Ad Professionals: Tips for Breaking into the Business

On my recent trip to New York to visit ad agencies, I heard from some incredibly talented ad people. Here’s some useful advice for entering the business:

What Makes a Successful Ad Person?

Noorin Bhanji, Account Executive for NFL at Grey NY, laid out the following characteristics of account people:

  • Know their client’s business
  • Able to set priorities, multitask and manage time
  • Proactive
  • Born leaders
  • Knowledgeable
  • Insightful (be strategic)
  • Resourceful/problem solvers
  • Able to work well in a team
  • Able to work well under pressure

Chris Wooster (@chriswooster), Executive Creative Director at McGarryBowen, had these tips for wannabe strategists:

  • Are digital
  • Think about connections (what target audience is/does)
  • Aware of trends and research
  • Solve problems
  • Creative in solving problems
  • Have a book or a Tumblr
  • Have stories about that work

For art directors:

  • Don’t waste time learning HTML or Flash, you’ll never be as good as actual coders

(Side note: Some might heavily disagree on this one, like Edward Boches (@edwardboches), Chief Innovation Officer at Mullen.)

  • Thoroughly know Photoshop/InDesign
  • Be mindful that you are most likely to get production work first
  • Be comfortable building online experiences
  • Study other work

For writers:

  • CDs look for concepts
  • No grammar typos EVER
  • Get good art directors to work your ad
  • Focus more online
  • Fight the fat in your writing (“as well as”=”and”)

What Do Ad Agencies Look for in Creative Books?

There’s no set answer on this. Every agency and creative director will think different. For example, Chris Wooster says this:

  • It must be online
  • 15-20 pieces max
  • Don’t have a clever theme/concept
  • Summarize the problem you’re solving
  • If you need to explain it, the ad is not done
  • More than one-offs
  • Clever use of media, not just words and images
  • Have some “cool” pieces and some that solve a strategic problem

Dennis Grealey, VP Creative Director at Publicis Kaplan Thaler, looks for a few specific things:

  • 5-7 pieces
  • The idea itself has to be good
  • Did the creative challenge themselves? Try something like a financial system
  • A diverse portfolio

Tips for Interviewing

Melissa Schulz, SVP, Global Group Account Director at Publicis Kaplan Thaler:

  • Any job can be relevant, even those not in advertising
  • Come to the interview with a solution
  • Ask questions that show your interest and leverage your skills, such as: What will I be doing? What kind of projects are you working on? What will my role be in the agency?
  • Dress to impress

Chris Wooster :

  • Keep your “talk” quick: 20 seconds a piece
  • Explain problem solved
  • Research agency interviewing with
  • Don’t look like a suit or a slob (dress to impress but not a full on suit)
  • Be engaging as we want to hire people we like
  • Following on Twitter is okay, but not LinkedIn or Facebook
  • Have a question or two on deck (What are you looking for out of this hire?)

Six New York Agencies to Watch AKA Jonathan Takes New York

I’m  visiting six leading NYC ad agencies with Boston University this Spring Break: Grey, mcgarrybowen, Publicis- Kaplan/Thaler, Leverage Agency, Firstborn and OMD. And I figured I’d take the opportunity to highlight what I found out about each agency before the trip.

If I did all six at once, the post would be overwhelming, so I’m breaking it into two parts. In this post I’ll highlight Grey, mcgarrybowen and Publicis Kaplan/Thaler. Next post I’ll highlight Leverage Agency, Firstborn and OMD.


You might remember Grey as the agency Duck goes to in Mad Men or for the E*TRADE baby.  But it has so much more than that going on.

Grey, part of WPP, is a historic agency known for inventing psychographics and for launching the first global advertising campaign with Revlon. In reflection of their history, Grey’s slogan is “famously effective since 1917.” Today,  the Grey Group consists of a global network of 432 offices in 154 cities.

Last year appeared to be  one of Grey’s most successful. They won several Cannes Lions. Grey NY particularly won big for their Direct TV Campaign and their Febreeze campaign. They also were successful in 21 out of 23 of their pitches under CMO Michael Houston, a pretty good track record if you ask me. Their success won them back previous clients Allergen and Pfizer.

One thing I wonder about Grey is how their sub-brands function in relation to the rest of their network. The offices of Wing, a hispanic focused agency,  and G2, an activation agency, are both located in the same building as Grey NY. Do they function as truly independent entities?

In the news: They’ve managed to  keep Pringles, a long standing client. There are rumors that  G2 and Ogilvy Action (both part of WPP) might merge.

Some clients: Pfizer, E*TRADE, Playtex, Canon, Mars.

Campaign highlight: There’s a reason why the Febreeze “Breathe Happy” campaign has taken several awards. Our preconceived notion of what a smelly place looks like lends itself wonderfully to a product demonstration. I can’t get the image of those sweaty Azerbaijani wrestlers, and their dirty jockstraps, out of my head.


This agency has been snapping up a lot of talent from Wieden+Kennedy. Kevin Chesters  just joined the company as executive planning director and creative duo Paul Jordan and Angus Macadam are already on as joint executive creative directors.

McGarryBowen was founded in 2002 by John McGarry, former president of Y&R, and by Gordon Bowen, famous for his “Chase Freedom” campaign, which was behind the most successful credit card launch ever. Once one of the largest independent ad agencies, McGarryBowen is now part of the Dentsu network. However, its 5 offices continue to operate independently.

The McGarryBowen website says that they are a lean, service-focused agency. They are committed to creating “work that works.” They focus on business solutions and getting results. I guess the proof, as they say,  is in the pudding, as they have been awarded agency of the year on several occasions.  In fact, they are one of the rare agencies to be named agency of the year in both Advertising Age and Adweek in the same year.

Their office, the Starett-Lehigh Building, features the largest outdoor space of any ad agency in NYC. It looks really sleek in the photos and I’m really excited to see inside.

In the news: Besides the fact that Kevin Chesters just switched to McGarryBowen, there’s also been a lot of coverage on their “Miracle Whip Open Mouth Anthem,” which challenges consumers to keep an open mind about Miracle Whip.

Some clients: Verizon, Marriott, Chase, Crayola, Reebok.

Campaign highlight: The Reebok “Live with Fire” campaign is a powerful piece that exemplifies the upbeat nature of  McGarryBowen creative.

Publicis Kaplan/Thaler

 Kaplan/Thaler was founded in 1997 with just 6 people in a brownstone apartment in NYC. As seen in their name, it is now part of the French media conglomerate Publicis. Kaplan/Thaler is all about change; they want to help their clients be the ones to lead change, rather than follow in the footsteps of other brands.

The group is perhaps best known for creating the Aflac duck, Charmin “Sit or Squat“,  and for their Swiffer Sweeper campaigns. But what I really like about them is their creative use of installations in urban environments.


When I visit, I want to know how a term that Kaplan/Thaler coined, “brandvocacy,”  drives the strategy/creative behind their campaigns. The agency was  ranked as one of Advertising Age’s best places to work last year. I wonder what in their culture makes that happen.

In the news: Creativity recently highlighted their Citi Snow Globe installation in Bryant Park. They’ve also garnered tons of impressions with their campaign about the injured Aflac Duck. After the first ad ran, 30,000 people sent the Duck get well cards.

Some clients: Ad Council, Aflac, Crest+Oral B, Hilton, Continental.

Campaign highlight: There were tons of great, effective campaigns posted on the Thaler/Kaplan site. It was really hard to choose only one. Ultimately, I chose the Hilton Honors campaign, simply because it is a campaign that has not been talked about enough. Check out the print ads as well.