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Advertising | The Careers Service Advertising – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Do creativity and business appeal to you equally? Do you want to create strategies and ideas, build brands, connect consumers and drive businesses? Then the advertising industry could be for you. In a nutshell, working in advertising involves the process of developing strategies, (e.g. where to place an ad), market research (e.g. who the ad is most likely to appeal to), and producing the creative idea (e.g. copywriting or design). Advertising uses a range of media including direct mail, billboards, television, film, radio, and of course social media. See our Careers in Advertising PowerPoint presentation about the industry.

Professionals are often employed in ‘agencies’. These agencies can either be specialist, e.g. media buying or digital/online, or full-service agencies. The rise of digital media over the past 20 years has created many more opportunities to communicate with audiences and so agency services have expanded to include everything from blogger outreach programmes to pay-per-click adverts, social media activity and branded digital content. The work often includes:

  • creating and managing integrated advertising campaigns and client-supplier liaison
  • planning, research and evaluation
  • new business development
  • digital roles – creative, design and production

Advertising is not only concerned with persuading people to buy goods or services, but also encompasses other aspects of the communications sector such as PR, market research, brand consultancy and marketing. You could, for example, work on campaigns that help raise money for charity, or generate awareness of government issues such as Time to Change, a well publicised campaign to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination.

Types of job

The most popular roles in the industry are listed below along with the type of work involved. Each agency may refer to these roles with slightly different job titles and in many cases a role may combine two or more areas, particularly if the agency is smaller:

Account manager

(Also known as Client Services / Account Executive).

  • Responding to client requests.
  • Providing administrative support to the rest of the team.
  • Organising and attending client briefings and presentations of campaigns for approval.
  • Briefing colleagues and helping them plan and execute work for clients.
  • Manage projects and ensure deadlines are met and budgets kept to.

Strategic planning (account planner)

  • Working with clients to understand their business objectives, target markets and consumers.
  • Analysing data, trends and reports relevant to the client’s business.
  • Commissioning, conducting and analysing qualitative (e.g. focus groups) and quantative (e.g. surveys) research.
  • Advising on possible approaches or adaptation of approach to the target market.
  • Finding an ‘angle’ on a specific product or service on which to base an advertising campaign.
  • Presenting conclusions and ideas to clients and other agency staff.
  • Analysing and interpreting customer response and sales data to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign.

Media planning and media buyer

  • Negotiating with media owners to get best rates and spaces across media platforms such as TV, radio, digital, press, billboards and even promotion on the sides of buses and taxis.
  • Working closely with planning teams to ensure the planning and buying process runs smoothly.
  • Keeping up to date with new developments in the industry, latest research and competitor activity.
  • Creating media plans which outline the media channels to be used.
  • Presenting media plans to the client and keeping them informed of campaign progress.
  • Preparing costing and spending reports for clients and managing budgets.
  • Researching and analysing data to understand client’s target audience.
  • Analysing campaign effectiveness.

Copywriter

  • Writing clear, persuasive, original copy.
  • Proofreading copy to check spelling and grammar.
  • Amending, revising or redeveloping adverts or campaigns in response to feedback from the creative director, account team or clients.
  • Overseeing campaigns through the production stage to completion.
  • Casting actors for TV and radio work, listening to voice tapes, liaising with production companies, photographers, typographers, designers and printers.
  • Keeping up to date with popular culture and trends.

Art director

  • Working with colleagues in a creative team to devise an idea which will engage the target audience, while also meet the client’s brief for their business problem.
  • Presenting initial ideas to the creative director for approval, and development into final concept.
  • Creating visual mock-up of concept.
  • Responding to client’s feedback.
  • Managing and commissioning artworkers, photographers, illustrators, film-makers and designers to make the concept a reality.

