In the land of ad agency cover letters, what stands out?
You are selling yourself to people who sell things for a living.
Make every word count.
Leave out all the stuff about being a team player, or motivated. Actions speak louder than words. Show us that you not only want to work for us, but that you actually took the time to learn about us.
Some actual cover letters (painful examples):
“To the Next Wave Team,
As a (Insert your majors) Studies major, I have taken it upon myself to seek out opportunities that aim to integrate my knowledge into practical application. With that, I feel that your open internship position would be a worthwhile endeavor to expand my skills and tailor them to the objectives that best serve the The Next Wave.”
Rule #1 – Make it Personal
Find out names of the people you are approaching. This isn’t an ad to the masses, it’s an ad to a real live person at a unique firm. Do your research.
“Hello, my name is (your name) and I believe that I could be a huge asset to your team. I am a graduate of (Insert Favorite) University with a degree in (some related field) and extensive experience in (skill 1) and (skill 2).”
Rule #2 – Know your Audience
What you think is great, sure, but what I think is all that matters. Talking about your school or your experience might be great, but there are legions of people who can say the exact same thing.
“As a confident, articulate and goal-driven production professional with (X)+ years of experience, I am an ideal candidate for this role with The Next Wave. I am a creative problem solver with a demonstrable record of helping organizations meet their goals. My positive attitude, world-class work ethic, and attention to detail have helped me succeed in a variety of operational projects. I take my work seriously and approach every undertaking with enthusiasm, diligence, and positivity.”
Rule #3 – Show, Don’t Tell
This one is important. Instead of talking about skills you think you have, demonstrate them. Your cover letter is an introduction, your resume the reference guide, and your portfolio should be the shizzle/sex appeal/show.
Not that we love to have our ego stroked, but, demonstrating a knowledge of the firm you are applying to says more about how you approach a client than how you get a job. If you want to sell BMW that you are the person who has the skills necessary increase BMW motorcycle sales, the cover letter is where it starts. Same thing with selling yourself to us, or anyone.
Make it easy for us to see that you know something about our firm, our culture, our clients, and how you will be an asset.
This example is overkill, but, when Chase Zreet, who was trying to get a job at Wieden+Kennedy to work on the Sprite account he did a whole video, with real production values. This is what your competition looks like:
Of course he got the job. Even the client noticed.
So, key takeaways: The cover letter shows you know something about your target market (the agency you are applying to), you have some unique or interesting insight or skills, that will help them make money if they hire you, and it’s memorable. Some people think this means delivering your message like a stunt- wrapping it around a sandwich, which may be attention getting, but, I’m more inclined to be impressed with something that can spread, cost effectively, like both of the job pitches above. You aren’t going to buy the masses sandwiches to buy your product.
Your portfolio, speaks for itself. Including a client brief summaries , as well as Key Performance Indicators Met are the only additions to the work. The work should speak for itself. Clearly state what your part was in the project. Don’t show work others did without giving proper credit.
Resume: Clean and simple. Where you worked, what you did, what you learned. Include hobbies, interests, because, well, interesting people work in advertising. Even working at Burger King can be valuable, if the agency is working on a fast food account- if you can share insight you gained while working there.
And, lastly, make sure your resume has your name in the file name. Make sure it’s a PDF. If you have links in it- make sure they work. There is nothing worse than saying, “i want to look at that Bogusky kid’s portfolio again” and you search your computer for a file with his name attached that was named “My 1989 ad portfolio.” Sorry Alex,
Now, go get ’em killer.
note: I’d asked Alex Bogusky to review this post in an earlier form, and it went tangential, and the post got a re-write. But, here is the advice the Creative Director of the Decades gives:
The advice I give kids is pick three place that you would die to work at. Learn everything you can and do everything you can to weasel in from every angle.
1 place is okay too.
When you are talking top of the world beating agencies the weasel factor is key, because it’s you against everyone else who thinks they’ve got the next big thing in them.
This post will be the latest in the category, which had 44 posts already. But, since an applicant who didn’t bother to read any of the posts chastised us for sending it to them as helpful advice, after they sent a “To whom is may concern” email, saying we hadn’t updated it since 2012- here’s the update: it’s still all relevant.
You are the product. Sell us you. Not how great you are, but what you can do for us. How you can help us make money- for our firm, for our clients. What skills do you bring to the table that we don’t have already? What’s the brief that you are the solution to?
