Friday, 26 December 2008

The Gatekeeper to agency experience..

They give with one hand...and can sort you out. Photo via benaspenod, usual rules apply.

Hello there. In between bouts of turkey, drinking, presents and sitting, I've had a few notes about that mythical beast, work experience.

If you've not been one of the lucky ones who've gotten in through the grad scheme milkround, perhaps it's the right time to start to think about a spot of time in an agency. It may not be paid, it may not be the most exciting job in the world, but it's vital in order to beef up your cv and prove that you really want to be here.

Personally, I found it invaluable, doing a few bouts of work experience (though don't go mad with it - you don't want to look like a bridesmaid and never a bride). Certainly helped me decide what job I thought i'd be best suited for (though work experience did sort of seem to be either superb fun, and somewhat unreal, or work the account execs couldn't be buggered to do themselves).

It's also good, because it teaches you about what sort of agency environment you'd like to be involved with - are you a big agency person, or a small one? Do you value a place which places great emphasis on creativity, but is a bit of a sweatshop? What do you thrive on?

Annnnyway...those are some of its benefits. But how'd you get it?

The simple answer is - it's not easy, but it can be done. There has been some chat about nepotism, but let me assure you - though it may exist, it can be overcome through persistence. I used to rant and rave about it too, but hell, it's just another barrier, and one which exists in pretty much every industry. Grit your teeth and get on with it; i'd suggest doing the following:

1) Blanket email - but with a caveat. Write a couple of short paragraphs about yourself and why you think you'd be suitable for some work experience. Try to be original, but short. HR people don't have all day to read these things, and they get enough of them.

2) Ring. Ring at the right time. Anyone can pick up the phone to an agency. 's not hard...christ, embattled account execs have to deal with a large variety of mad requests from clients. But HR people aren't used to such weird requests ("Can you make the colour a little bit more...sympathetic?). So, pick your moments. Just after you've sent your email, phone the agency, ask to speak to the head of HR (or someone similar - if you've done your homework, you should have a reasonable idea of whom it is) and say you've sent a note through.

Be warned though, phone during the day, rather than early morning or late in the working day, and you'll get a short shrift. HR folk don't have time during the day to deal with you. If you are the first email to get their attention, you'll do ok. And they'll be more likely to bear you in mind.

3) Do something different. This being advertising, people often try 'creative' ways to get in. One of the best i've ever heard about was an ad being placed by the agency with a pair of shoes, and the line "Think you could walk a mile in these shoes?", recruiting for agency staffers. Well, the chap in question found a life sized dummy, the pair of shoes, and wrote his CV on the side of the dummy, with the line "I think i've filled them", and posted the lot. Needless to say, he got in.

In recent years, i've seen people post cake or try to scare W&K, and some have been successful. Others, less so - but it gets your name in front of people, and means they remember you. Heck, even our own Sammy and Anton both got on in the industry by doing it.

Obviously, it's best if there is a point, and it's not just 'wacky' for the sake of it. The Saatchi examples worked well because there was a reason.

4) Above all - be charming. HR people (or even the account execs/managers/planners involved with recruitment) are few. They have other responsibilities to be getting on with than catering for you at this point. An agency isn't Deloitte, with a whole department dedicated to getting the best from you. So be patient, and be nice. As my mum is fond of saying - 'Manners cost nothing'.

And they really don't. The HR person who says yes to you has tremendous power, and even if you get in and on, and are rude to them, they'll do for you. Hell, same applies for receptionists, security guards and postroom folk. They make the agency tick, and you'd do well to remember that, you fortunate bugger.

Obviously, if you are nice, more chance of getting in and on, and you'll be remembered even if you aren't successful.

That's your lot. To those still doubting the point of work experience, if you've had a few unstructured ones, well - just let me put it this way...I got 1 grad interview straight out of university. A year later, with 3 pieces of work experience under my belt, I got to all (barring one) of them.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

WPP Fellowship Message from Jon Steel...

The Fellowship logo. Usual rules apply.

I've just been sent an email from Jon Steel, who very kindly wrote a Star Story for us last year, about how he got into the business.

This is more a personal reflection on the WPP Fellowship, as he's in charge of seeing the best and brightest get through. So, without further ado, here 'tis:


Reflections on a very large pile of applications

JON STEEL, WPP Fellowship Director

Last night, after five straight days of reading and re-reading applications to the WPP Fellowship, I typed the final name onto my list: 108 people, from all parts of the world, who will shortly be receiving invitations to a first interview.

It’s a strange feeling. In part, I am happy because the job is complete, and I know that once again we have assembled a wonderful group of candidates. Yet at the same time I look at the large cardboard box that contains the ‘no’ pile, and wonder, not whether I have made a mistake, but rather how many mistakes I have made. Who have I missed? And what might they have achieved had I decided to place them on the pile on my right, rather than the one on my left?

This year WPP received the highest ever number of applications for our first degree Fellowship program: 1700 give or take a few. Traditionally we have competed not just with other marketing communications companies, but also with management consultants and investment banks. And this year, thanks to the financial crisis, these were looking a little less attractive than normal. To be honest, I had expected that our numbers might rise even further, but many potential applicants have told me that if business isn’t likely to pick up for a couple of years then they are just going to wait, take a gap year (or two) and not bother with applications until things improve.

