Fat salaries, lunching in Soho restaurants and creating television commercials... Advertising has an alluring image. Some believe the industry is past its Eighties heyday, as other forms of communication - such as the internet and mobile phones - take the place of 30-second television spots. But the advertising industry has created a sense of mystique about itself that many find attractive.
The glamour myth starts at the agencies themselves, which boast centrally located offices where even the receptionists dress like fashion models. There is also the prospect of rising to greater things - legions of high-achievers have cut their teeth in the ad business. British film directors such as Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), Tony Scott (Top Gun), Alan Parker and Lord Puttnam all honed their skills in the UK ad industry, while writer Fay Weldon came up with the slogan "Go to work on an egg" while working as a copywriter.
Rewards can be stunning for those who are prepared to work long, often irregular hours. Salaries start at between £15,000 and £20,000, and after five years they can rise to £40,000 for high-fliers. By the age of 40, you could be a senior agency manager earning more than £300,000 a year. Still, these pay packets are often lower than those offered by a career in commercial law, the City or management consultancy, some of the sectors competing with advertising for graduate recruits.
But there is ferocious competition for a first job, particularly on the creative side. According to the trade body the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), its 220 member agencies see 10,000 applicants chasing just 500 graduate vacancies.
But this should not deter anyone who is really serious about working in the business, says Andrew McGuinness, chief executive of the agency TBWA/London (responsible for the French Connection and Sony PlayStation ads). The agency receives about 2,000 applications for its five or six graduate places in the fields of account managing and planning. McGuinness has the job of whittling the applications down to 100 for first-round interviews, then 30 for the second round: "It is not that difficult to get down to the hundred that are decent - many of the applications are quite poor."
The qualities he looks for in graduate recruits are "energy and a genuine passion for creativity" as well as empathy with the public and the ability to get on with a wide range of people. As a creative industry, advertising has a thirst for recruits from different backgrounds and this can include people who have trained as barristers, been involved in community theatre or who have worked on a college newspaper. However, it is still true that Oxbridge graduates make up half the staff in some agencies and the industry is trying to improve poor representation from ethnic minorities.
Advertising requires a wide breadth of skills. You can join as a creative, coming up with slogans and ideas for campaigns, though this is by far the hardest route, since only about 50 pairs of copywriters and art directors are taken on each year.
You could work as an account manager or "suit". These smooth talkers act as intermediaries between the creative departments and the agency's clients, who are usually executives from large corporations such as Unilever, Ford or, increasingly, Government departments.
Then there are the planners, who run focus groups, glean insights into people's attitudes to brands and write briefs that the creatives use to come up with campaigns. There are also various support roles to be found, such as marketing, finding new business or helping with production.
You might want to try your hand in a media agency, as do some two-fifths of entrants into the business. Such agencies book advertising space in newspapers and magazines or airtime spots on radio and television. Creative agencies used to carry this out in-house, but there are now dozens of specialist agencies. Media buyers are like City traders, striking deals for their clients, and they require deep knowledge about the behaviour and attitudes of audiences.
Agency bosses define the task of advertising variously as "building brands", "communicating commercial ideas" or simply "persuading people to buy things." The skill is to identify which groups of people a brand appeals to and get under the skin of their relationship with the product. This means poring over research and statistics, and tracking audience reactions to new campaigns.
So it is not all socialising and sipping champagne in Soho clubs. Many candidates fail at the interview stage because they lack the eagerness to sell, which is what advertising is all about. Penny Herriman, who runs recruitment at BBH (which includes Levi's and Lynx among its clients) says: "Sometimes you can interview people who aren't very worldly - it is a commercial business, after all. I think it is highly rewarding as it marries the business and creative sides. But you have to have a lot of personality, and we look for people who are in touch with the world and have a freshness and youthfulness about them."
She plays down the industry's glamorous reputation. "Some people discover it isn't for them. They might have sailed through school and been stars at university, but find the realities of mundane tasks in an agency puts them off," she says.
One big drawback of the ad business is that it is generally a young person's game - 80 per cent of the 14,000 people working in the UK industry are under 40, according to the IPA. But Anne Murray Chatterton, the IPA's training director, says it opens up many doors: "It gives you a tremendous springboard to different industries as you develop strong leadership and project- management skills."
Not everybody ends up as a Hollywood film director, though. Former Saatchi and Saatchi boss Adam Crozier is now chief executive of the Royal Mail - not an organisation famed for its glamour.
The IPA gives detailed information about careers in advertising on its website, www.ipa.co.uk
'IT IS ABSOLUTELY CREATIVE, YOU LOOK FORWARD TO WORK'
After just six months working as advertising creatives, graduate recruits Selda Enver and Shaheed Peera were flown out to Cape Town (business class, of course) to film a television commercial for the up-market cat-food brand, Sheba.
With help from top commercials director Graham Fink and a production company that they selected, the young creative duo were delighted to get their first chance to oversee the filming of a big-budget ad, which is to be shown in Germany. They even got a few days off to spend in the South African city.
"Sheba was fantastic," says copywriter Enver. "We stayed in an amazing hotel, because it was a big-budget film. We had one senior creative overseeing it, which was helpful because it was our first shoot. You get a brief and if the client uses your idea, you get to make the ad," she says.
Enver and Peera joined the UK's biggest agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, straight after completing their graphic- design degrees at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Ad creatives tend to work in pairs, one composing the words and the other directing the artistic side. They joined up in their third year on the course - which offers advertising as a specialism - when they spent a year in New York doing work placements in ad agencies.
AMV's creative director Peter Souter - himself a Saint Martins grad - took the pair on a graduate-placement scheme after looking at portfolios from hopefuls at the college. Peera, the art director, admits he was lucky to get the job, though he adds: "Since the age of 11, I was one of those freaky kids who always knew what they wanted to do." And he has not been disappointed with his chosen career. "It is the scale of it all, it is absolutely creative, you get up in the morning and actually look forward to going to work. A lot of my friends work in banks and other careers and never want to talk about it at the weekend. But even if we are working on thrush cures or bum cream, there is always something interesting," he says.
However, not all creatives are so lucky. A lot of candidates can spend months hawking their portfolios around to agencies' creative directors before being offered a work placement earning the minimum wage. It can take two years to get a first job, though many give up before this stage.
"It has always been difficult," says Nick Hastings, executive creative director of the agency Euro RSCG London (which handles brands such as Peugeot and Citroën). "When I got my first job, it was one of the best days of my life. You get your portfolio and tout it around to creative directors who can behave in cruel ways - they can be dismissive and rude. It can be quite a demoralising process, you have to be very patient and persistent to succeed."
Creative departments have a reputation for being male-dominated, though Hastings says he doubts women are systematically discriminated against. But he has noticed that women often try too hard in their portfolios. "They are self- conscious about being women and often over-compensate by being especially laddish," he says.
But for anyone lucky enough to get a job, being an advertising creative sounds like a hugely enjoyable career. DBReuse content