to give them practical experience in all parts of the agency process, from initial strategy to the development of great ideas. They get valuable experience in account management, planning and production, and external training in the form of 'IPA1'. As well as exposure to all parts of the agency process, they also get to spend time with people at all levels and in all disciplines across the agencies within the Cossette UK group. This breadth and depth has resulted in a stunning retention rate - including the five who will join us in October, we have so far hired 16 grads, 12 of whom are still with us.
"It's relatively easy to find grads who want to work at Dare, but we're looking above and beyond academic achievements. We want people from all walks of life who can both stand out as individuals and play a pivotal role in a team. We want grads who share our excitement for the future. And, as with all our recruitment, applicants have to be good and nice.
"We're not naive. We realise that the best candidates will be inundated with offers, so we have to make an impact to attract the best talent. Our past grads play an invaluable role in the planning and execution of our recruitment drives. This year, we'll have a dedicated Facebook page - www.facebook.com/daregrads - where grads can get a true feel for the agency culture through an irreverent take on infographics. We host the application form on Facebook because it is the perfect channel to open communications with prospective candidates and a natural way to keep them informed with updates.
"This year's application scheme opens on 1 October and officially closes on 15 November."
Sarah Baumman, talent strategy director, Leo Burnett Group
"Graduate recruitment has always been an exciting battle to find and lure the best, fresh young talent, but it's subject to exactly the same challenges as recruiting the best (more seasoned) talent. First, there is a wider list of industries and roles on the consideration list, and second, digital has transformed everything.
"We're recruiting in a world where people can find out virtually anything about the companies they're applying to; the stories behind their work and the impact it's had; their commitment to training; and what the people working there are like. Crucially, grads can establish relationships with these companies through blogs, Twitter and Facebook before they get anywhere close to applying. This shift in power creates a huge advantage for us as a sector, as we have a far more interesting story to tell graduates than most other industries.
"For the last few years, the Leo Burnett Graduate Foundation has concentrated less on university roadshows and more on what we do online.
This year's application is run through our specially designed LeoGrads Facebook Page. It's not just because we want to be in the most natural place to find and talk to potential grads (though of course that helps), but because we can involve our current grads and other agency people in telling the true story of what Leo Burnett is like. The purpose is not to trip people up or to set them ludicrous challenges, but to help them experience agency life, help them figure out whether advertising is for them and if they would make a better planner or account handler.
"It's also led to an important shift in who we recruit; we're not in the race any more to get people signed up before they graduate - we're as interested in people who can bring a year or two of life/work experience in a related industry.
Our current grads, for example, include a former illustrator and an ex-journalist.
"Putting the effort in early on helps raise the calibre of people at our assessment day. Once there, our lucky grads begin an intensive training period, shadowing, learning and participating across all departments. They then rotate across a number of accounts, putting their advertising, digital, experiential and shopper skills into practice. It's a big investment, but it's essential to develop the new generation of fully integrated account handlers and planners." THE GRADUATES
SAATCHI & SAATCHI - Massimo Fiori, new-business account executive
"Having applied to a host of advertising graduate schemes, the application process for the Saatchi & Saatchi Summer Scholarship was by far the most enjoyable. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
"Not once was I made to answer a mundane 'tell us about yourself in 200 words' question or even asked to send in my CV. (To this day, I still don't even think they have a copy of it.)
"Instead, I found myself dressed as an ambassador remaking the infamous Ferrero Rocher ad. Following this, I was told that (the chief executive) Robert Senior would interview me over Skype.
In hindsight, I feel rather stupid worrying so much as it turned out to be an impersonator wearing a ginger wig.
"During the six weeks of the scholarship, I was assigned to the Toyota account. As an extra project, the grads were asked to work on a real-life pitch. Late-night brainstorming and last-minute presentation rehearsals were a stark indicator of what it takes to cut it in this industry.
"Now I'm a Saatchi & Saatchi employee, the fun hasn't stopped. Last week we celebrated our 40th anniversary and tomorrow I've got the whole executive team decorating cupcakes as part of a new-business venture (don't ask...)."
LEO BURNETT - Jonathan Drennan, graduate account handler
"It is hard to believe that nine months have passed since I started as a graduate trainee at Leo Burnett. After an initial three months of full-time training, I am six months into my on-the-job training, which has started with working on the above-the-line Kellogg account, before moving on to a further six months of working on shopper marketing and a digital account.
"After an informal phone interview, I arrived at Leo Burnett for my assessment day a few weeks later. The day was exhausting, but also enjoyable. I had several individual interviews and then the more daunting prospect of working on a brief with a group I had never met and presenting to the agency. If I offered anything on the day, it was unbridled enthusiasm. I was delighted to be there and was determined to enjoy the experience.
"Leo Burnett is a place where creativity thrives. From my first day, my ideas have been welcomed and respected, whether they are for a new digital campaign for Kellogg or a graduate presentation to the executive committee. Everyone wants to create the best creative product possible, and what could be more stimulating than that?"
DARE - Emily Woollcombe-Adams, account executive
"No matter how many blogs, books and issues of Campaign I could have read, nothing would have prepared me for the start of my career as a grad at Dare.
"We did joint training (workshops and talks with many revered bods in adland) with the other Cossette agencies, so were exposed to PR as well as the above-and below-the-line disciplines. This gave me a much broader view of the industry and enabled me to see how important it is for marketing not to work in silos.
"Specifically at Dare, it was truly great to be introduced to all the different disciplines, such as tech and planning, that contribute to the development of ideas that can be advertised, and bringing a digital campaign to life. We weren't fobbed off with just anyone for training, we were taught by the best and were even treated to a posh slap-up lunch with John Bartle.
"My first year has been the most fantastic whirlwind and I have learnt more about marketing for a digital world than I could ever have imagined, supported every step of the way (even the wobbly ones) by everyone at Dare."