Ever since I walked into the doors of my first ad agency, I’ve collected little nuggets of wisdom. Things I refuse to ever do [never treat anyone like the help, forget how small this industry is, etc], and pay-it-forward advice that I’ve vowed to pass on to the next me.
Since becoming a Planner myself, I’ve done loads of informational interviews with aspiring strategy types, but a few months ago I was finally put into a position where some of those words were written down vs thrown out over skype, so I thought I would share them here.
This is an email that I sent to an eager, hungry and smart student at my alma mater who had recently applied for an internship at my current agency, 72andSunny. Feel free to agree, disagree, or do nothing at all. I’ll just leave this right here.
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Hey [Aspiring Planner],
I hear you — breaking in is tough. But don’t get discouraged. After the first internship, it gets a bit easier, but it will always be tough. I’m pretty positive that for my first internship, I applied to probably 100 shops and got 3 calls back.
Of those calls, I got one “sorry we changed our minds, we aren’t doing interns this summer”. One “You made it to the second round, but we’re going with a different candidate.” And one “Would you like to come to LA for the summer? Sorry, we don’t pay, but we’d like to have you.” You will get radio silence otherwise. If they want to talk to you, you’ll likely get a “congrats you’re being considered” email.
For me, the first two ‘no’s’ crushed my baby advertising soul, but the last one is the reason I’m in strategy today.
I cried when I didn’t get the second one.
I cursed the ad gods.
I was incredibly jealous because another Arrowhead [NSAC at FSU] teammate got it over me.
But you know what — number two was [a shop in NYC]…and they were hot shit at the moment, but I got TBWA/Chiat/Day LA two weeks later. I think I came out on the better end of that deal.
This will be tough to hear: I’m not sure what’s on with recruiting for interns here, but if they haven’t reached out then I’m not sure what else to tell you to do. Sometimes that happens. But I will say this: It is less a reflection on you and more a reflection on the candidate pool around you. They could very well have snagged people that they loved and never gotten to your resume. Recruiters are human. That said, I passed your resume along and it hit the pool, but again, this is a highly competitive industry and a high profile agency. When I was at Mullen Boston we would get 1500 applicants for 20 spots, and we usually got 300 or so for Planning’s 3 spots.
So, the first steer I would give you: don’t do anything now that your 5 year in professional self will regret. Be smart and eager, but apply that where it’s most impactful. Trust your gut. If it feels desperate to you, it looks desperate to us.
My second steer for you: Apply all over — try to get into the shops that can help you get to where you want to be.
My third steer is more of an inspiration piece on how people get hired in this industry / get a foot in the door. Here is an interesting article came out this week sort of on this subject. I would heed the Mullen and 72 advice in it : ) Don’t feel like you need to go cheesy to get noticed. That can sometimes have the opposite effect, making you blend in rather than stand out. The 72 intern in here turned junior works with me and he’s a rockstar. But he’s not superhuman. He just did what he thought was right and it worked.
My last steer: do not feel the pressure or that the ask is for you to tell agencies how to do their jobs — you likely aren’t going to crack a strategy that we haven’t thought of because you don’t have the context we have….But you might teach us something / show us how you think in a way that makes us want you to come crack stuff with us. Fake case studies for our real brands are really common. I would rather see how you think — about culture, the world, people — than how you think about my brands. That’s the stuff we all secretly wish we had more time for. That’s what I look for in interns and juniors alike.
Hoping that this helps — best of luck,
PS:I feel like I just wrote a letter to my 21 year old self, so trust that I’m really trying to help you out here, but ultimately this will be up to you!
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I’m happy to report that this student did in fact get a call back for an interview with 72 shortly after this response.
If you’re reading this, I hope that you also got an offer somewhere amazing–here or elsewhere–and I also hope you’re okay with my sharing this story, because it’s honestly all of our stories at some point.