Advertising: The passion for communication

The pace is quick, the pressure high, the hours long, the responsibilities heavy. If you still want to step into the volatile, dog-eat-dog but infinitely stimulating world of advertising, congratulations! You may just have the passion needed to succeed. A career in advertising is perhaps best describe by what it is not. It is not a walk in the park. It is not a 9-to-5 job. It is not necessarily glamorous or high-paying. And not everyone will love your clever, creative idea. But despite this, advertising still remains one of the most fun, fulfilling, thrilling, highly-driven career out there.

By Suji Rajagopal

The industry
Advertising is not just about selling products and services. It also informs, persuades, competes and entertains. Positioning the client’s brand successfully takes great creative skill. The “big idea” behind the message must hit the consumer in the face in a matter of seconds, whether it is a TV or radio commercial or a full page print ad. Not only must it capture the consumer’s attention, it must also help him remember the brand name so that the next time he decides to make a purchase, this is the name that is foremost in his mind.

Thanks to an increasingly competitive marketplace, advertising today can appear in mainstream (also called above-the-line) media such as TV, radio, press, magazines, cinema and outdoor billboards. Or it can take the form of below-the-line advertising via direct response mailers, brochures, leaflets, posters, and through sales promotions, competitions and special offers. Advertising can also jump out at you through point-of-sale wobblers and shelf decorations or appear on unexpected surfaces like mugs, t-shirts, fridge magnets, and even buses and taxis. The e-revolution has also given rise to advertising through web banners and electronic direct mail.

According to the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Singapore (4As), Singapore’s advertising industry has been raking in annual media spending worth over S$1 billion since 1995. The industry can also be credited with transforming Singapore into one of the finest international creative centers in the Asian region.

There are about 20 international advertising agencies and over 50 local advertising agencies in Singapore. Let’s take a look at how you could get a foot into one of their doors.

Getting in
For any given advertising vacancy, hundreds of talented hopefuls will apply. But getting that big break is not impossible either. If you think that lack of experience or qualifications will deny you a place, you couldn’t be further away from the truth. Many experienced and highly qualified candidates have been turned away in favour of younger, passionate go-getters with a lot of heart. It’s all about how you “advertise” yourself to get a position in advertising.

Says Ms Annie Yue, Agency Manager of Bernard Hodes Group, “Having a qualification will be a plus, but not a must. I personally feel that having passion, willingness to learn, diligence and flair for creativity are more important.” Some of the personality traits Annie seek when hiring fresh graduates are maturity, the ability to be a team player, strong written and verbal skills, ability to carry oneself well and a good sense of the employment market.

Adds Ms Charlene Lee, Senior Account Executive at DDB Worldwide, “a basic degree in any discipline with a good foundation in marketing is all you need. However, an advertising/ mass communications degree would give you better knowledge of the intricacies of business. A good eye for detail, creative flair, basic layout sense and excellent interpersonal skills are much more important in this line than a specialized degree.”

If you have the necessary qualifications but still cannot grab a place in your agency of choice, try the following:

1. Intern
Interning gives you experience in various areas from account servicing to traffic coordination. It could help you decide which advertising role you are best suited to. Interning could also lead to a permanent position once you have graduated.

2. Freelance
Consider freelancing as a copywriter or graphic designer to help you create a portfolio of your work. This portfolio could them augment your resume and other qualifications when searching for a full-time job.

3. Create A Self-Promo Piece
A self-promotion piece could be something as simple as a self-made postcard or brochure describing your best attributes. A well-crafted self-promo will also be a good showcase of your writing and designing skills.

4. Network
Actively seek out opportunities to meet people who work in advertising. Join educational seminars and advertising workshops. Or work part-time in sales and marketing. The more people you meet, the more chances you will have of impressing a potential employer.

Once you have managed to get into advertising, don’t be discouraged if the pay does not meet your expectations. The starting salary in a local ad agency can range from $1,300 onwards for a diploma holder to $1,800 onwards for a degree holder. Multinational agencies may pay up to 20% more.
Although you may start at the bottom rung of the ladder, burning passion and exceptional talent can help you to move up more quickly than in any other field. One advertising copywriter who earned a mere $1,400 when she started is now commanding a five-digit pay because she has a penchant for producing award-winning ads!

The work
Advertising is about being creative on demand. And creativity is not only restricted to creatives like copywriters and designers. Account executives too need to employ creativity to manage different clients and juggle various projects without losing steam.

There is no typical day in an advertising agency but to keep it simple, a day may begin with a brief from the client to an account executive or account manager (also called a suit) who takes care of that client’s account. Once the brief is received, the suit digests it and crafts his or her brief to the creative team, taking into account the various media that may be employed as well as the budget and all-important deadline. The deadline itself can be anything from a day for a simple press ad to six months or a year for a full-fledged marketing communications campaign.

