We aren’t what we do, but we should do what we are

As we are finalizing our year at HBS and thinking about jobs, it is important to stop, relax, take a deep breath and take another look at the LEAD essay we wrote on “our 10-year reunion”. Ten years seems like such a long time, but just as we are finalizing our last cases at HBS, it might come sooner than you think. Aided by Professor Youngme Moon’s words to dare to be different, this article is about finding your way to those non-traditional careers that are harder to find. This week we follow 3 alums working in the advertising industry. Next week will be the VC industry and portfolio companies. This is the story of alumni who dared to be entrepreneurial in their job searches and careers and charted paths to success for themselves. Will you follow the lead?

Advertising and brand agencies
If you are looking for a creative, fun, turbulent environment with lots of interesting and diverse personalities, dealing with multinationals as well as local brands on a varied number of issues, then advertising and branding might be just for you. After speaking to several professionals in the industry and getting a feel for a few different companies, there were no two that could be identified as similar. So let me first introduce to you our alumni who were graceful enough to offer us their perspectives:

Jean-Yves Minet “JYM”
Wolff Olins – Senior Strategist

Janelle James
Leo Burnett – Vice President, Account Director

Jamie Chaney
AKQA London – Digital Strategic Planner

Making a real difference with your MBA from the start
If you like to be recognized for your skills and if you like to stand out in your job, you might want to consider creative industries. In this multibillion dollar industry, the skills an MBA provides can really make an impact, change the course of the organization and add to the diversity of people.

According to Jamie, “As an MBA you’ll be able to make a big difference to the organizations you enter. What we regard as basic business skills are not something creatives think of. Doing an NPV analysis on different clients and reallocating time according to profitability of the client is something that a creative person would not necessarily think of. Therefore your impact can be huge. You will have the wider context of business and will be able to understand clients better. It will make it easy to excel.”

JYM adds, “Don’t think that MBAs are not valued in the industry. The term ‘MBA’ is not well-known per se, but the skills you bring are very valuable to the industry.”

Janelle agrees: “Agencies cannot really assess the value of an MBA; they tend to look at how much experience you have in the industry when they look for new hires. It’s hard to determine where you belong in an agency when all you have is an MBA. Are you ideal for account management? Planning? What level will you be? A supervisor? Director? The skills that an MBA provides do not give you a natural transition into an advertising or a brand agency and so they fear they may not be able to put your education to use. If you can prove that you can apply an MBA successfully into an agency, they will listen. A good way to do this is through field studies with agencies.”

In the 90s the industry saw a consolidation of agencies in order to offer clients a wide range of services. Although on paper this looks like a good idea from a client perspective, things in the background are less aligned then they seem.

JYM says “Coming from banking or a consulting background or even a CPG company into the industry can be a bit of a culture shock. Traditionally, agencies are not accustomed to high levels of knowledge sharing even between offices, let alone between agencies unless it’s via a specific client account. In addition employees do not travel as much as consultants do, as everything is pretty localized because many agencies tend to be run in a decentralized way. However, things have been improving in recent years. ”

So while in consulting you get a lot of knowledge transferred by just being in a different office, this does not happen as frequently in advertising. In the last few years, with the rise of conglomerates, holding levels have tried implementing different initiatives for integration. Nevertheless, you should still keep in mind that every agency has its own style and culture.

Typical roles for MBAs
Most MBAs that go into advertising focus on analytical roles that include quite a bit of strategy. The typical role is that of strategic planning, account management (business analysis, project leadership & client partnership) or something at the holding company level that’s more of a corporate strategy role. Additionally, note that two holding companies, WPP & Omnicom, have rotational programs for which they recruit MBAs.

JYM says “When I came to HBS I was already an experienced professional in strategy and marketing [prior to HBS, JYM worked at McKinsey followed by 6 years as marketing manager at L’Oreal]. I used HBS to really deep dive into what I would be passionate about doing; I went to Tim Butler’s sessions, I participated in career coaching as well as career teams and even led career teams in my second year. The conclusion was that I really enjoyed the combination of strategy and creative marketing. When you think about this, there are basically four options:

– Join big consulting companies as a specialist
in their marketing practice
– Join a boutique marketing consulting firm
– Join CPG companies
– Join brand agencies

Over the summer I interned at a boutique marketing consulting firm. It was a great experience, but for me personally there was not enough “creation”; it was more advisory.

Back on campus I applied for OMNICOM’s rotational program. However, they told me that I was over-qualified for this and instead offered me a different role at Wolff Olins as a senior strategist. I have been there ever since and really enjoy my work a lot ..

As a senior strategist, there are several things that you can be working on, and here are examples of a few:

– Brand development for a new business – brand image, living & visual proofs, etc.
– Brand architecture – For Amex, I looked at how to help consumers distinguish between the services and cards they offer
– Mergers – What is the brand that will continue after the merger, and how best to position this in the marketplace
– New consumers – For Chase, we looked at how to be relevant to new consumers.
Although it might not be as easy, you could also think about creating your own project or role.”

Janelle adds, “While in business school I did a field study for Leo Burnett’s Global CMO focusing on how they could improve business development practices in key markets. After completing the study, I was offered a full-time position. This position on the global management team was created for me and the role was essentially a continuation of what I did during my field study. Though I worked with the company for 6 years prior to HBS, I would have never been offered such a role had I not demonstrated the new skills I could bring back to the company. As the Director of Global Marketing Innovation, I was tasked with identifying business opportunities, supporting the growth initiatives of local offices, overseeing the global prospecting strategy in key industries and assisting with the development of the LBWW Marketing Plan.

