'Advertising' is not easily defined. Narrowly, it means clearly identifiable, paid-for communications in the media, which aim to persuade, inform or sell. But the word is also used to cover a much broader range of activities - from design to public relations - by what are often the same organisations, using similar skills.
Advertising is not a single industry, but spreads untidily across at least three separate kinds of employer organisation - those who:
- use it (the advertisers); - make it (the advertising agencies); and - display it (the media).
A number of other, more specialised organisations - e.g. market research companies - are also involved.
Using its narrower definition, advertising takes two main forms - 'display', and 'classified'. Display advertising embraces TV and radio commercials, posters, and large display spaces in the press - newspapers and magazines. The press media also carry a huge volume of classified advertising - small space commercial, recruitment and personal adverts. Direct mail and circulars are advertisements using the letterbox as a medium.
Direct response advertising (also called 'direct marketing', i.e. using the ad in place of a retail outlet) cuts across these divisions. It variously employs direct mail, send-away coupons in the press, and phone numbers on radio and TV as the customer's means of contact.
A whole range of other activities - i.e. sales promotion, exhibitions, design and packaging, and even marketing itself can be seen as 'advertising' too. The aggregation of such tools, along with media advertising, price and distribution, are often called the marketing mix.
Advertising, in comparison to many industries, is dynamic. The arrival of digital technologies has radically opened up the world of advertising. The internet offers an infinite amount of advertising space, with estimated revenues from advertising running into billions. Satellite, cable and digital broadcast channels now proliferate, presenting a host of exciting new options in advertising. Consequently, traditional broadcasters are reviewing their own work, allowing cross-fertilisation of ideas such as programme sponsorship.
The advertising industry is concerned with the communication of ideas. Advertising is an important business enterprise that requires a combination of planning, fact-gathering, and creativity and involves all phases of marketing. Most graduates go into account management, planning or media buying, all of which involve liaison between clients, creative departments and people selling advertising space or time, together with the general co-ordination of advertising campaigns. Those who succeed in getting a job in this sector will have usually have gained relevant experience as a student in a field like journalism or sales.
Most businesses, including organisations as varied as local and national government, charities and political parties, use advertising to some extent . Some of this advertising may be managed by specialised line managers: personnel (for recruitment advertising), PR or corporate communications (for some corporate, non-commercial ads) and occasionally engineering or finance (e.g. for utility wayleaves or for statutory financial announcements).
Sometimes all an organisation's advertising may be handled in one place: the marketing department, by a marketing services manager, or (decreasingly) a company advertising manager. Virtually all businesses, though not all organisations that advertise, have four central operating functions: manufacturing, procurement and/or sourcing; sales; and marketing. Sometimes advertising and marketing are located within sales; but a stand alone marketing function is more common. Advertising-related jobs will normally be within marketing, sometimes within sales; and sometimes part of a central management service unit (called 'marketing services' or perhaps 'corporate communications').
Advertising is a rapidly changing sector due to the speed of technological change in mediums of communication. Digital media advertising, such as the web and text messaging is now common place, including the use of social networks, viral marketing, mobile marketing, corporate blogs and podcasts.
The usual method of entry into a career in advertising is to get a job with an advertising agency, however other advertising vacancies will also exist in financial services, FMCGs, retail group, media companies and other consumer services organisations. Another route into advertising is media sales. These people work for media owners - TV channels, magazines, newspapers or websites - and sell their advertising space to advertising agencies. Many graduates are drawn to media sales by the lure of prospective wealth and fast-track promotion opportunities. While there are a large number of specialist business-to-business magazines this number is not matched by the influx of graduates to this area of sales.
Most people think 'advertising' is mainly or entirely concerned with the creative process. In fact, only a relatively small number of the jobs available within the industry are to be found in this area. While there is a considerable range of creative jobs, these vary greatly in importance and remuneration. The biggest distinction is between writing and graphic creativity. All advertising involves both verbal and visual elements - provided by writers and artists/visualisers respectively. In the case of television, video and film, there are other special creative disciplines.
There are considerably more opportunities for graphic artists than for advertising copywriters. On the other hand, writing skills are also in demand for jobs adjacent to advertising - in public relations work, for producing in-house journals, and for instruction manuals and sales literature. Only a few exceptionally gifted, creative people are employed in advertising agencies to produce the major advertising campaigns that we are familiar with seeing or hearing in national media.
While there is an element of planning in most jobs, many organisations involved in advertising employ full-time planners. A distinct skill-set is needed for planning, and while such jobs occur throughout the advertising continuum from advertiser to media, they are usually only accessible after two or three years of experience in business.
The skills needed, apart from an extensive acquired knowledge of the activities being planned, are imagination, shrewd common sense, and numeracy. The most challenging planning jobs occur in marketing (annual plans and long range planning); in advertising agencies (account planning and media planning); and in a few of the largest media owners.