Insight executive

  • Analysing data and applying it to solve a business objective or problem that a client faces.
  • Producing cross-sector information on anything from markets and brands to trends, developments and recent innovations.
  • Ability to think laterally if information is not readily available and needs to be found in a short time.
  • Coming up with new ideas or solutions when there isn’t necessarily any given information readily available.
  • Presenting ideas in a compelling way over multiple formats, such as email, PowerPoint and face-to-face presentations.
  • Learning about people and why they do what they do and being able to explain this to clients.
Entry points

Many advertising agencies run training schemes for graduates and while competition for places is fierce, they are a great route into the industry.

Check agency websites from September to find (new) graduate schemes and check their deadlines, which will often fall early in Michaelmas Term. A great place to start is the AdMission  careers site run by the IPA (The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising). This includes listings of firms with graduate schemes and the IPA’s own AdMission STEM and BAME Internship Programme, with 50 positions available for summer 2017.

Check full details for yourself on company websites, but some of the leading firms and graduate schemes include:

  • AMV BBDO: AMV Academy
  • Densu Aegis Network
  • Grey: Blueprint
  • J. Walter Thompson: JWT Pioneers
  • Karmarama: Karma Kadets scheme
  • Leo Burnett: The Foundry
  • M&C Saatchi
  • MEC: Elevate
  • Ogilvy and Mather: Ogilvy Fellowship in Account Management or Account Planning
  • WPP: WPP Fellowship

Some people get their first account planning job straight out of university, while others move across from another agency role, such as account management, or a different field entirely, such as market research or journalism.

Getting a job in the creative department is less straightforward. The main way of entering the profession is to take your ‘book’ of work to art directors and senior copywriters to gain work experience. So networking and speculative approaches are crucial: more on this is included below and in our information about Speculative Approaches and Creative CVs. In many instances people looking to work in more practically creative roles tend to have an art or design background, although this is not essential.

Career progression within advertising is highly dependent on your skills and ability. The industry works on the basis of meritocracy and it is not uncommon for individuals to be at Board level at the age of thirty!

Even if an agency isn’t looking for someone new, it is still worth sending in a speculative application. Vacancies may arise in the future or internships may be available.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

The skills required in advertising are as varied as the industry itself. The advertising industry needs people who are interested in consumer markets and fascinated by advertising and the media. Agencies look for individuals who can relate to their clients and help them achieve their business objectives. Certain skills are broadly common to all advertising work but some will depend on the role in question:

  • Ability to link a creative solution to a business problem.
  • Understanding and love of brands.
  • Ability to work under pressure as part of a team.
  • Ability to communicate articulately with people at all levels.
  • A rigorous and creative approach to problem solving.
  • Strong lateral and logical thinking skills.
  • An open and enquiring mind.
  • Entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Persuasive and diplomatic.
  • Well-organised with an eye for detail.
  • Digital media insight.
  • Creative design skills/qualifications (for creative roles)

As an Account Manager, you need to thrive on deadlines and pressure. This role (similar to a Business Consultant) is responsible for co-ordinating the resources of the agency to meet the needs of the client and requires excellent interpersonal skills. The ability to persuade and convince are vital when you are making a pitch to a new client. In Account Planning and Media Planning, analysis and research skills are central; whilst Media Buyers – those who purchase air time on television or space online – must be quick thinkers, organised and strong negotiators. Art Directors have usually come from an art school background. For Copywriting, the craft of writing is still important, especially now in the development of websites, virals, Twitter and other online media. A copywriter needs to be able to produce a clear, persuasive and original copy.

To check out if your skills set lend themselves towards a career in the advertising sector try the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) online self-assessment Diagonal Thinking Test. It free and will help you understand which kind of roles your skills and personality are likely to fit best.

Getting experience

Employers will want evidence of your interest, and work experience is central to this. It is also an effective way of finding out whether the advertising sector is right for you. A number of agencies do offer work experience programmes throughout the year, or summer internships. A list is provided on the AdMission website, and vacancies are regularly updated on the FutureRising website. In addition, the IDM Summer School is a free one week programme supported by the industry to provide a behind-the-scenes look into advertising, digital and data-driven marketing.

