Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Grad Down The Track: Jonathan Drennan

Hello gang.

A little while ago, we used to do a more regular feature on grads who've recently broken into the advertising industry. What with all the job features, it kind of fell by the wayside.

So it gives me great pleasure to provide a post from Jonathan Drennan, a grad who is on Leo Burnett's graduate scheme. The Leo Burnett graduate blog is here, if you want to have a read.


Five months ago I was sitting in the cramped office of the Belfast newspaper where I worked as a reporter. I remember the day clearly, I had just interviewed a distressed primary school headmaster whose school had been the victim of a sectarian arson attack. Suddenly, my phone flashed an unknown number. Groggily, I picked it up. It was the Head of Account Management at Leo Burnett offering me a place of their graduate program as a trainee account handler. My life changed in an instant.

A question I am constantly asked is why did I decide to switch from journalism into the world of advertising. From a young age, I was writing for newspapers. I walked into my local rag in my school uniform on a Friday afternoon and was writing a theatre review that night. I progressed until I had worked for a variety of newspapers in South Africa and Ireland before I had left university. However, during my master’s degree in Dublin, I had started to become frustrated with the profession that had always been my dream.

Due to financial constraints, news reporting in many cases had simply descended into adjusting press releases to suit an editor’s needs that day. Creativity was being stilted in order to provide a more cost effective product. After speaking to a variety of university colleagues working in the industry, I started to look into advertising as a career. I wanted a job that would be able to utilise any skills I had learnt in journalism. Formulating and delivering an idea, working under a strict deadlines, time management and learning how to talk to a wide range of people all seemed to fit the bill. I became desperate to make the change.

My parents were cynical. I had no direct experience of advertising agencies and they thought I was wasting my time in even applying for graduate schemes. However, I was and still am absolutely convinced that the beauty of advertising as a career is that any experience you have from life is relevant. To give you some context, on my graduate scheme we have a former PR executive, a former English teacher, a former translator and a former investment banker. We are in the business of dealing with people, so why shouldn’t these experiences be relevant?

The application process is extremely tough for everyone. Sometimes you wrestle with a quirky application question for two weeks and then you don’t even get the pleasure of an automated response from the agency you applied to. At other times, an application that you are almost ashamed to email due to your contrived responses can get you a coveted first round interview. It is certainly not an exact science.

Rejections happen to everyone. I certainly had my fair share. Advertising is a highly competitive industry and the sheer amount of applicants for every job is daunting. For each scheme you will find yourself against hundreds of similarly motivated and talented candidates. At times you are not a good fit for the agency’s culture which you can’t affect, but at other times you didn’t do yourself justice in your application or your interview which you certainly can change.

My Dad loves his cliches, but I really believe in this one. He says that every interview you do, you learn something new. This was certainly the case for me. After you have recovered from the day’s exertions, it is essential to be brutally self-critical. For the interviews I didn’t get, it was normally something I could improve upon. Deceptively, simple things like learning how to work well in a group task, is something that frustratingly can only come with practice.

In terms of positive advice for the interview process, I would say remember all the reasons you wanted to work in advertising in the first place. Maybe it was a Guinness advert that got you excited. Or maybe you are just absolutely fascinated by brands. Whatever it is, use this passion as a strength. Conveying enthusiasm is such a simple, but incredibly effective way of endearing you to the agency. Quite simply, it shows you care.

It is a rare luxury to not dread Sunday nights and I know I am lucky to fall into this category. This is a fascinating industry that is completely restless. No day is the same and I am constantly learning. I have received three months of incredible training and met a huge amount of people at Leo Burnett including the company’s global CEO from Chicago. I am about to start working on Client business in the next few weeks and can’t wait. At times the application process is incredibly disheartening. But if you keep banging on that door loud enough eventually someone will answer it for you.


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