Senior Account Executive
McCann-Erickson, Los Angeles
The Secret of My Success:
If you're a talented "student of color"
looking to break into the world of Advertising, I'm about
to tip you off to one of the industry's best kept secrets:
MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Internship Program).
I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first
you've heard of it. You see, despite the fact that this is
an exceptional program sponsored by the AAAAs (American Association
of Advertising Agencies), recruitment has been a problem due
to a lack of student awareness. Believe it or not, MAIP has
been around for over three decades and to my knowledge it's
the only internship program dedicated to increasing the woefully
low number of minorities in advertising. Whoa, I just said
the "M" word! Don't sweat it, MAIP is in no way
a "hand out". Like Fishburne says in The Matrix,
this program "can only show you the doors, you have to
walk through them."
MAIP offers 10-week paid, summer internships
in Account Service, Creative, or Media Planning at some of
the top agencies in the country. A select few are invited
to travel outside of their local markets and intern in other
cities. MAIP picks up 60% of their travel and housing expenses.
Sound too good to be true? It's not. And in my case, the internship
led to an opportunity at a large New York agency.
Gettin' the Gig:
I entered the MAIP program during the summer
of '96 and was fortunate enough to be selected for the New
York group. It had been my dream since high school to work
in Manhattan. MAIP arranged some temp housing and assigned
me a roommate who was also aiming to land a gig in "the
City". We hit it off right away, but there was always
an undertone of quiet competition between us. Five weeks into
the internship, he was offered a full time position at the
agency he was interning for. To this day, he readily admits
that he lucked into a vacant position, but the fact that he
landed a gig so quickly lit a fire under me.
By design, MAIP provides opportunities to
meet informally with Human Resources at various agencies.
I spent the last five weeks of my internship calling the HR
folks I'd met, sending them my resume and scheduling interviews.
It was during the last few days of the program that I got
a call back from D'Arcy (DMB&B) asking that I return for
a second round of interviews. They were looking for an Associate
Account Manager on their extremely busy TYCO Toys account
and wanted the position filled quickly. I was due to fly back
to New Mexico in two days, so we arranged a gauntlet of interviews
for the very next day. I met with five people and the interviews
ranged between half an hour to 45 minutes each.
One of the interviews was conducted over lunch
- luckily I'd practiced swallowing bites whole to avoid getting
caught after questions with a mouth full. Of course when asked
something I needed to think about, I'd pretend to be chewing
to give myself an extra second or two to think. After the
interviews, I felt I'd made a connection and left an impression
on my interviewers but still had nervous jitters as HR walked
me out giving me the standard "don't call us we'll call
you" speech. And what made it worse was I hadn't received
a call from any of the other agencies requesting that I come
in for second round interviews with them. At the end of the
longest week of my life, D'Arcy called and made an offer (a
few of those other agencies called too - but I'd already accepted
the D'Arcy gig). Three weeks later I was back in Manhattan
and on the job.
On the Ropes:
I'd be lying if I said the first couple months
weren't tough. It was definitely a "trial by fire"
with little margin for error - hey, New York boasts the largest
ad market in the world so one should expect a bit of intensity.
I was trying my best but couldn't really find someone to show
me the ropes. At one point my supervisor called me in for
what felt like an extremely de-motivating ream session but
looking back that was a turning point for me. I realized that
I had to actively seek the tools and knowledge I needed -
no one was going to hand them to me. I stopped pretending
to "get it" and started asking questions until I
did. I still made plenty of mistakes but I learned from each
of them and by the end of my first year I was holding my own
(by the end of my second year I was so buttoned up it was
I had to learn the hard way, you don't: Get
your foot in the door and get some experience even if the
job offer is for an account that doesn't interest you (think
I was excited to advertise toilet paper and diapers?). The
basic ins-and-outs of the job are the same regardless of the
account - and most agencies tend to rotate people to alternate
accounts after 9 months to a year anyway.
There isn't a textbook big enough to contain
all the facets of this business:
- Expect to start at square one and be prepared to teach
yourself if need be.
- Take an active role in your education, it will pay off.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions - especially after someone
has thoroughly explained something (twice) and you still
don't get it.
Ask, Ask, Ask! Trust me, a supervisor will
get moderately annoyed if they have to explain something multiple
times but they'll lose their mind if you pretend to understand
and they have to redo something you botched.
Advertising is not a 9-5 gig. Expect to work
long hours and occasional weekends. There are a lot of variables
(staffing, workload, size of account) but you'll get a feel
for how long it takes you to get through your projects.
4 years and counting:
I've been in the business about four years
now and in that short time I've worked for two agencies building
a diverse roster of experience (TYCO Toys, Charmin, Pampers,
Joseph Abboud - Men's Apparel, INROADS recruiting, and I'm
currently working on Nestle NesQuik). Most importantly I've
had fun along the way - for every deadline, budget issue,
and difficult client, there is a great creative presentation,
commercial shoot, or phone call from Mom and Dad who just
saw your new ad. All in all, I'd have to say the industry
has been pretty good to me and even if I choose to make a
career change later on, I've picked up some invaluable marketing
experience that should translate to other fields.
If you are interested in more information
on MAIP, contact the AAAA's or see their web site.