Search CareerConnect for current and archived opportunities. If you are not able to secure a competitive work experience position, consider speculative applications, perhaps just for work shadowing or informal work experience. This is a very common route in! Unpaid work experience or work shadowing is not easy to get but is invaluable even if it is for a day or two. If you search the archived vacancies on CareerConnect you should find over 200 opportunities advertised for this sector: a great start for sending speculative approaches.

Use the IPA’s agency directory to draw up a list of companies you’d be interested to work for. The listing includes client details, size and focus of the agencies, awards and names of people in the leadership team. Go deeper by taking a look at each firm’s website, their careers pages and seek out an email address, perhaps listed under ‘Contact Us’, ‘About Us’ or ‘Jobs’.

Alternatively, do some online research via LinkedIn or advertising awards websites like The Best Awards (nominations made by August, and awards announced in march each year).  You can find firms recognised for their work and look for people to contact directly: eg, the relevant head of department, for example the head of planning or executive creative director. You can also contact the head of human resources.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. You can find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship at the UK Government: National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

Alongside CareerConnect, the job section of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) website and the FutureRising website is a good place to start. You’ll find agency roles across all the different disciplines from client services to planning and creative, as well as the occasional client-side role. You can sign up for email updates when new vacancies are uploaded.

You can also submit your profile and details to FutureRising, where they can be searched by agency members with roles to fill.

Additionally, you can search for jobs in The Guardian’s Marketing & PR or Media sections and on Brand Republic, the online portal for industry titles such as Campaign, Marketing and Mediaweek.

A number of the large ‘full-service’ advertising agencies such as JWT and WPP have well-organised recruitment programmes, details of which are listed in the Entry Points section on this page. Many of the larger agencies open for applications in September, but a few run even earlier. Early in your research, check closing dates for applications – these typically fall in early November with first stage interviews being held in December, but some close in (early) October whilst others into the New Year. This makes it possible to spread applications, but don’t miss opportunities by not looking early enough.

People often try to catch the eye of senior advertising staff with unconventional and/or creative CVs. Demonstrating creative prowess with a CV can be effective IF you successfully tailor your message to the company in question. Beware of gimmicks, however. It’s no good spending hours on an infographic CV if the idea is completely irrelevant to the agency or job you’re applying for. A highly targeted application is more likely to impress. For further help on putting together a visual or infographic CV, and read our information on Creative CVs.

It is vital to build your online presence if you are considering a career in advertising (or communications of any kind). If a company is interested in you, they may well Google you. Make sure they like what they find. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and accurately reflects your CV. Tighten your security settings on Facebook and make sure there’s nothing on any other social media platforms that you wouldn’t want a future employer to see. The Careers Service often delivers skills sessions on LinkedIn and Social Media, so visit CareerConnect for more information on upcoming sessions.

If you are going to be successful and enter the advertising industry you must be able to demonstrate that you really understand what the work involves. You could do this by:

