David Mayo is the Chief Growth Officer at GetCraft. In this article, he shares six (6) of his best-kept tips on how to break into (and thrive in) the advertising industry.
I always wanted to work in advertising. When I was 17, I had a girlfriend whose father was something big in a large London ad agency and I knew that if I could be like him, I could keep the gal.
On the day I saw my very first 7-series BMW, my girlfriend finished with me and I renewed my zeal for advertising.
Less than 2 weeks later, her father called me and told me he was working on a pitch and that he needed someone to drive around the stores of the retail behemoth, take pictures, and ask people questions about their experience. This would prove that they were indeed interested in the business and had indeed done some homework relating to the pitch.
He offered me £300 for my work. He gave me a VW Golf GTi (another recent invention that – like the 7-Series – you only really saw in the media), and asked his daughter to go with me.
I was sold.
We drove around. We did the work and we won the pitch (the biggest in the UK that year!) but most importantly, we were reconciled….at least for another 6 months.
Within a year, I was working in a London advertising agency and I have never looked back.
One book that I would advise anyone coming into advertising to read is the seminal Ogilvy On Advertising. Not because it is particularly entertaining or well-written, but because of the sage advice you can only get from one of the wisest and most experienced ad guys ever to have written it all down.
David Ogilvy has written a manifesto for the future. His numerous books and sayings, whilst using a certain vernacular, are still as relevant today as they were when they were written.
The reason behind this success is that: The advice is about YOU, in relation to what comes out. It is not an instructional on how to write ads (although if you need it – guess what? – Ogilvy had something for you too!) but it is a guide on things to know, what to think, how to behave, and what to do.
I learned a few specific things from the process with my ex-girlfriend and her dad, that everyone coming into advertising would benefit to know as well:
Almost every parent associated with people that work in advertising asks their offspring whether they think it’s worth it. They almost always say yes.
I had a young account executive who started sleeping under the table in the office and made a small camp for herself where she would turn in at the end of a long day.
I discovered this only when her father called me and asked me where she was. He also asked me whether I felt that his considerable investment in his daughter’s education was worth squandering in an ad agency. I sent her home to speak to her father about balancing his hopes and dreams for her….and her own. She was back the following Monday.
As the saying goes – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince. Breaking into advertising is a very hard thing to do because the process is messy and differs from agency to agency. It is very hard to match your skills to the specific agency you are writing to, without understanding their internal workings.
When people write back to you and say “Thanks but no thanks,” that is not a nail in the coffin but a new shot of zeal and tenacity. It’s a new reason to gather your resolve to get in.
If you don’t like being told “no,” advertising isn’t the place for you – and even when you get in, there is plenty of “no” to go around. Remember, it’s a creative industry so has to be messy; but it’s also a business which has to be financially sound.
According to Forbes, people generally come into their earning years in their 40’s. Everything is relative – however, the journey from your first day in advertising to a profitable life in your 40’s is a very long one, so don’t think it’s going to pay from Day 1.
In advertising, you have to prove yourself valuable before you start making the big bucks (or at least make the bonus pool!) so always remember that you only need two friends in an agency – the Creative Director and the Finance Director. They are your ticket to financial nirvana!
If you piss people off in advertising, it will come back and bite you. If you decide not to be helpful, or a team player, or if you choose to be political, or capricious and decide that you do not need people around you – you will fail. Being a leader in any organization requires a subtle blend of carrot and stick. In advertising, you need more carrot and less stick. If you are good at what you do and nice with it, people will come to you.
It’s a Karma business.
This is linked with “NO” – but once you have secured your dream job and you are putting in the work to make your picky boss look good, button your lip. It’s easy to shine in advertising if you stick with it, concentrate, focus and maintain your course. Advertising is like a marathon – it is everyone until the 32nd kilometer, then the race is on and it is those who finish who compete. Be tenacious – stick with it. Be audacious – ask for forgiveness, not permission. And, more than anything – be creative (by which, I mean, use the right side of your brain!)
And finally, along the way, you will need some good luck to see you along the bumpy road to advertising success.
I do believe in karma and I do believe in good luck. It’s made me very superstitious; I pick coins up, I recite little rhymes, I touch things in a certain way, I never fly on the 13th, I never stay on the ground floor, I always smile at old people ….the list is endless.
But to others, that is part of the eccentricity that sets advertising creatives apart from the pack. Pack People do not make it in advertising, and those that do sometimes become locked in a wheel of frustration and irrelevance very fast. Don’t be one of them.
Neil Gaiman says “Often you will discover that the harder you work, and the more wisely you work, the luckier you get. But there is luck, and it helps.” So stick to your goals. Do the work. Be thankful for luck when it comes, but keep moving and never let the grass grow under your feet.
David Mayo is one of Asia’s most established agency leaders with a strong track record in building business, teams, skills, brands and driving creativity with wins in every creative show at every level since 1999. After 21 years in Ogilvy and WPP, David is now the Chief Growth Officer at GetCraft, Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest-growing creative services marketplace. David is a Non Executive Director of several companies in the fields of design and data. He is also a visiting lecturer at Singapore Management University and an alumnus of INSEAD.
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