And while you may have gone to “a top ranked communications school” so did at least 100 others. Differentiate yourself from them as well as everyone else looking for a job.
And, we still expect you to know our name, and tell us what you can do for us. Don’t expect us to guess that you are a social media goddess, or a talented video editor. Give us that up front. Then prove it.
We’re also going to start looking you up. We’ll look at your facebook posts, we’ll look at your twitter feed, your instagram, your Linkedin. We want to know how you think, what you find fascinating, what you’ve read, watched, involved yourself in. So by all means, include those links.
Hopefully, you’ve done the same with us. You know what kind of work we do, why we do it, who we do it for. That you idolize our idols goes a long way (that we’re you’re idols makes us think you’ve set your sights too low).
And while we have lots of great advice on our site on getting a job- you can find more good insight here:
And note, these are tops in our Google search- and they are from 2012 as well.
We concur that you should have read “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, because, well, he’s a friend, a client, and we host his site. Our CCO is in the index of the fifth edition with two mentions. We also have our “booklist” with our top reading suggestions, in addition to the trade mags and sites.
One last hint, while you may have caught a typo in our not so carefully written response to your lame attempt to work here, criticizing us for mentioning people like Alex Bogusky or Dan Weiden on our site might have a little more effect if it wasn’t for the fact that we actually know these people.
As I sit at home, writing this post (too many interruptions at the office) I realize that when clients are choosing an ad agency, many have no clue on what they are really choosing. In most cases, the overworked and under-recognized copywriters aren’t given a whole lot of thought. One of the first questions for the creative director/CEO/President/Chief Creative officer is to find out where they started in the agency business? The answers should tell you a lot about the agency- if it’s a former copywriter or art director the agency focus will probably be on great creative, if it’s an account planner- strategy may be their lead strength, if it’s a finance person- run, and if it’s a account executive/bag man/sales professional- I’m sure the presentation will be charming.
When it comes to the giants of advertising- and the guy you would want running your ad agency, David Ogilvy belongs on the top of the list. Even though the book is dated, I required all employees to read “Ogilvy on Advertising” for the first 20 years of The Next Wave. I still recommend it- but instead want them to read the excellent “Hey Whipple, Squeze this” by my friend Luke Sullivan first. Ogilvy was a brilliant writer and a consummate ad guy. He understood that you had to eat, sleep and breathe your product in order to do it justice. One of the requirements for working at Crispin Porter + Bogusky according to their employee handbook is that you are an ad person. Ad people are tuned into everything about the business- what accounts are where- and who is doing great work. If you aren’t an ad person you have a job- if you are one- you have a career.
When I stumbled upon this letter from David Ogilvy I knew things hadn’t changed much in the world of advertising. Great ads comes from people who immerse themselves in the work. It may be your most important indicator of what kind of agency you are about to hire:
On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:
I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.
I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
Before actually writing the copy, I write down ever conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.
At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.
I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.
Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.
I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.
Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.
The humility of Ogilvy’s letter is quaint. I’ve met other great copywriters and they’ve run the gamut in personality traits, but generally everyone of them is fascinating and perfectly capable of doing many different things. However, I’d beware of those who are really frustrated authors- because if you are writing ads to pay the freight while working on the “great American novel” you probably aren’t really an ad person.
The other key is to write daily. The day you run out of ideas is the day you die if you are a real copywriter. Blogs make it much easier than it was in David Ogilvy’s day to test your writing chops and get feedback. Real copywriters can’t stop writing- which may explain why I’m sitting at home, writing this post on a Saturday afternoon.
It’s that time again- when students graduate from 2 year portfolio schools, 4 year colleges, getting their MBAs and are looking for a job in advertising, graphic design, web development, planning, copy writing, media buying and account management.
This year, we’re even looking- for one of those “trumpeter swans” that David Ogilvy mentioned in his classic “Ogilvy on Advertising.” Hopefully, they are a skilled designer- who can work in all mediums- print, web, video – but, that’s not what this post is about.
It’s about selling yourself with your book. Which is kind of an old school term for a portfolio- in an age of Kindles and iPads and Droids etc. We’ve written previously about the interview process- having a story to tell, putting your best work together- the advantages of PDF etc in posts that together create the category: “Careers in Advertising.” You can read all the posts (now at 43) and there will be a test later.
