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14 August, 2011

How I Got a Career in Media (and not Advertising): Some Lessons

Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a link with me of an enterprising young man that is applying for a role with Google. It's very clever, the guy, Matthew Epstein, applies basic marketing principles upon a well-known subject, himself.

Like the Old Spice campaign the year before, Matthew didn't do anything ground-breaking. He just utilised existing channels with a single, over-arching premise that was cohesive on all touch points. Whether or not Matthew will get a job at Google is yet to be determined, but I have no doubts that he will go on to succeed, a quick look at the web metrics in his blog is proof enough of that.

Another advertising/media/advertising whiz is Zac Martin, whose blog Pigs Don't Fly advocates the 'Move Fast and Break Things' approach coined by web behemoth Facebook. His advice is about building something is sound, and I couldn't endorse it enough.

When I started this blog over a year ago, I mentioned my reasons for doing so, referring to an article that Blogs are the new CV. I basically acknowledged the need to start marketing myself a bit better, and as I said then, I am writing a fucking book after all.

Things for me continue to get better and better, and I thought it was time to impart some of my own advice about how to make it in the marketing industry, in the only way I know how: by telling a story.


By 2006, I'd decided I wanted to get into the media and advertising game. I'd temped at an agency called Starcom and basically enjoyed my time there, and set my mind to getting in. I even wrote about it in my OpenDiary (beware of the shirt).

The first thing people will tell you about getting into media and advertising, is that it’s fucking difficult. Ironically, once you’re in, the first thing people will tell you about media and advertising, is that it’s hard to find good people.

I believed I was good and set my heart to it. What struck me as a golden opportunity was Advertising Federation of Australia's Graduate Program. It had a stringent selection process, but I went to the information session with my Mum and believed I was up to the task.

The first hurdle was a set of seemingly boring questions:
  1. Why do you want a career in advertising?
  2. Which brand do you most admire and why?
  3. What is your favourite advertising campaign and why?
  4. What is the most challenging thing you have done? Why was it challenging?
  5. List 10 things to do before you’re 30.
  6. If we asked someone who knows you well to describe you, what would they say about you?
  7. If you couldn’t get into advertising, what would you do?
If you're interested, you can read my answers to these questions here.

Lesson #1: Be interesting.

I passed the first hurdle, the second hurdle, was much more daunting. It was a day-long workshop where you'd meet the agencies involved, brainstorm and work within groups, and then pitch to the agencies themselves. We weren't armed with much information, other than there was a no PowerPoint policy. Fortunately, we'd been given the names of the agencies involved. They included George Patterson Y&R, Clemenger BBDO, Grey and Magnum Opus.

My friend Sean knew a guy that worked in advertising and offered me his phone number, I seized it with both hands and picked this guy's brain. I asked all the burning questions and then some. The knowledge this guy had was tremendous. I shared my plan for the pitch, he added some words of advice and we were away.

Lesson #2: Know someone and lean on them.
The day came and went. I blew it out of the water. I'd handcrafted a folio for each agency that had their logo emblazoned on the cover. The start of the folio had a letter, addressing them in the only style I knew how: "Marshy" style.

The letter read like this:

Dear Representative,

My name is Luke 'Marshy' Marshall and I'm here today to bring my life to life. Here is a booklet which will highlight the key points of my presentation, with my contact details on the back page. Feel free to keep it, it may be worth something one day, I'll be signing autographs at the commencement of the proceedings. Before I go into the main thrust of this presentation, I'll provide you with some facts:

* I'm from country Traralgon, but don't let that hold you back
* I like to cook 2-minute noodles for longer than 2 minutes
* I have a very unhealthy obsession with dance music
* I'm deadly serious about my desire to get into the advertising industry.

I'm extremely versatile, and have done jobs ranging from data entry operator to DJ, and as crazy as it sounds I believe all my past professions have prepared me for an advertising career. As such, I've chosen to bring my 'working' life to life, with convincing reasons as to why they have prepared me for advertising. So without further ado, flick over your pages please...
But that was just the opening, over the pages included "slides" of what I had accomplished in my career thus far:

Accompanying the presentation were props, as a paperboy, I flung a paper across the room to show I delivered the message, as a sports journalism intern I pulled out a footy to prove my point, as a bartender, I whipped out a bottle of Baileys and poured them all shots (except the pregnant lady, sorry about that one).

The pitch couldn't have gone better.

Lesson #3: Go hell for leather.
But this wasn't a fairy tale, through the AFA I secured a meeting with one of the agencies, that was postponed and postponed, until finally I met with the director to be told there was no room for an intern and that I'd been mistaken. I was gutted.

To my detriment, I'd never followed up and had taken no for an answer.

For the next year I applied for roles in Melbourne. The thing about the city I love is that there weren't that many entry-level roles for the likes of me, and when I did get through to the interview process I never managed to get over the line.

The progress was like this:

1) Find ideal job;
2) Get excited and apply;
3) Reach interview;
4) Crash and burn like a drunken pilot; and
5) Get depressed by another knockback.

It was early 2008, and I was contemplating moving to Sydney to achieve my dream.

Lesson #4: Be ready to adapt.
Acknowledging this reality crystallised something inside of me, and I went for an interview with a media agency in Melbourne, called Zenith Optimedia. I had a bit more tenacity this time, and got through to a final interview with one of the partners.

He hinted at giving the role to the other candidate and that was enough for me. I put it on the line, I said I rarely get an opportunity to pick the brains of the media elite and what were my chances of finding employment if I moved to Sydney.

"I'll get back to you," I'll always remember him saying. I never imagined hearing back from him.

So imagine my surprise as I picked up a call from an unknown number as I was plugging away as a data entry operator for an insurance company. It was the partner, they had a role in Sydney and he asked how quickly I could move - I told him two weeks. FUCK YES.

Lesson 4: NEVER stop chasing your dreams.


And the dream has continued. I'm sitting in a penthouse apartment in Singapore, about to pursue another new opportunity.

It's exciting and terrifying and I would never have anticipated this while I was knocking on doors in Melbourne and recovering from my time in Perth.

If you're thinking about doing something about your career, do it. You don't need a fancy video, but you do need to tell a story, and that's the only way I know how.