For those of an analytical and investigative turn of mind, an entirely different set of advertising-related jobs are possible - whether working for an advertiser, an ad agency, one of the media owners, or very possibly a market research company. In all of these, the work embraces the collection of data, managing and interpreting it, and reporting on what it reveals. While there is a good deal of overlap, the major two broad areas of activity are (a) statistics and market analysis, and (b) marketing and advertising research. The former is concerned with making sense of data; the latter with collecting it.
Most of the work has some considerable relevance to advertising; some is directly concerned with it. This is best explained by looking at the types of data involved, in the context of the uses ('applications') to which these are put. The purpose of such research is either to investigate new areas, or to supplement or explain other data sources. Survey research is also extensively used outside the marketing and advertising area - for instance, for opinion polls and social and governmental studies.
A great many advertising related jobs involve professional buying or selling. Both require negotiating ability, together with patience and an ability to get on with people. Buying also requires an expert knowledge of the goods or craft being bought. To acquire this knowledge, buyers generally start in other disciplines of advertising before moving on.
Most general management jobs - throughout industry - involve some advertising sooner or later. If you think your aptitudes are essentially managerial, this is perhaps the route to take. Most management jobs are found in client companies-advertisers. Advertising is usually part of other management duties: marketing, general management, personnel etc. The essence of the advertising side of such jobs is knowing what needs of the organisation call for advertising and related skills, and how to go about harnessing them. Most client-side careers tend to lead away from advertising as you progress.
There are also a large number of management jobs in the media sector. Here the involvement with advertising is on managing the sale of advertising space or airtime, as part of the media owner's general business goals.
In terms of numbers, the advertising agencies are the smallest sector employing management skills, typically as 'account handlers' managers - the agencies' team leaders who direct the output of the agency. In such jobs, one's personal qualities - a cool head, an ability to get on with very different people under pressure, and patience - are all important.
Agencies vary greatly in size. The smallest - normally those in smaller towns - do all sorts of work but may only have a handful of people sharing out all the tasks. The largest full-service agencies are mainly based in cities, with a few employing more than 300 people.
Advertising agencies liaise with a client and translate their marketing and product awareness needs into design led campaigns. They will also analyse the options available for the most effective and suitable positions for adverts in various forms of media. Agencies are comprised of specialist teams who provide the professional advice and expertise needed to produce an effective advertising campaign, although agencies do differ in the exact level of service they provide. Full-service advertising agencies provide a total service for clients, planning, creating and finally placing advertisements, whereas much smaller, specialist companies will focus on a particular aspect of the process.
Working hours are usually quite regular although it is expected that staff will stay late or start early when there are deadlines to be met. Travel is a necessary part of the job and can require the occasional night away from home or trip abroad. Agencies have a reputation for often being quite trendy and informal working environments, although more formal dress would be required for any client meeting or presentation.
Jobs are scarce and competition is intense, in particular with the limited amount of jobs in the more creative roles such as copywriting or design. In some cases it can be 'who you know' not 'what you know' that gets the job as companies can afford to be extremely selective. It is perhaps because of its glamorous image that advertising is a very popular choice for graduates; applicants out-number vacancies by ten to one.
Qualifications and skills needed
Agencies will recruit graduates from a broad range of degree disciplines, although a qualification in business studies, media studies, psychology, marketing or advertising is sometimes preferable. Qualifications needed for advertising planning, which is often a jumping off point for higher management, typically include economics, psychology, mathematics, statistics, or one of the sciences degrees.
Often a well presented CV with relevant experience will be just as good. You should be able to demonstrate excellent communication skills and have a certain amount of creative flair. Also, you need to show evidence of organisational ability, lateral and logical thinking.
Planning and buying require numeracy and good analytical skill. TV buying in particular involves in-depth analysis of factors such as audience share and cost per thousand. With the arrival of digital TV and the fragmentation of the TV market into a number of smaller channels, the job is getting more complex and is subject to rapid change - being able to adapt and predict development is a necessary skill.
About fifty companies offer graduate recruitment schemes and the top firms get upwards of 2,000 applications, so they need an effective means of selection, and many have daunting application forms. These companies can be found throughout the country, but the larger ones tend to be based in London or other major UK cities such as Manchester or Glasgow.
The large advertising agencies usually recruit five to ten graduates into account management each year. Most operate early closing dates during the autumn term, although patterns of recruitment are changing. Some agencies are reviewing their recruitment procedures and may choose to recruit at a later stage, i.e. in the spring and summer. Small agencies recruit as and when vacancies occur.
Application is usually by CV and covering letter. Forms may ask for responses to specific questions, such as:
- If you could help a public figure improve their image, who would you choose and how would you advise them? - Describe an advert that could have been brilliant, but wasn't.
Be original in your responses and demonstrate a passion for the work. The recruitment process will start with a first interview then, if successful, a second interview which often includes a prepared presentation. For advertising media staff, e.g. buyers, planners, and analysts these posts can be found throughout the year. The selection process could involve a prepared presentation, a group interview and numerical tests.
There is no specific application process for creative staff. An art director and a copywriter who work well together form a partnership and build a portfolio to take to advertising agencies. They will often meet their partner whilst attending specialist courses or through contacts by networking.