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Career Stories - Walter

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 scary).

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.

Good luck.