One of the most pressing challenges in advertising is the ability to handle the pressure, especially when dealing with difficult clients.

Says Charlene, “There are situations where the success of the campaign hangs on a creative decision. The client may want something specific, but if it’s not going to help them meet their objectives, the agency has to put their foot down.

“Everybody deals with difficult clients in different ways. Personally, I feel that even difficult clients have soft spots. You just have to know how to push the right buttons. Each client, no matter how nice or nasty, is dealt with in a different, personalized manner. More often than not, a difficult client simply needs a bit more explanation and coaxing. And generally, a cool, calm, collected and logical explanation works best.”

Ms Alice Yeo, Account Manager at Cubic Communications Pte Ltd, feels that being keen to work hard and make sacrifices are paramount for fresh account executives who want to be able to manage both clients and creatives well. “There are always new things to learn, unexpected situations to salvage, tight deadlines to meet, sensitive issues such as designers’ ego to take care of.” And when the going gets tough, she suggests, “Take things easy so that you won’t be badly affected from some nasty comments from clients or from a stressful day at work.”

Seasoned art director and creative group head, Mr Leo Zeus Apinan of Vibes Communications Pte Ltd, sums it up best when he says, “There’s no fixed time for coffee, lunch, coffee, dinner, coffee, supper…isn’t that exciting? At the end of the day, it’s the satisfaction that counts when you know you have done something nice. My advice? Don’t work in this line if you don’t have the passion for it. And be humble. Watch and learn.”

The different roles

Which job suits you best?

The Suit:
- Officially known as account executives, account managers or account directors.
- Receives brief from client and communicates client’s marketing strategy to the creative and media departments.
- Responsible for overseeing the entire ad campaign, including budget issues.
- May also be tasked with developing new businesses for the agency.
- Ideal qualities: strategic thinker, fluent communicator, excellent presentation skills, ability to multi-task and cope well under pressure.
- Ideal qualifications: degree or diploma in business, commerce or marketing.

The Creative:
- Advertising writers are officially known as copywriters.
- Designers are officially known as graphic designers or art directors.
- Being a wordsmith and/ or design whiz with many years of advertising experience can win you the coveted role of creative director.
- The creative director, copywriter, art directors and/ or designers work in a tight-knit team to produce ideas for the campaign.
- Ideal qualities: creativity, ability to accept criticism, ability to produce winning concepts despite tight deadlines, good visual sense, adept at coining catchy headlines and slogans.
- Ideal qualifications: a degree in English or Mass Communications for copywriters. A degree or diploma in graphic design or fine arts for art directors and designers.

The Media Whiz:
- Officially known as media planner, media buyer or media director. Must ensure that the ad is seen, heard or read by as many people as possible from the target audience at the best price. The media planner must determine which media will have the best reach and be most cost efficient.
- The media buyer must negotiate for the best rate with the media agency on behalf of the client. Often, the functions of media planner and buyer may be carried out by the same person.
- Ideal qualities: a hard-nosed negotiator, analytical, good with numbers, well-organized and thoroughly well-versed with various media available.
- Ideal qualifications: there is no set media qualification; a degree or diploma in business administration or marketing may be useful.

A day in the life as an AE
Account Executive, Ms Shu Lee of Asatsu-DK Singapore Pte Ltd, fills us in on a typical day:

9am - 9.30am: Get coffee, check email, and mentally go through list of things to do for the day.

9.30am – 11am: Send chaser emails for outstanding information, put in job revisions required, follow up on work to be done.

11am – 1pm: Check upcoming jobs and timelines, draw up briefs and talk to creatives.

1pm – 2pm: LUNCH!

2pm – 3pm: Make final preparations for 3pm meeting with client, collate information and outstanding work, gather media and creative schedules, mentally review meeting agenda. Leave for client’s office at 2.30pm.

3pm – 4pm: Meeting with client. Ad to appear in magazine, so magazine’s account manager is also present. Signing of outstanding contracts and schedules, discussion of outstanding work between client and magazine, request for materials needed by agency and discussion of project timeline.

4pm – 6pm: Magazine account manager leaves. Weekly work-in-progress meeting with client. Includes discussion of artwork, amendments, media bookings, client’s updated marketing schedule plus any new job briefs.

6pm – 8pm: Back to the office to settle other outstanding matters.

8pm: Prepare major or urgent job briefs. Mentally review things to do for tomorrow and pack up to leave.

End of day: Tired but relieved that work is over for now. Try to live the rest of my life.

Advertising is hard work. There are times when you may work all day and even weekends. The project may get trashed, or you could have to do a 180 degree turnaround from the initial brief. But it can also be great fun. It’s exhilarating to create an ad campaign and see people enjoy it and remember it. Don’t be surprised if after all that hard work, you actually find yourself missing the late nights and pencil chewing that comes with creating a great ad. Now that’s passion!

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