However, with the country suffering 13% unemployment- and budgets moving online- things have changed since we’ve written our last how-to guide. So here are some new tips:
Make sure your stuff works on all devices and all browsers- that means no Flash- which can’t currently be viewed on most Apple iOS devices.
If you are going to claim to be an expert on social media- make sure you’ve been posting stuff that isn’t stupid- it will be checked. I’m also not just going to see what you said- what you retweeted- but who you follow. Pick wisely- I’m more impressed if you follow @rajsetty or @fredwilson than if you follow someone in the business directly- and if you follow @mrskutcher be prepared for questions why.
Using tools like QR codes is fine- but, make sure you’re doing it for the right reason- getting a PDF with a QR code makes me get annoyed- if there isn’t a link right next to it- what, you want me to print it out and scan it. But if you do it right- and it adds a lot to your message- like the following- you’ve got a winner
While I love looking at great work- I’m not impressed by people using these portfolio sites that have standard interfaces: Behance be damned. If you can’t come up with an original site to showcase your work- or have a blog of your own, you aren’t really ready to work in this field. You’ve got to have the ability to do your thing online- or you need to go back to school.
Be on LinkedIn and have a network. I know you just stopped being a student, but- that cute girl getting an MBA- you want to be connected to her so when she ends up as the CMO of a major corporation in 15 years- you can get your new boss in. Even your parents are potential leads for work- use the power of the network.
Tell EVERYONE you know that you are looking- and ask them to look for you. While we post our open positions on Craigslist- we’ve been getting more leads from Twitter and even through Facebook these days than through conventional ads. It’s more about who you know than ever- your power to connect is greater than ever.
I’ve seen arguments about internships, paid and unpaid, but in this incredibly competitive market- now, more than ever, getting in the door, showing what you are capable of, is the best thing you can do- especially if you are trying to get into a “hot shop.” When I first started in this business I offered to work for an hourly rate that barely got you lunch at McDonalds just to get started (this was before the “value meal”- so I guess McD’s wasn’t a value then). I don’t regret it.
Lastly- have a story. Yes, it’s about the work- but, at the end of the day, after looking at 20 books- the things that stick aren’t your GPA or your one or two killer pieces- it’s that story about how you got interested in this business, met Martin Sheen once, or lettered in Fencing. Personality is part of branding- and being just another pair of hands makes it hard to remember you. Read this book- “Personality not included” or if you need a crib sheet.
And once again- meaning to write a short post- I gave you more than I planned. I apologize for not having time to write a shorter post (and if you know what quote that ties back to- good, someone taught you right)- best of luck. If you are looking for a job in Advertising in Dayton Ohio- don’t forget our directory listing of Advertising agencies that aren’t The Next Wave– ti’s a great resource.
And- after posting this last night- I saw a tweet about 50 things every Graphic Design student should know:
From speaking to friends, colleagues and recalling my own experiences I’ve complied The 50, a list of 50 things I believe every graphic design student should know on leaving college. Some of these points are obvious, others less so – but all are brief, digestible nuggets of wisdom that will hopefully go some way to making the transition from graduate to designer a little bit smoother.
The number of “students” who come through this small agencies door, drawn by the work on this site is truly amazing. Many are about to graduate from 2 or 4 year programs that specialize in Advertising, Graphic Design, Marketing, Business or even the new buzz-degree “new-media.”
With the economy being what it’s been- we’ve also seen a lot of “seasoned professionals” in the market. People who’ve been going through the motions for 5, 10 and even 20 years- turning out what they believe to be “advertising” and “marketing” materials.
The sad thing is, most may know the tools- page layout, illustration, webdev- but, few- understand the why of what they do. I make everyone here at The Next Wave read, at a minimum, “Ogilvy on Advertising” or “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” so that they understand the reason behind thinking before putting ideas on paper (or in “new media”). I’m seriously thinking of making them watch this too:
ART & COPY introduces the cultural visionaries who revolutionized advertising during the industry s golden age in the 1960s by creating slogans to live by and ads we all remember. You may have never heard of them, but pop pioneers Lee Clow, Hal Riney, George Lois, Mary Wells, Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein, Phyllis K. Robinson, Dan Wieden, and David Kennedy have changed the way we eat, work, shop, and communicate often in ways we don t even realize. From the introduction of the Volkswagen to America to the triumph of Apple Computers, ART & COPY explores the most successful and influential advertising campaigns of the 20th century, and the creative minds that launched them.