  • Regularly reading Campaign, the weekly industry journal. We subscribe to this, or you can view it online at Brand Republic. There are also several useful books (listed below) that you can read.
  • Attending our Arts, Media and Marketing Fair in Michaelmas term to network with industry professionals, have your CV reviewed, and listen to inspiring industry talks.
  • Taking the IPA Diagonal Thinking test and taking the results to show potential employers.
  • Registering with FutureRising to receive interesting industry advice, top tips for getting into advertising and to hear about upcoming brand workshops.
  • Reviewing the Best Awards winners. They showcase the fittest, most elite and innovative agency work produced by the UK’s top creative agency talent. There are various entry categories which reflect break-through innovation, results and creative diversity to help you gain a better understanding of top industries and what’s new in this sector. This is really useful for interview preparation too.
  • Talking to someone doing the job. Try using the Oxford Careers Network (OCN) to identify Oxford graduates now working in advertising, search Oxford alumni on LinkedIn and/or use your own college’s alumni network.
  • Joining and taking a proactive role in the University student society AdSoc. See AdSoc’s website for more information on joining and their events.
  • Making sure you can comment on recent campaigns. It does not matter whether you like the advertisement or not, or whether you buy the product. What matters is that you should be able to prove that you have thought critically and intelligently about the campaign. You could even write a blog to review recent campaigns, try using WordPress or Tumblr to get you started.
  • Seeking paid or unpaid work experience, temporary opportunities or a couple of days shadowing someone in an agency for a few days. Careers Advisers can help you with putting together a CV to attach to speculative applications.
  • Making sure your application is tailored to each agency. If you can show you have some insight about what makes them different – or what accounts they have – they are likely to be impressed. Don’t be ‘wacky’ unless you are sure you can carry it off. Using the website Brand Republic will help you to find out lots of information about companies, their brands and media spend. This is useful for applications and for interviews too.
  • Making use of forums and blogs. You will be expected to have a good understanding of different social networks and media, so finding advertising blogs is a great way to do some research. Try The 10 Advertising Blogs you Need to Read.
  • You may need to consider alternative ways of entering the industry. For example, a communications job in the marketing department of a consumer goods company (such as Dyson, Tesco or Unilever) is quite a common route into advertising. Working in Sales Promotion or Direct Marketing companies, where the competition is often not as high, could offer good initial experience.

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are pro-active in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or ‘Stonewall Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the UK Government: Discrimination webpages.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Hey Whipple, Squeeze this. Luke Sullivan
  • Velocity, Ajaz Ahmed & Stefan Olander
  • The A List, Campaign
  • Advertising, Winston Fletcher
  • How to get into Advertising, Andrea Neidle
  • Careers in Advertising and Public Relations, Wetfeet Insider Guide
  • Advertising, Roderick White

Journals

We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Campaign, weekly
  • Marketing Week, weekly

Podcasts of past events

Careers in Advertising – FutureRising

FutureRising co-founder Don Fogarty talked at Oxford in January 2017. Listen to the podcast of the event below.

(Details: Introduction to resources, advice and  support through FutureRising (0:00); Industry overview, including roles, agency size and locations (7:40); Applications: Advice on effective networking, application processes and tools (17:50); Introduction to workshop exercise (26:00).)

Real Life Mad Men: Careers in Advertising

This talk includes three very different agencies: M&C Saatchi, Jack Morton Worldwide and RD Content. Each speaker will be talking about the real nature of working in advertising and giving the audience top tips about how to break into this creative, competitive industry.

External resources
  • AdMission – run by the IPA, a professional body representing more than 300 advertising, media and marketing communications agencies across the UK. This website is useful to help you decide what sort of advertising role is right for you. You’ll also find interviews with people working in different types of agencies and different disciplines – from account management to creatives, planners and project managers. There’s also advice on how to get a job in advertising from people who make the hiring decisions in agencies.
  • Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
  • Brand Republic – excellent resource to get an insight into career profiles, potential employers in the communication sector, campaigns and media spend.
  • Future Rising.
  • Creative Industries Careers Guide produced by Future Rising is incredibly helpful and up to date. FutureRising host a range of brand workshops with a variety of different agencies so their industry knowledge is both broad and detailed. You can meet representatives from FutureRising at the Oxford Arts Media and Marketing Fair in Michaelmas term.
This information was last updated on 20 November 2017.
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Recent blogs about Advertising

Exploring Careers for Arts Students

Blogged by Julia Hilton on November 14, 2017.
  • When: 16.00-17.00, Monday 20 November
  • Where: Denis Arnold Hall, Faculty of Music

Have you wondered what to do with your degree? What have alumni studying English, Music, Classics or History of Art done? How do you navigate the huge range of options out there and are there any relevant internships available? Come along to answer these questions and more at this Careers Service event. There’ll be plenty of examples to inspire next steps and practical information on how to be successful in the graduate labour market.

You do not need to book a place at this event but please bear in mind that spaces will be allocated on a first-come, first served basis and popular events may fill early so arrive in good time.

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