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Matt Ingwalson
March 09, 2018

Three Ways to Land a Creative Gig in Advertising: Advice from an Executive Creative Director

Advertising Gig

"I want to get into the creative side of the advertising business,
but don't have a clue what to do. Help!" 

Editor's note: This article was originally published on the WunderBlog in June 2011 and has been updated for relevancy.

I have heard some variation of this question least four dozen times. My answer has become so pat it is more like a speech. Here it is:

"The calculation is simple. Great personality plus great book equals job. But I feel your pain. You can't get a job without a book and you can't start on your book without a job. You're stuck in a chicken versus egg scenario. What are you going to do?

First, look around you. Every single designer, art director and copywriter you see has found a way to break out of the loop. So take heart. It can be done.

There are all sorts of ways to make it happen. Be lucky. Have the right parents. Be named David Droga. But in general, I've seen three successful, repeatable strategies that anyone can use. And here they are:

Read: Who Are You? Beginning Your Career as a Creative Professional

Start as an Account Coordinator

First, try to get a job as an account coordinator. That's not to say that being an account coordinator is any easier than being a junior creative. It's not. At all. But the financial barrier to entry is lower. Ten bucks to print resumes versus several hundred dollars to shoot spec ads, buy layout software, and assemble a book.

If you can land a job on the account side, you'll be able to spend a couple years learning how to work hard, speak intelligently and sell great advertising. And you'll be in an environment where you can get a hold of briefs, printers, software and most importantly, mentorship.

Work on your book at night and on weekends. After a couple years, you can have a surprise epiphany: "I want to be a creative!" And you'll have the tools and the personal network you need to make that happen.

Go to Ad School

Second, you could go to ad school. The real benefit of Creative Circus or Miami Ad School isn't only a great portfolio. It's access to a giant network of working professionals all over the world. This is a foolproof method. It is also time-consuming and expensive.

Get in Front of People

The third strategy is the cheapest and fastest, but also the most bruising. It requires you to be fearless and persistent.

Take your crappy samples and show them to everyone you can. Even people who you feel might be more junior or less talented than you. Explain that you do not expect a job, just some advice. You will get lots of conflicting comments and you will hear things that hurt your feelings.

Don't let it get to you. Instead, go away and work to make everything better. Try new colors, new layouts, new headlines, new media, new everything. You must demonstrate that you are taking the advice you are getting seriously. Within two months, come back to everyone (yes, everyone) and ask to show your book again. Then ask them if there is anyone else they know who would be willing to give you even more advice.

Repeat this process. A lot. With each round of showings, your book should get 25% better and your circle of contacts 50% wider. Eventually, you will be in the right place at the right time."

People in advertising have almost infinite patience for passionate, hardworking, humble young creatives. But they won't waste time on anyone who comes off as lazy, helpless, or full of themselves. So work hard and don't be a jerk. That's my advice.”

About the Author: MATT INGWALSON is an accomplished Executive Creative Director, with somewhere around 150 awards to his name. He previously served as creative chair of Ad Club Denver and CO-ECD AT VJ. Matt's also author of eight books, including SHELF UNBOUND'S BEST INDIE NOVEL OF 2015 and the award-winning Western noir Sin Walks Into the Desert. He's a "Mile High City lifer" who also performs and publishes his own audiobooks, podcasts and music. 


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