Whenever people hear that I’m an Advertising major, overwhelmingly the most common response is “Oh my God, that much be so exciting!” and for most part, they are right. But it is also hard work and dedication and critical thinking. People imagine a boardroom with people brainstorming ideas for commercials in fabulous outfits (that part is true), but that is just one part of this gigantic industry, where finding your specialization is key.
Broadly speaking, within agencies advertisers are divided into creatives, accounts, media and (now) digital marketing departments. During the course of most Advertising programs, you will learn about both sides along with their functions. It is during your junior year that you delve into your specialization. So if you feel like you are not sure about which aspect you are most interested in and will be best at, your professors will, whether directly though guidance sessions or indirectly through your grades, show you your most suitable path. However, do not be discouraged by a bad grade and completely count out a possible avenue. The professor may be very strict in grading or his TAs may not be best suited to your learning style. In situations like these, it is best to consult your seniors and websites such as ratemyprofessor.com. Speaking of which, joining on-campus organizations like the American Advertising Federation is a great move, even more so during your upperclassmen years. The consulting teacher will usually be a tenured teacher in the department, a very strong source for recommendation letters for future employers, especially since he may have taught them too.
If you are organized, a strong communicator and work well under pressure, the accounts division may be a good fit for you. Common jobs held include account planners, who decide the direction for a company to move towards, and account executives, who are the ones communicating between the client (the company) and the creatives.
On the other hand, you may be more interested in creative work. Creatives can typically be broken down into copywriters and graphic designers. Copywriters have the freedom to write anything they wish, that is, within the guidelines of the creative briefs prepared by the account planners and executives. Meanwhile, graphic designers work with the given copy and brief and send the final copy to the account executive to send to the client. See how the whole company comes together to function as a whole?
Agencies are not the only ones hiring advertisers. Companies from very industry have in-house advertisers, who are the ones on the other end of the telephones with the account executives. So a business minor will serve you well as an advertiser for a Wall Street company and that seemingly irrelevant healthcare minor may convert to a job with a private practicing who needs publicity. Alternatively, people with Advertising degrees can also work in other related industries such as public relations, media and production. Again conversely, people with related majors can also work in an advertising agency. It is very flexible because it is not a premeditated track like pre-med. This may also mean more competition from people migrating to the advertising field due to recessions. Many advertisers also work freelance on a consulting basis, but this usually comes with many years of industry experience to create the necessary contacts. After all, it is who you know.
It is because of this that I would also advise any potential student to think about where they want to work after college. As several instate students attend the flagship state college to go on to high positions in the advertising industry, it only follows that you should build a network through college with these people, because more connections in the industry are always a plus. If you want to work in New York, work with the Media, Culture and Communication major (the flexibility of the required major can be a great advantage!) If you want to work in Chicago, enroll at the University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. It will pay off.
It may come as a pleasant surprise that some of the best advertising programs are state colleges, especially given the constantly rising tuition. Some great programs in the US are:
University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign (The oldest in the country, and where I attend!)