About five years ago we moved to an online application process, which has generally worked well. This year, working with a new technology partner, we encountered more problems than usual, mostly caused by the incompatibility of new versions of some operating systems. It took one candidate two weeks and a lot of individual technical support to submit her application, but we got there in the end. I wrote to everyone to apologise for any problems experienced, but in the event that the technical issues prevented you from receiving my note of apology… well, we’re all very sorry for any inconvenience that our technical teething problems may have caused. We’ll work very hard to ensure that there is no repeat next year.

Having received the applications, we divided them among twelve current and former WPP Fellows for initial screening. Everyone was given around 150 applications, and I asked them to reduce these to 25. The brief was to identify candidates with high levels of academic achievement, a clear interest in marketing communications, a healthy mix of experience (in life and business), and an interesting perspective on the questions we had asked.

About a week later, I received the top 25 (or, in a couple of cases, 35) from each of the screeners, and a number of late applications that resulted from the technical problems. From a total of around 350, my task was to select a hundred or so for first interview. Most of these interviews will be conducted face-to-face in London or New York, with a few taking place by telephone.

Even though I have been doing this for a few years, I never cease to be surprised at just how difficult it is to distinguish between different applications. It’s much easier to say ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ than it is to say, ‘no.’ At this stage, everyone has excellent academic credentials and seems to have packed an awful lot into a relatively short life. They are interesting, sometimes witty. One makes a joke about Tony Blair ‘sexing up’ a report on weapons of mass destruction and I laugh out loud. I agree with all the ‘must interview’ recommendations of my screeners, and the ‘yes’ pile grows at an unsustainable rate. I want to meet them all.

Only after reading about fifty applications do I start to get a clear idea of what constitutes first interview material and what does not. I thus have to re-read all of them. I have the first of a series of very bad headaches.

I always start by reading the personal introduction. This has to engage me in the same way that a 30-second commercial has to engage before it can inform. It’s the equivalent of the first conversation at a party. Is this person interesting? Do I like them? Would I like to continue the conversation? I then move on to academic achievement and interests, looking at the choices they have made and judging the balance of analytical and intuitive skills. Finally I read the essay questions, asking whether the applicant has an opinion, whether that opinion is well argued, and how well they write.

Like all recruiters, I admit to prejudices. For example, I will not extend an invitation to a person who does not write well. I hate bullet points. I loathe jargon, and especially the word, ‘paradigm.’ My experience has led me to conclude that people who talk a lot about thinking ‘outside the box’ are generally incapable of doing so. And I believe that if you don’t pay attention to detail in an application, then it’s a good sign that you won’t pay attention to detail in your working life.

This year brought its fair share of basic errors. Applicants wrote about ‘knew ideas,’ ‘pop idles’ and ‘geographical boarders.’ ‘Were’ inexplicably became ‘where.’ In the letter that we asked applicants to write to their favourite teacher, explaining their decision to follow a career in marketing communications, several chose to include that old saying, ‘those who can, do, while those who can’t, teach.’ If insulting their favourite teacher had been a part of the brief then that might have been a good idea. And one guy, quoting me from an article I had written, referred to me as ‘Jon Peel.’ I’ve been called worse, but it really helps to get such details right.

But one person’s loss is another’s gain. As the numbers narrowed I felt inspired and humbled in equal measure. Inspired because of the remarkable things that so many of our candidates have done, and increasingly because they look at the world, and at their lives, in ways that I could not. And humbled because I know that I never would have gained a place on this program myself. At that age, I simply wasn’t good enough. (Maybe that’s still true.)

I’m looking forward to meeting or talking to each and every one of the 108 people who have made it onto my list. They are drawn from every continent on earth, and between them speak a staggering 30 to 40 different languages. A few lucky ones will eventually join us as Fellows. Hopefully we can find places for many more inside our operating companies.

Of course the process isn’t perfect, and I know that in the cardboard box in my office – and even in the larger box containing the applications cut in the first screening – there lie large number of candidates who would, if given the chance, do a great job for us. If you are one of those people, I hope that you won’t give up on this industry, and won’t turn your back forever on WPP.

To everyone who has applied this year, I would like to say a sincere ‘thank you’ for all of your efforts. And I wish you all the best for the holiday season and beyond.

Monday, 1 December 2008

wanting to post

but not having a second to breathe!

So much to share. So much (gr)advice . Such little time.
Eyes being glazed over after the hard day's work so going near a computer screen is as likely as the fat kid refusing the cake.

But busy is good. Account Handling is good - OOH CONTROVERSIAL. You all have the fun of AH to look forward too - even if the name on your passport is unique enough to grant you access to the planning world! These three have had their stint.

I'm currently experiencing a very different side of adland's client services coin - a digital coin at that. The speed, the creativity, the pro activity and potential is incredible.

Maybe its a case of 'Yeah I'll do a few years traditional, figure out the best route into digital from there...'

If your heart is set on 40 seconds in Corrie then so be it. Otherwise digital employment now will develop your creative/planning/account handling potential and set you up nicely for a global, universal creative currency that some are even describing as recession proof.

Regardless of whether you care - no excuses for anyone brushing up on their non standard digital formats. Wow them with your critique of attempts at geo targeting. Win their hearts with your appreciation of synchronized road blocks..