How to Get Entry-Level Employment at the Top 100 Advertising Agencies

Article excerpt

Decades of debate have questioned the value of advertising education in obtaining advertising industry employment. One early study concluded that "as long as educational institutions have attempted to offer courses in advertising, practitioners in the field have harbored considerable suspicion regarding the real value of such effort" (Gifford and Magard, 1975). A decade later, while advertising education was being described as still striving for credibility within the business community (Rotzoll and Barban, 1984), some were arguing "that an advertising major listed on the resume would count as a negative" (Rotfeld, 1985). A more recent study concluded that graduating seniors with undergraduate educations in advertising often find that "recruiters remain to a large extent unimpressed" (Deckinger, Brink, Katzenstein and Primavera, 1989/90). Most of these studies, however, have been dominated by opinion-poll types of investigation (Hunt, Chonko and Wood, 1987).

During these same decades, Ross has documented the shift of advertising programs from business schools to departments of journalism and mass communication, as well as a significant increase in the number of graduates majoring in advertising (Ross, 1990). At the same time, a rather stable percentage of these graduates--given the vagaries of life and the marketplace--have found industry employment. The numbers range from 24 percent in 1987 (Becker and Engleman, 1988) to 21.5 percent in 1990, with a high of 27 percent in 1988 (Becker, 1990).

These quantitative studies, however, can be misleading. It is possible, for example, that the percent of graduates who found advertising-career jobs filled most of the job opportunities available. Another possibility is that only these percentages of the graduates sought industry positions, i.e., it is possible that 75 percent to 80 percent of the graduates never actively pursued advertising careers. The quantitative studies report how many graduates found specific kinds of employment, but they do not report on job placement vis-a-vis available employment opportunities. They do not provide insights into the competitive value of an advertising education.


This paper provides an initial quantitative analysis of outcomes in one career employment market. The study focuses on the top 100 advertising agencies which are members of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's).

Media sales, corporate in-house advertising departments, public relations, marketing, research, etc. are also career paths for which an advertising curriculum can directly prepare a student; they should be included in any outcomes assessment. Advertising agency employment was chosen for this initial study because 4A's agencies represent a tightly defined universe, as well as an important job market for advertising graduates. It should also be noted that much of the required advertising curriculum (e.g., copy writing, media planning, and campaigns) is modeled on traditional advertising agency functions. In the context of first-job preparation, it could be argued that advertising agencies represent a significant opportunity for advertising graduates to successfully demonstrate the competitive advantages of their education.

The first task was to quantify this entry-level market and describe the educational background of successful entry-level employees. The second task was to describe the entry-level employment process since it can be equally important for the career counselor to understand how graduates come to be employed as it is to know competitive success rates.


The top 100 full-service advertising agencies were identified from Advertising Age's ranking of U.S. agency brands. This listing was preferred because it included key offices of multi-office agencies. It also offered the possibility of separating out specialty agencies. Excluding pharmaceutical and direct-response agencies, for example, limited the survey in relation to total employment, but established the possibility of long term apples-to-apples comparisons for a benchmark study. …


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