Lessons from the first rung

Arvid Härnqvist and Amar Marwaha from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Arvid Härnqvist and Amar Marwaha from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

The transition from university to career is a tough one for new ad executives. Campaign spoke to some recent graduates who have got their first footing on the ladder about agency life and tips for others.

Arvid Härnqvist, 22, art director
Amar Marwaha, 24, copywriter
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

There are two things creative courses fail to prepare you for in agency life, according to the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO copywriter Amar Marwaha and the art director Arvid Härnqvist.

The first thing is pitches. "It’s a really difficult process," Härnqvist says. "It’s very different to what you experience every day and it’s really intense. The people you work with end up feeling like your family by the end of it because you’ve been working together for so long. It’s a lot of fun, but you do feel kind of empty when it’s all over."

The second thing is timesheets. "We didn’t learn anything about timesheets at college," Marwaha adds. "They should teach you that."

Marwaha and Härnqvist studied at Falmouth University. Marwaha was originally studying account management in Scotland, but the course got cancelled. Härnqvist had studied industrial design in Sweden and initially wanted to design cars, but switched to advertising when he realised it would entail years spent drawing and then redrawing a single wing mirror.

The pair started at AMV on a two-week placement, which was lengthened to three months before they were offered full-time jobs. It was their third placement, following stints at LBi and Dare. One of the things that stood them in good stead at AMV was showing up on the first day with ideas for the agency’s clients.

They soon found out there’s a big difference to working at an agency on placement and being at one full-time, however. While a creative director will continue to act as a safety net to junior staff, no-one gets led by the hand as they do on placements.

That said, not all creative directors are the feral rageaholics that university lecturers make them out to be.

"What we heard in school about ad agencies was that you’d have a CD constantly screaming at you, but it’s much more relaxed than that," Härnqvist explains. "It’s really good at AMV. They teach you stuff here as opposed to just throwing you in the deep end. I’m much better now than
I was a year ago."

Marwaha and Härnqvist’s advice to anyone seeking that first foot on the ladder is to "keep knocking on doors".

"Go and see as many people as you can," Härnqvist says. "When you figure out where you want to work, visit them, listen to the feedback and go back with stuff that takes the criticism on board. Keep showing people stuff."

Holly David, 24, press buyer

Holly David went into media buying with few expectations. She had completed a placement at Disney’s finance department, but all she took away from that was she didn’t want a career in Disney’s finance department.

As she was finishing her exams – studying business at Bournemouth University – a friend at Omnicom mentioned a job going in the Cadbury account team. She applied and was successful.

"I went into the industry a bit blind, so I didn’t have many expectations," David says.

"I started in the planning team and spent a year-and-a-half there. I then decided I wanted to be more specialised and joined the press buying team. I’ve been in the team for around nine months now."

She continues: "When I first started at PHD, it was very much a case of working at my own desk and meeting media owners. Now, I go out to more client meetings. That only comes with time. But, here at PHD, they’re good at developing people quite quickly."

David’s job has started to entail more digital cross-platform activity involving iPads and the like, and she spent 12 weeks on the Google Squared digital media training course in 2012. But she has found some of the oldest skills to be the most vital.

"Especially in my job, it’s really important to have strong relationships with different media owners. That’s quite an old, traditional way of doing things, but it helps in negotiations. If you can be a bit more friendly, it makes the whole process easier," she explains.

As far as tips for prospective media planners, David says: "Keep up to date with what’s going on in the industry.

Ads are all around us, but it’s important to see the bigger picture and know about new developments.

Keep on top of it so you can talk about campaigns in your interview."

Jerôme Jacob, 22, account executive
Partners Andrews Aldridge

Jerôme Jacob got his foot in the door at Partners Andrews Aldridge by making the most of a chance meeting – a fitting start for an account manager-in-waiting.

He was at a networking event at The Goring, which was part of The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing’s summer school, when he spotted the PAA co-founder Steve Aldridge on the hotel lawn.

Aldridge was there for another event. Jacob overcame the creative chief’s Godfather-like presence to strike up a conversation. Aldridge was curious as to whether residents whose homes backed on to the hotel could use its gardens. Jacob later sought an answer from the maitre d’ and dropped Aldridge an e-mail letting him know that, no, residents weren’t allowed on the lawns, but that he was a big fan of the agency. Jacob interned for nine weeks before he was offered a job as an account manager working on BMW and The Glenlivet.

"I started off doing errands and odd jobs, and went from doing stuff like organising calls and then agendas," Jacob says. "The BMW agenda is very hard. It becomes an admin puzzle and it’s like a rite of passage at the agency. Now I have projects that I have to execute and budget."

Jacob had intended to be a copywriter, and worked as one at VCCP for an internship as part of the IPA’s graduate scheme. But he had got a taste for organising when he was made captain of the road-cycling team at the University of Sheffield and realised his skills would translate well into account management.

Asked if he ever feels like he made the wrong choice, Jacob says: "What I like about account handling is there are so many avenues to it, so I don’t really miss the creative side because I don’t feel like I’m away from it."

His tips for those looking to start their first job is to think hard about where they want to work.

"I would very much get them to question the type of agency they apply to, for a start," he says. "When you start out in the industry, all the agencies can appear as blurs. Of course, you’ve got creative, social media agencies etc, but they can all vary so much depending on the agency. So, do a lot of research. I chose PAA because I like having an impact on people."

Once inside an agency, his tip is to make your mark: "Make a difference to the agency. After all, there’s a hell of a lot of people that want to get into this industry."

Sarah Lee Létourneau, 25, intern experience designer, R/GA London

Sarah Lee Létourneau got into advertising because she wanted to make things that mattered. Originally from Canada, Létourneau fell in love with Sweden and applied for the year-long interactive communication programme at Berghs School of Communication.

She landed an internship at R/GA London after attending a recruitment day and, so far, feels that the agency has been able to fulfil her aspirations.

"At R/GA, you get to do a lot of stuff that matters," she says. "I’ve been lucky to work on exciting projects."

Létourneau adds that Berghs was good at preparing her for agency life, although learning to adhere to budget constraints on projects and presenting to clients take a bit of getting used to.

"My expectations of work hours have pretty much been met," Létourneau explains. "Obviously, there is the occasional late night, but I think that’s what any graduate from any field should expect when starting out. Especially if you’re eager to produce work that’s high-quality."


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