How does a young graduate break into advertising today?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

With fierce competition for places, how can a graduate break through?

So you have your degree and you’ve waved goodbye to uni. What next? Straight into industry? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, not even close. As a recent Grad I know this all too well.

Finishing an advertising degree, I was ready to start my new career in London. I must have sent out hundreds of CVs and applications in the space of a few weeks. It was a testing time. Even when you hear back from a prospective employer – which doesn’t always happen – you still have to go through a whole process of trial projects and endless interviews and you still might not make the cut. With no family members to turn to, no names to drop, what do you have to do to break into this industry?

Thankfully the IPA came to my rescue with Advertising Unlocked. Back in September, agencies across the UK opened up their doors for the day for people new to the industry to come and get a taste of what agency life is like. I knew how important it is to land at the right agency for you, so, with this is in mind, I carefully looked at the agencies taking part and came across a real gem I had been interested in for a while: London Advertising.

When it comes to London the clue is in the name, it’s all about creating incredible work worldwide to a London standard without the need for offices all over the world, and they really do achieve this. The team of less than 20 in London is responsible for work across more countries than WPP has offices which is a truly incredible feat.

With all of this in mind I was seriously excited to visit, as was a fellow aspiring advertising student friend of mine, who like many of my student friends is still looking for that elusive first step in their career.

Visiting the agency was a real eye opener. I may have given away my eagerness by showing up a little early at 9am, but it is so rare for an agency to open its doors, you must make the most of it. The atmosphere in the agency was relaxed but energetic. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and accessible, giving so much of their time even though they were busy. We were given a brief to work on, which was great fun, we were able to discuss thoughts with the team and get real feedback on our thinking. There was no strict schedule and we were free to come and go as we please.

In fact, the IPA encouraged us to see as many agencies as possible. I spent hours at London, it was the only agency I visited that day and I didn’t want to leave. It was the first agency I have been in that I could really see myself working at, which is lucky because I am writing this from my desk at London not far from where I was sat four months ago.

It really wasn’t that simple though.

During the visit I spoke a lot with the business director, Henry. One of the things we talked about was London’s founding client Mandarin Oriental and the ‘Fan’ campaign. It’s been running 20 years and one of the most incredible achievements of the agencies founders, Michael and Alan, is that they have brand ambassadors including Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson and they pay them nothing.

I spent as much time as I could, talking to whoever I could, making sure they remembered me.

I was determined to sell myself and do everything but beg, borrow and steal to get a job at London. I made sure I got contact details and then stayed in touch for the next few weeks. As a result, I was invited to come in for a more formal chat about myself and what I was looking for. This must have gone really well because a few months later I was offered a one-year contract working on the Mandarin Oriental account.

The IPA unlocked the door for my career but London opened it for me.

Steve Sandom is an account executive at London Advertising

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