Career Overview
Job Outlook
Career Tracks

Advertising Job Listings

Career Overview

People think of advertising as glamorous—and it can be. There are extravagant Christmas parties at the big agencies—one insider tells of being delighted when he got to his Christmas party and learned that Los Lobos would be the band. There are ball games with the client, client dinners at excellent restaurants, two-hour lunches courtesy of the magazine rep, trips to film on location in Fiji or Rio de Janeiro, and opportunities to befriend the famous people who star in the ads. (Look for a bit less extravagance than usual these days, though, as advertising agencies make like companies in every industry and look to cut costs.)

There’s also the constant opportunity to create an ad that makes a permanent mark on popular culture. But that’s not all there is to advertising. Behind the bright lights and the glitz are thousands and thousands of hours of hard work.

Ads influence our minds whether we like to believe it or not, filling magazines, on billboards lining the road, and appearing at regular intervals on television. Their objective: to market and sell goods and services. Their effect: They play a significant role in shaping our culture.

An advertising agency is a marketing consultant. It helps a client—a manufacturer of consumer products such as Nike or a service-oriented company such as Charles Schwab & Co.—with its marketing efforts, from strategy to concept to execution.

Strategy involves helping a client make high-level business decisions, such as how to brand a new line of suntan lotions. The agency takes a client's strategy and turns it into a specific concept for advertisements—such as a series of ads featuring extreme athletes for a soft-drink maker with a strategy of making inroads in the teen market.

Execution is where an agency turns a concept into reality with the production of actual ads: the print layout, the Web design, the film shoot, or the audiotaping. Execution also involves placing the ads—buying space in newspapers, on television, or in subway stations.

What You’ll Do
You might go into the business side of account management (a function WetFeet covers more completely in another Career Profile) or account planning; the creative side, where you'll create ads (many people interested in visual arts, design—particularly graphic design—and editorial and writing careers join ad agencies as creatives) or work in media planning or production. Some people interested in advertising may find they prefer public relations, where you'll have a similar goal, though your means will be quite different.

The work you do will be determined partly by the type of agency you're in and your role within it. Account-driven agencies' ads usually focus on product benefits, whereas creative agencies' ads focus on brand image. As a result, account-driven agencies end up with accounts such as Energizer batteries, for which the Energizer Bunny campaign extolled the product's long life. Creative agencies end up with accounts where lifestyle or image is more important, such as Old Navy, which uses retro clothing styles to connect with its teen and twenty-something market.

Most agencies consist of five main departments: account management, account planning, media, production, and creative. See the Career Tracks section for a more detailed explanation of these roles. Some larger agencies also have traffic departments to handle the flow of projects between departments; new-business departments, which keep track of possible new clients and gather resources in preparation for pitches; and public relations departments, which direct publicity programs.

Who Does Well

To succeed in advertising, you need to be creative, organized, motivated, good with people, tactful, culturally aware, decisive, resilient, and able to handle deadlines and stress. You'll also have to be able to work individually and in a team environment, understand buying and selling patterns, understand and incorporate technology, and appreciate creativity.

For a career in account planning, you'll also have to be capable of carrying out qualitative and quantitative research. Good media planners are detail-oriented and good at math and understanding marketing thoroughly. On the creative side, you've got to be able to handle pressure and deal with the frustration of having clients who may not understand or appreciate your creative vision.

To learn more about opportunities in advertising careers, check out the WetFeet Insider Guide to Careers in Advertising and Public Relations.

Most advertising agencies prefer candidates with bachelor's degrees and a liberal arts background—preferably in advertising, journalism, public relations, literature, sociology, philosophy, or psychology. Obtaining an internship and taking courses in marketing, statistics, economics, accounting, mathematics, and creative design will give you an advantage when you enter the job market. Skills in interactive technology—such as HTML—may also make you a more marketable candidate.

For marketing and sales promotion positions, it's helpful to have a BA or MBA with a focus in marketing. Creative jobs require at least a 2-year degree from an art or design school and top-notch communications skills. For entry-level copywriting or art direction jobs, a book is essential—this means designing and producing mock advertisements.