It was a great role not only because it allowed me to use my MBA in a unique way, but also because it allowed me to have a lot of visibility with senior managers. The downside of creating your own role is that there is not necessarily a career trajectory. So you have to be comfortable with that. After almost two years in that role, I recently decided to return to a client facing position as an Account Director on our P&G feminine care business.”

If you decide to create your own position, keep in mind that agencies (like all professional service firms) make money by serving clients. So if you are working on holding company level or in an agency’s management team, you are a cost center.

Use field studies to get in
During the interviews a common theme that emerged is that field studies and internships are the best way to get into the industry. As advertising companies and brand agencies do not have the money to recruit on campus, you will need to make the extra effort to get noticed. The easiest way is to offer to do a value added project for them and get your value across during this project.

Janelle mentions that “During the second year, I also did a field study creating a marketing strategy for a hotel operator. This not only gave me hotel industry experience, but allowed me to do some high level marketing work for them. Field studies give you the most points when it comes to agencies. They want to see that you can apply your MBA knowledge in the real world.”

Jamie adds, “During the second year I did a field study for NYC & Company – the City of New York’s marketing arm. It wasn’t an agency field study and I had an offer from Digitas, and knew that I was most likely going back there, but I took it up as it interested me. It was definitely helpful because I had one more industry I was knowledgeable about.”

Tactics: get a foot in the door – it will open bigger doors later
Coming out of business school, don’t be afraid to take on a less sexy or a less exciting job in the creative firm of your choice initially. In the creative world, Digitas and WPP mean a lot more than HBS and MBA. Jamie explains, “My biggest piece of advice would be: If there is a role in the industry you’re interested in that is MBA friendly, but is not the role you want, take that first role and use it to transition to the role you ultimately want. I went to Digitas for an internship in their strategy and analysis group. My internship was a lot of number-crunching, frankly. But there was some exposure to qualitative strategy. When I went there after school I was able to move myself slowly to more qualitative strategy work. Then I went to London for personal reasons. When I moved to London all of the sudden I had agency credibility and could choose between a lot of different agencies. This was after 18 months at Digitas. It was really about getting my foot in the door in a role that was MBA-friendly and moving slowly towards something that is your passion.”

The big question: salary negotiations
Advertising agencies don’t always understand the concept of an MBA or the financial investment required for an MBA. Unless you go to a big conglomerate you should count on the lower end of CPG type of salaries, although this is not necessarily always true.

Jamie elaborates, “As I did my internship with Digitas over the summer and had delivered exceptionally well, they did not hire me in the standard post-MBA position of Manager (around $90K). Instead, I was hired as an associate director, which allowed me to get your usual consulting type of salary with negotiations on the bonus side. As I moved to London and to a smaller agency, I really had to negotiate hard to keep my salary at that level. Once I started working there and slowly got more responsibility, I was able to negotiate a raise – of course, backed by a good track record.”

Janelle agrees, “The real challenge is negotiating your salary if you don’t already have agency experience to put you at the director level, and that’s why field studies become so important.”

Key learnings & advice

– Be open to take on a job that is a stepping stone at first, especially if you have limited experience

– Use your field studies wisely

– Know that you can add a lot of value with your MBA because of your wider context and ability to put yourself in the client’s shoe. Don’t promote your MBA, use it.

– Don’t get stressed out if in May you still don’t have a job. Advertising companies do not work on the same timelines as we do. They are more just-in-time kind of hiring companies. Don’t get discouraged.

– If you create your own position, understand what that means for your career path. Also assess whether it is a cost center or a profit center for the company and keep that in mind as well.

– In advertising industries, it’s all about the experience you have had, not about the education. So make sure to show your value through industries you have worked in and experiences you have had.

– Don’t believe that MBAs are not valued in the industry. You have the chance to make a bigger difference here than in other industries. Make sure that in the interviewing process you demonstrate your value & skills. Think about what it means for them to hire you.

– You’ll have to work twice as hard to find a job, and it will include a lot of networking. Don’t get discouraged by that.

– Lemonade! Watch the movie lemonade, and keep in mind that you should pursue that which you are passionate about. Three years out of business school, I am one of the few people still working at the company I started out with. We aren’t what we do, but we should do what we are.

Name: Janelle James
Title: Vice President, Account Director
Firm: Leo Burnett Worldwide
Pre-MBA: Leo Burnett Boston, Milan, NYC
“Field studies give you points with agencies because you can show them how you can apply your newly acquired knowledge. For agencies, because they generally don’t recruit MBAs, value is typically determined by your practical experience in the field, not by havingÿ “MBA” on your resume.”

Name: Jamie Cheney
Title: Digital strategic planner
Firm: Digitas & AKQA
Pre-MBA: Investment banking & real-estate finance
“If there is a role in the industry you’re interested in that is MBA friendly, but is not the role you want, take that role and use it to transition into the role you ultimately want.”

Name: Jean-Yves Minet
Title : Senior Strategist
Firm: Wolff Olins – part of Omnicom Group Inc.
Pre-MBA: McKinsey & L’Oreal
“Getting into the advertising industry is not easy, and you’ll need to network a lot, but the industry appreciates MBA acquired skills. It is easier to have impact and make a big change in this industry than in consulting and banking.”

Tamara Obradov is an entrepreneur and creative at heart who is involved in the HBS entrepreneurial community. In order to shine a light on the many ventures and successes of HBS grads, she brings you stories from HBS alumni in a bi-weekly column. Should you have any ideas or suggestions on HBS entrepreneurs that we can learn from, do not hesitate to contact her at tobradov@mba2010.hbs.edu.