Getting your first account job is a matter of contacts, presentation skill, and a lucky break. Agencies recruit account coordinators and assistant account executives from the ranks of connected or persistent college grads, client progeny, and random candidates who impress us with their wit, moxie, or individuality.
To start on the bottom rung, you must run the gauntlet of HR screeners, potential team members, and hiring managers. Most are women who notice and pay close attention to your hair (cut and color), clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, scent, posture, accent, tone of voice, attitude, and aptitude. The HR types look to see if you are presentable, can hold an adult conversation, and know something about advertising. They try to figure out if you’ll fit in. Account guys are looking for three critical things: smarts, subservience, and chemistry.
Account people sell and service clients. They have to understand the clients, the client organization and internal politics, the client’s business, and the client’s category. They have to read people, markets, and competitors and develop an understanding of what is said and what is meant; often two different things. They manage the process of creating ideas and ads and have to understand and be responsible for the strategic, creative, and production processes. And they are responsible for creating revenue and profit.
Account teams are lean and mean. Small teams handle a million, often changing, details. They work late and negotiate all the zigs and zags that produce great ads. It’s intense and occasionally exhilarating.
ACs or AAEs are apprentices. Charged with tedious but important tasks like managing budgets, timelines, documents, and process issues, junior account guys must also manage to keep their mouths shut. It’s not about immediate gratification or grandstanding. It’s about observing, learning, adjusting, and sublimating your ego to be part of a team.
To land an entry-level account job, you must clearly communicate your desire to work like a dog, learn everything you can, submit to on-the-job training that resembles a medieval guild, and put up or get along with whatever personalities you encounter. In interviews you must clearly convey that doing these tasks is the single greatest and most important desire you’ve ever had in your life. Account guys desperately want love. They cannot bear being anyone’s second or third choice.
Be prepared to talk about your favorite current ads and why you think they’re good. Have some idea about what trends are driving the culture and how your interests, tastes, and needs differ from those of your parents and grandparents. Convince us that you are a digital native and know something about the communication value of the Internet and Facebook above and beyond game play.
Forget about subtlety. Do the math for your interviewers. Explicitly share your desire to be the low man on the totem pole. Start your ascent to the heights of Pete Campbell or Roger
Sterling by peppering the conversation with these lines:
I’m super organized. My friends think I’m OCD.
I make lists and get stuff done. That’s what I’m about.
I’m good with numbers and Excel.
I pick up software easily.
I worked round the clock in college and I will do so here.
Learning the fundamentals is the most important thing.
Advertising excites me because it’s about how we think and feel.
Working in advertising is about being part of the evolving culture.
I’m a team player looking for a team to join.
Account work is a perfect match with my personality.
I’m good with people and I’m good at building consensus among them.
I want to learn from people like you and work my way up the ladder.
It’s very important to succeed. I’ll do whatever it takes.
Never ever say, “I always wanted to be in advertising.” Avoid all references to Darren and Samantha Stevens, Tom Hanks’ character in Nothing in Common or Mel Gibson in What Women Want.
Agencies have a constant, if intermittent, need for new blood. Our business model depends on having a few chiefs and many Indians. Don’t be discouraged. Keep knocking on our doors and follow these simple instructions.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.