Midcareer professionals from other industries should be prepared to start at square one. This is an industry in which people work their way up from the bottom. It's often necessary to jump from agency to agency to move ahead. People looking to jump agencies will find they're judged by the success of the campaigns on which they've worked.

Job Outlook
The advertising and PR industries were hit hard by the decline of the dot coms, the tech downturn, and the overall recession. Remember all those expensive dot-com Super Bowl ads from a few years back? A lot of those companies are no longer in business—and, like their more traditional brick-and-mortar Corporate America cousins, those that have survived are much less willing to plunk down millions of dollars on advertising. But companies are starting to spend again, albeit not at the levels of the late 1990s. Whereas U.S. advertising industry revenue was up just 0.6 percent in 2001, in 2003 it rose by nearly 4.0 percent. For a few years, many advertising agencies were forced to lay off employees, close offices, and cut or freeze salaries. Fortunately for those in the industry (and those looking to get into it), things are looking up; as advertising spending increases, agencies are finally beginning to add a trickle of new jobs. As one insider says, “It’s not a great time in the history of advertising to get employment, but the employment climate does seem to be picking up.”

Career Tracks
If you work in a larger agency, you're more likely to specialize than in a small agency, where you're more likely to wear multiple hats. Most people start at the junior or assistant level and move up the ranks—if you come to advertising from another industry, you're likely to start at the bottom. The greatest numbers of entry-level positions exist in account management and media.

Account Management
At the entry level, an account coordinator, administrative assistant, or assistant account executive ensures that ads move smoothly through the execution process. Occasionally, these jobs include some competitive analysis and assistance in client meetings or on ad shoots. Past the entry level, an account executive handles all aspects of an account—from planning to implementation. Account executives determine a client’s needs and coordinate with other departments to ensure they are met. From there, you can move on to become an account manager, account supervisor, management supervisor, vice president, and eventually, director.

Some agencies will start you as a media assistant, a largely clerical position. From there, you'll move to assistant media planner, where you'll analyze consumer habits and evaluate content to determine where an ad is most likely to get the target audience’s attention (think beer ads during the Super Bowl). Assistant media buyers purchase airtime and advertising space and ensure that ads appear as scheduled. From the assistant level, the career trajectory progresses to media planner or buyer, senior media planner or buyer, media supervisor, vice president, and director.

Account Planning
Most people move into account planning laterally as junior account planners or are hired from account planning departments in other agencies. Account planners try to quantify and qualify what makes people tick—and analyze mountains of data in the process—by conducting focus groups and researching things such as why teens like one kind of soft drink more than another. If you do well, you can advance rapidly to senior account planner, vice president, and director.

Creative Services
Creative career tracks require a book of sample ads. You might take an assistant position in a creative department while putting together your book. Entry-level creative positions are called junior positions: A junior copywriter assists a senior copywriter in writing copy and scripts for ads; a junior art director helps an art director develop visual concepts and designs for ads. Copywriters and art directors work together as partners to come up with strong ideas to carry out a client’s strategy.

The closer you are to entry level in the production department, the more your work will consist of grunt layout tasks. As you move up, you'll have increasing say in design issues. Production generally has the most contact with account management and creative, and it can be a good path to other careers in advertising. If you're a young graphic artist, this is a good place to learn about advertising and get to know people who can advise you on getting a book together.

When it comes to handing out paychecks, the advertising industry is a lot like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When you first start in advertising, it’s Mr. Hyde: high teens to mid-$20,000s—low $30,000s at most—depending on your position and your experience. “It’s not very high pay for fairly long hours,” says one insider. Another says, “The young people in the business do tough jobs for not a lot of money. It’s a classic case of paying your dues.”

As you advance in the industry, though, you’ll get to know Dr. Jekyll: into the $80,000s and $90,000s and even into the six figures if you make VP or director on the business side or if you’re a successful creative.

Advertising Job Listings
Advertising Account Executive
Advertising Account Manager
Advertising Account Planner
Advertising Creative
Advertising Production
Advertising Sales
Media Buyer