Creative Careers: Working at a creative agency

  • 17 July 2018

We quiz creative agency MullenLowe on what it’s like to work in advertising, and the best ways that students can access the sector.

If you’re bursting with ideas and thrive on the possibility of seeing large-scale projects through to completion, then a career at a creative agency might be for you. Working behind the scenes with some of the world’s most recognisable brands, creative agencies orchestrate everything from brand identities through to advertising campaigns.

But what is it like, and how do you get there?

We asked creative agency MullenLowe London to give us some insight into the different roles available within the sector: from account managers, who liaise with clients to work out what is needed, to the strategic team, who interpret the brief; from the creatives and designers who draw up concepts that fit the brand, to the production team, who work with directors, animators and events managers to brings these ideas to life.

People across the organisation told us how they got into the industry, how to stand out from the crowd in your job application, and what to expect from a career in this fast-paced and innovative sector.

Can you summarise what your organisation does?

Luke, producer: We’re a creative advertising agency – so a client will come to us with a problem and it’s our job to strategically and creatively find a solution.

Misha, creative: Mostly advertising (television, posters, press etc) but also events, online films and even coming up with new products. It’s all about doing things that get our clients remembered.

How did you get your start in the industry?

Misha: As a student I did my foundation then two years of Philosophy. That summer I did some work experience in the strategy department of an ad agency. While I was there I thought the creative department looked like they were having much more fun, so rather than do my resits I went to art college and signed up for the advertising course.

After two years of that I felt like I’d learned enough so I dropped out and came back to London and started interning.

Hannah, account management: I started my dream job in events, then realised it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I made the sideways move into advertising, and found the perfect combination of creativity, making friends and organising things.

Emma, strategist: I got a job through the graduate recruitment scheme. Once on the scheme there was a training period which lasted a couple of months and which involved meeting people from different sides of the business and culminated in a pitch. I then got allocated a couple of accounts – the real learning curve started there!

What can a young person expect from a career working in your sector?

Hannah: There will be long days and nights, but there will also be days in the pub celebrating wins and commiserating losses. You’ll work with people who inspire respect, and never get to a point where you have done everything or know it all. Plus, you’ll make friends for life.

Misha: I spend most of my day just thinking and jotting stuff down. But it can be challenging – what we do is mostly problem solving and you’re expected to come up with a great answer. You never really have the same day twice.

Laurence, strategist: It’s hard work but the highs of pitch wins and getting a genuinely great idea sold more than compensate. An ad agency is a great place to start your career, but not necessarily to end it!

What can students do to build a career in the creative industries other than applying for internships or work experience?

Luke: Creative industry employers always want to see a person past the CV. There will be a ton of applicants who are right for the role so it’s important to show talents in other interests or side projects – a multi-talented person is always hireable. In production I’d always want a swiss army knife over a spoon.

Hannah: Don’t assume you already know what you want to do. It’s great to have a plan, but sometimes the perfect role doesn’t have the title or description you thought you wanted. So, try everything and get as broad experience as you can.

Laurence: Explore sideways routes such as working in research as a stepping stone to being a strategist. Read and network voraciously! Use the skills you will need in advertising to get into it: creativity, persuasion, timeliness etc.

What kind of skills, qualities and experience do you look for when you're recruiting new members to your team?

Misha: Intelligence. Ambition. A good eye. But the main thing is a unique point of view – you want people that make you go ‘wow, I never thought of it like that before’.

Emma: People who are: curious, down to earth, fun, creative, lateral thinkers, passionate, problem solvers.

Hannah: Someone can have the perfect CV, but experience isn’t everything. I’d rather hire someone enthusiastic who cares about what they do than someone who has done it all but doesn’t make me feel like they’re going to bring passion to the role. You also get a lot more done when you can make friends with people. Be nice, and mean it.

What would you say is the single most important factor for building a career in the creative industries, and why?

Luke: Collaboration is key – which means you need to know how to work with others and, importantly, to enjoy each other’s company even in the most stressful of times.

Misha: Hard graft. Whatever you come up with, you can almost always make it better – keep pushing it and simplifying it. But when you know in your gut it’s good, fight to make it happen.

What’s the most challenging and most fun part of working at a creative agency?

Misha: The most challenging is that 99% of the ideas you have will be killed. The most fun is making things – there’s nothing better than being on a shoot or in an edit suite seeing your idea coming to life.

Hannah: The biggest challenge is breaking bad news. Whether it’s to a creative team when you’ve got bad feedback on their idea, or to a client when you need more money or more time. It’s an account manager’s job to keep everyone happy – which isn’t always an easy balance.

The most fun part is when you’ve delivered a campaign. I’ll never tire of seeing an advert my team made on TV, or walking past one of our posters on the commute in. There’s something special about a job where you see the fruits of your labour everywhere.

We'll be exploring different jobs and career routes in the creative industries over the coming months; stay tuned for more from Creative Careers.

Tags: Student Art Pass