Sunday, July 6, 2008

advice for getting an entry-level job in account planning

First off, every planner's story is different; there's no one way to get into planning. This is largely due to the fact that not every agency has a planning department, not all planning departments are created equal, and it's still a fairly new profession to apply for. With that said, here's what I tried and what I found to be the most beneficial to finally getting a job:

Informational interviews - Talk to anyone that will talk to you! Start a list today of all the agencies in your immediate town. Call up the main number, ask if they have a planning t; if they do, get the Planning Director's number or email, if they don't, move on. Once you have a list of 5-10 contacts, start calling/emailing with a brief introduction of "hey, I'd love to talk to you about planning. Could we arrange a time next week, only 15-30 minutes, so I could pick your brain and hear your story?" There aren't many smart people who don't like to talk about themselves or help a young, passionate person out. And each person you talk to is a business card for networking purposes later. After you do your town/immediate area, call people long-distance in cities you'd be interested to live in and do an I.I. over the phone. Yes, it's a bit like cold-calling but get over it, and see it as an opportunity to learn. Bite the bullet, you want this!

Agency Internships - Yeah yeah, maybe you've already tried this route and think you're "better than that now." The truth is, it's much easier to transition from intern to job than it is to go from "nobody" to job. Get an internship! Being an intern is a highly visible position: you get a feel for the agency and the agency gets a feel for you. Agencies are in the personality-industry when it comes to hiring; if it's not a good match, they won't hire you and you shouldn't want to be hired, you won't be happy. And if it's only 3 months, at least that's an agency name you can put on your resume and get references from. Most ad agencies like to see that you've been in the industry and have a feel for how it works.

Freelance - If you feel strong in your planner skills and have a good sense of the value you can add to the creative-problem solving that happens in agencies, sell yourself to an agency that doesn't have planning. You should be familiar with their clients and maybe do an I.I. beforehand with the president or creative head. Ask smart questions, intrigue them, start a relationship, and see if they don't offer you up a temporary gig to see what you can do. In any case, it's one more thing to add to your resume, and more names to drop for networking purposes.

Miami Ad School/VCU Ad Center - If you're not as confident in your planner abilities as you'd like to be AND you have the money to further your education, apply to one of these accredited programs. VCU is a 2 year, masters program, that puts out some really smart thinkers. MAS is a 3 month Boot Camp in any of 3 locations, and it's a fast-paced information dump on all things planning with a huge dose of creative influence. Email them at info(at) miamiadschool(dot)com for more.

Explore other interests - I personally feel there's not a job out there that you couldn't apply to planning in some way. Maybe there's not a job available right now at entry-level and maybe you don't have the money for a grad program; think about what planning is: a strategic way to position a business/brand in culture to a specific type of consumer. There are lot of different job categories to benefit from: work on the client-side, learn how a business works and if they have any idea of what a brand is; work for company that is constantly updating itself on culture, a research company, a trend newsletter or blog, or a magazine come to mind; or work in retail and get face-to-face interaction with consumers every day, talk to them, get insights to use later when you're a planner.

Blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Social Networks - Really, even after you've done all of the above, you still need to market yourself: what's your brand? Define it and sell it like crazy.

Getting in is as much about planning as it is about luck, and there's a great quote: Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity. The ideas here are about preparing yourself for the opportunities you need to find.

Good luck.


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Anjali said...

Hey - this makes a lot of sense. I could easily relate to it because that's exactly what I'm doing at the moment - looking for a job as a planner, and I'm doing everything you've mentioned in your post: networking, meeting, blogging, immersing myself in culture etc. I have a few years clientside experience but breaking into agency-side is taking some time! Any further pointers, do let me know :) I blog at

Michael Molinar said...

Thanks for the great advice. I'll definitely pass it along.

Amanda Vendal said...


Thanks for posting this in a blog. It's pretty much the same information we share daily with those struggling to find their way. You can bet I'll be sharing it with others in the future.