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Young creatives enhance talent with internships, grad school

Today’s college graduates looking for jobs in advertising, marketing, public relations and graphic design may find challenges because of the economic slowdown, but can help prepare themselves for the job market by getting real-life experience during internships.

GodwinGroup in Jackson has a record number of interns this year. Nine are coming in to work various times during the summer.

“Internships allow us to see how people react first hand to the pressures of advertising, marketing and public relations,” said Danny Mitchell, chairman of the GodwinGroup. “It also allows them to demonstrate skills instead of them just being listed on a resume. It allows us to see their work ethic and compatibility as being a team player rather than as an individual. We do hire from our intern ranks for entry-level positions usually before we will go outside to find someone just by looking at a resume.”

Survive and thrive

Each ad agency has a specific corporate culture or personality. Mitchell said it is best to find people who can not only survive, but thrive in that environment.

“Not every agency is right for every prospect out there,” he said.

Mitchell said most agencies aren’t expanding employment right now, although there are replacing employees who have left. And there is a trend towards agencies trying to build new business with existing staff rather than hiring more. That can make it very competitive for recent grads looking for a job.

“The job market is very competitive,” Mitchell said. “Many graduates may have to offer to do an internship even after graduation. No matter the job, if it is related to your interest, people tend to move up in organizations. There is an impressive list of people who have offered to be runners or mail clerks just to get a foot in the door, and they have ended up being great employees. They get opportunities that others would not. But don’t go outside your area of studies in what you want to be for the future. If you do, you will end up doing something other than what you planned.”

He also suggests making the job description the minimum of what you do. Be innovative and expand the job into something a lot larger than what was originally envisioned.

An advanced degree is another way to be more marketable. Most job applicants at The Cirlot Agency in Jackson have advanced degrees.

“I would say 80% to 85% of the candidates who walk through our office have a master’s degree or the equivalent, so that gives them an edge,” said CEO Liza Looser. “If you are a graduate on the creative side, I would recommend continuing your education somewhere in Atlanta like the Portfolio Center where you could work on your craft in advertising and communications. It is the equivalent of a master’s degree. A graduate could walk into an agency in New York and be qualified to begin working there.”

If a master’s degree doesn’t appeal, try to get an internship at a major national or international agency in Chicago or New York. There are two large conglomerates, Omnicom Group and Interpublic Group, and most of the best-known advertising agencies are part of these two groups.

“You can go on their websites and inquire about the intern programs at all the leading agencies in the U.S.,” Looser said. “If you can get an internship, that would certainly help you to begin your career in this field. A lot of people have master’s degrees when they begin their internship. Those don’t pay a lot, but it is an investment to get exposure to national accounts that will make a big difference in beginning your career.”

Large-market start

Whether an internship or an entry level job, Looser strongly recommends students graduating in Mississippi go to large markets such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas or Atlanta to begin their careers.

In recent years, many types of businesses have been merging into larger and larger corporations. Many major financial institutions, for example, that used to be based in the state now have out-of-state ownership. That has had an impact on advertising agencies based in the state.

“Almost all of Mississippi’s major corporations such as financial institutions and utilities who kept advertising and public relations firms in business have sold or merged to out-of-state corporations,” Looser said. “Their home offices are somewhere else. Generally when a company is owned out of state, the ad agencies are from the home office of the state. When the home office is not in the State of Mississippi, local agencies are less likely to get that work. Fortunately, we were working a lot out of state before all these companies were bought out and merged. The reason our offices are on Airport Road is we have to fly out and meet with clients all over the U.S. The majority of our clients are outside of the state because most of the larger corporations are no longer located in Mississippi.”

While she recommends starting a career at a big agency in a major market where one might be working primarily on one client or sector, Looser sees advantages to working for a firm like hers. One gets to work with many different types of clients and industries.

“The educational value of knowing about diverse industries and business strategy is priceless, and it is great fun to be involved with a variety of issues on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

New graduates looking for a leg-up in the marketplace might want to consider concentrating on the newest ways of communicating effectively with today’s technology.

“Young people looking for relevance in a tight marketplace should hone up on skills sets that have an immediate and lasting impact on people’s business,” said Bob Potesky, partner and executive creative director for The Ramey Agency, Jackson. “That tends to be, not surprisingly, leading edge media and communication tools such as web-based dialogues with consumers or even company-sponsored blogs instead of investing in slick, high-end video presentations. The cost is much lower because of built-in cameras in computers. You help them edit and streamline. And businesses become excited about finding an affordable new way to reach customers.”

Cautious clients

The slowdown in the economy is having an effect on advertisers. It is making people more cautious about spending. But Potesky says many of The Ramey Agency’s clients are in the premium marketplace — selling primarily to affluent customers — and the spending power of that audience tends to be less impacted by a slowdown in the economy.

Regardless, any ad agency that offers smart ideas with clear business benefits will always be very much in demand.

“We can give our clients new avenues of influence,” Potesky said. “Those are business building tools that most managers are not inclined to cut back on. We have been very proactive in working to drive our clients’ bottom lines both short term and long term. To that end, we are continuing to grow our abilities on the web to encourage dialogue through sites and microsites. I don’t think that will shrink anytime soon.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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