An hour and a half of listening to the greats of this business- discussing what makes real advertising work. It’s the real thing, baby- from the genteel West Coast cool of Lee Clow- to the NY Bronx attitudes of George Lois, you get the feel for the business the way it’s supposed to be practiced- with guts and gusto.
Lois steals the show, with his straight forward comments about most contemporary advertising- which is missing as he calls it “The Big Idea”- but, while he’s put on a pedestal for growing Tommy Hilfiger from a no-one to some-one with one gutsy ad- the clear hints in the film about how he basically stole his own “I want my Maypo” to “I want my MTV” show how in advertising originality isn’t always the golden egg- effectiveness is.
If you are a student of advertising and you haven’t seen “Art & Copy” it’s time. If you are an advertising professional, and haven’t seen it- maybe someone should question what profession you are really in.
Because, as is alluded to in the film- we’re all students of public perception, desire, trends- and this film helps us understand how that process evolved from the beginning of the “creative revolution” started by Bill Bernbach, to today.
And if you want more good stuff to further your education, try our booklist.
Had a lovely meeting with a student to review her portfolio today. She’s a few months away from graduation and the el-crapo job market and I’m afraid the years of honing her skills haven’t given her a sharp knife to cut her way through.
Yes, knowing how to use tools like the Adobe Creative Suite is important, but knowing how to use ones brain is why someone wants to hire you.
So, here it it is, in real simple words: your job is to make me more money than I pay you as your boss. And my job is to make my clients more money from the money they spend on advertising/marketing/design/development etc.
Because, advertising only costs if it doesn’t work.
Yep, there you have it. The essentials of business, all in one nice, easy to digest post.
You’ll see those words all over this site (unlike other ad agencies) who talk about all kinds of other things that sound good to MBAs, but, when we get right down to it- we do things to help sell stuff. If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative, good or worth a dime to anyone.
How does a student need to prepare for that moment of terror when they walk in with their book and ask for someone to hire them, instead of all their other classmates?
Here’s a secret: you are the product. If you can’t sell you- how can you sell other peoples sugar water, netbooks or feminine hygiene products?
Just like any other creative brief, you better have done the research: what’s the industry, who are the leaders, what’s their claim to fame, what did they do better than their competition? If I get one more student through these doors who hasn’t heard of Bernbach, Ogilvy, Chiat, Clow, Fallon, Wieden, Bogusky, Rand, Pentagram, Duffy, etc. I should start cutting off ears and sending them back to their schools. How can you teach this business and not talk about those who’ve changed the industry?
And as much as we like to think it’s all pretty pictures with snappy words, you better understand something about how money is made. What’s a business model, what’s the distribution channel, how does your client make their money? Is it the razors or the blades? How can you make your client money if you don’t know what makes them money? Being able to focus on the right thing, is the first step in making them more money than they pay you. Read a few business books- get cozy with Peter Drucker or Tom Peters. Know what’s made to stick and who is a linchpin. (I should be putting in links galore here- but, I’m already giving you the secret tools to your success, you should have to work a bit).
Last but not least, the job market you are preparing yourself for isn’t the one that’s there today, but the one for when you graduate and beyond. You better be tapped into what’s the next big thing- not what’s the big thing right now. Hint: Web 2.0 is already well established- start thinking about what happens when your phone has the bandwidth and speed of a desktop machine and is always on and connected. If you don’t know how to run a content management system, optimize for search, build community or produce video don’t even think of graduating yet.
And when you do go in to interview for that job, and you’re sitting across from an old guy like me (face it, men still rule in advertising) it shouldn’t be me interviewing you as much as it should be you interviewing me- because the first job you take will have a lot to do with how much you get to grow. Make sure the passion is still burning in your future boss as brightly as it’s burning within you, because it’s going to a take a super hot fire under your butt to add your name to the list of those who’ve come before and changed this business.
That’s what makes me get up every morning and love what I do. Because, as the saying goes, even a bad day in advertising beats a great day in anything else.
And that’s why you went to ad school in the first place? Isn’t it?