How to get ahead in marketing

Helen Jones reports on a fellowship programme for whizz-kids with variety, travel and pounds 20,000 a year
Last September, WPP, the world's largest marketing services group, took on what it describes as four of "the brightest and the best" graduates to follow a three-year fellowship programme.

This gives each of the participants the chance to spend time with different WPP companies, including advertising agencies Ogilvy & Mather and J Walter Thompson, PR company Hill & Knowlton, and the Henley Centre for Forecasting. It also offers a starting salary of about pounds 20,000, the opportunity to work abroad, and a full-time job at the end of the programme.

Eric Salama, director of strategy for WPP, said: "The first four recruits have worked out very well and have made a real contribution to the company. We are now looking at extending the scheme, and have selected a further seven graduates in the UK and four holders of MBAs in the US who will join us in the first week of September."

The company will begin recruiting for its September 1997 intake at the end of this year. Mr Salama says he is not only looking for a good degree; candidates must also possess the right attitude.

"They have to be committed, intellectually curious, lateral thinkers, and able to take a rigorous and creative approach to problem solving."

Mr Salama says that age, gender and background are irrelevant, but the ability to speak another language is a plus, as is experience of living or working abroad; WPP has 77 offices around the world, so there is a chance to travel.

Bant Breen is one of the first batch of recruits. He was born in the US and took A-levels in the UK, a degree in the US and then a postgraduate course in Italian history at Cambridge.

"I found out about the fellowship by chance, but it sounded like my dream job," he said. "The people who applied were a pretty impressive bunch. They weren't just graduates, but people with two or three years' experience. Some of them knew the lingo and the game, so it was a bit daunting. I think I'm very fortunate to get in."

One of those with previous work experience is Kate Boydell, who has spent the past year with Ogilvy & Mather.

"After I graduated I spent two years with a TV production company, but wanted to move into business in a more strategically oriented role," she said. "I applied for the fellowship because it offers a broader scope than the traditional graduate recruitment schemes with advertising agencies."

This breadth of scope is one of the most important features of the fellowship, said Mr Salama. The programme deliberately operates independently from the graduate trainee schemes run by O&M and JWT, "to give the participants a chance to experience advertising, PR and some other areas they may not have considered before, such as corporate identity or direct marketing".

Sarah Lloyd, another recruit, said: "It has given me the opportunity to work in different fields. I knew I wanted to work in marketing, but didn't really know what it involved. This lets me try different things, and to a degree put lets me put off making a decision for a while."

Ms Lloyd has spent the past year with JWT, working in account management. Her next role will be six months with the corporate identity specialists Sampson Tyrell, before moving on for a further six months at the sister company, Grossman Enterprise in New York.

Ms Boydell will also move to the US, to work for WPP's promotional marketing company Einson Freeman.

Although participants have to move around the different WPP divisions, they are given a choice. Mr Salama said that each participant is given a mentor - a senior member of staff - with whom they can talk about their progress and discuss different options.

Mr Breen has elected to go to Ogilvy & Mather's media division next.

"I'm really interested in digital communications," she said. "I've written some stuff for Wired magazine and already have some knowledge of the area. O&M is setting up a department and working on this for clients, so it was too good an opportunity to miss."

At the end of the fellowship, participants are under no obligation to stay with WPP. Mr. Salama said: "Of course, if either side is unhappy with the arrangement then that is it, but if after three years one of them decided to leave we would be disappointed, because there are lots of prospects for them here."

For further information about the WPP Fellowship, contact WPP at 27 Farm Street, London W1X 6RD.