Sunday, 12 February 2012

The importance of a mentor..

It could even be this guy (though he's a videogame Samurai character).

Hello, all.

It's been a little while since I sat down and actually wrote a post for AdGrads, beyond job openings. Sorry about that - the day job's been rather busy since I started in October.

Anyway, I thought i'd write a little post about mentors and mentorship, and why they/it are the most important thing for your impending career (or even if you're a year or so in).

Though it's in the annals of the AdGrads' first year, I thought I'd explain a little bit about how I came to get into the industry.

I'm actually very fortunate. My father worked in the business, in the Midlands. So, I grew up knowing quite a lot about Advertising. At least, how the industry worked outside of London in the 90's, at any rate. And, being aware of the history of certain agencies, something that I think most graduates could benefit from - so as to not repeat some of the mistakes of the past/to learn from what's gone before.

So, if you like, my first mentor was my Dad. I still call him whenever I have a big career decision to make, and he always proffers a thought through opinion. Being an ex-client too helps.

Moving on then, I initially found it tricky to get into the business (and this, in truth, is how AdGrads came to be - borne of frustration), and relied on my Dad a lot for his opinion and support.

I also began to blog - before AdGrads was and is my 'other' blog, Confessions of a Wannabe Ad Man, that's been around since mid 2006. Not only did it enable me to show off my thinking, it also, more importantly, helped me meet people in the business who I'm still friends with today.

One of them, Richard Huntington (now CSO of Saatchi & Saatchi), gave me my first planning job. We're still very good friends today, and still talk about career stuff/life/the Universe, and so on. He (and others) provided me with an up to date appreciation of what the business is about. He's been invaluable to me when I've had tricky decisions to make.

Before my experiences with mentor figures (and there's more than just Richard and my father, but that's just a flavour), I tended to have more of an academic approach to learning about the modern communication business - reading Campaign, key books (Truth, Lies & Advertising, amongst others) and so on. That's not wrong, but what's better - reading about it second hand (and, undoubtedly realising about half of the graft that's gone on) or talking to someone who does it day in and day out?

Now, getting in contact with these 'mentors' is difficult, I must admit - particularly if you aren't from London or the South East. But it's not impossible. The web is a tremendous tool, and if you can email people for a coffee before their day begins, or pique their interest with a thought through opinion or piece of work online - you'll be much closer to getting in.

And, one final thing - don't ever stop meeting people. You'll find new mentors for yourself along with becoming a de-facto 'mentor' for new people. And you never know when one or the other will come in handy. I'm not saying 'be a tart', but instead, be open and willing to meet people if they need your help when you're a year or two into the business. You never know who you'll end up working with, or even, perhaps, running an agency with.

Let me know what you think - I'm happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments.


Sean_1988 said...

Hi Will, I'm about to turn 24 and studying for a law conversion, however I realised that combing through dry case law was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life and desperately want to get into the ad industry. From talking to friends of friends though it feels like I'm about three years late getting to the party and with the wrong kind of academic background, any advice towards drawing the eye of an agency? Thanks, Sean

P Brook said...

Sean- There's no such thing as the wrong kind of background- diversity is the secret to new ideas- If the whole industry was made up solely of people with advertising degrees, then it'd be a much poorer place.

Moreover, an idea of law, and I bet a knack for arguing like a demon, could make you a bloody brilliant account man. Don't give up- start filling in graduate application forms, keep reading blogs like this, maybe start your own or start tweeting about advertising- prove you're interested. And start writing to agencies whose work you like explaining your situation. Look for an internship, maybe talk to a recruitment firm. You'll get in eventually.

A.N.G.E.L.A. said...

Hi Will
I feel so identified with you post...I am actually in the middle of searching for a way to start my career in advertising, and find t is so hard and competitive. But yes, I suppose it's just a matter of persistence and never giving up :s
unlike Sean, I do have degrees in advertising and communications, but still, it is very hard...and confusing in a way since I see people like Sean who do not have education in advertising get to be directors and managers...
so in reality it is YOU, as a person who can find your way in advertising...not your degrees.

Sean_1988 said...

Phil I've got to say you have enthused me with a whole lot of confidence, not just just from your advice but from checking out your twitter feed and all your material on scribd. Can't wait to get started with everything you've suggested & I know you're right, its attitude and talent that matter, not what you studied at university. Thanks

Will said...

Hi Sean, Philip and Angela.

Sorry - I've been remiss, and not checked the blog for a little while (work has gotten in the way a touch).

Sean - Philip and Angela are right. It took me a year to 'get in'. I'm not from the South East, and had to live in various hostels whilst doing bouts of work experience, start a blog and have numerous coffees with industry people before it bore fruit - I got to the last round of many agency grad schemes, but didn't ever 'get in' that way (Saatchi's Summer Scholarship wasn't really like that).

You have many means available to showcase your thinking and aptitude - look at someone like James Atkinson's slideshare CV:

He's just gotten a job, and I've seen a few like his - more than just a dry CV (but with the work to back it up). Do not worry at ALL about the degree you have - Philip is quite right; having an advertising degree is by no means necessary.

My slideshare ( still has some of my (admittedly basic) presentations from when I was trying to get in. I hope they provide a bit of inspiration.

Good luck.

Sean_1988 said...

Dear Will, thanks so much for all the advice, I'll be checking out James' CV and your slideshare in-depth today, had a glance at them this morning and they look incredibly helpful!

Funny you should mention the Saatchi Summer Scholarship I'm actually waiting to hear back as to whether I've made it through to the third round as we speak!