The beginners guide to a career in advertising: Passion, preparation and provocation

Wavemaker’s Global Client Presidents Anna Hickey, Alastair Bannerman and Alex Altman share their advice for individuals looking to kickstart their careers in advertising

Anna Hickey, Alastair Bannerman and Alex Altman

Global Client Presidents Wavemaker


Earlier this year a report from the Advertising Association (AA) warned the marketing industry that it needs to ‘stem talent loss and attract new people’, as the report reveals the number of people working in marketing and advertising fell by 14% between 2019 and 2022.

According to the research, there is a distinct lack of awareness about marketing and advertising as a career option, which is leading to a decrease in the industry’s ability to attract talent. School and university leavers do not prioritise it as a career choice compared to other industries.

The advertising industry is a dynamic and competitive field. Entering it can be both exciting and challenging. Wavemaker’s Global Client Presidents Anna Hickey, Alastair Bannerman and Alex Altman share their advice for individuals looking to kickstart their careers in advertising: 

1. Embrace curiosity & continuous learning

Curiosity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Anna emphasises the importance of having an open mind and being curious about the world around you. In a profession that constantly evolves, being curious allows you to stay ahead of the curve and discover unexpected opportunities.

Anna stresses the importance of learning something new every day. The advertising industry is fast-paced, and staying up to date with emerging trends and technologies is essential. Make a commitment to personal growth and knowledge acquisition throughout your career.

The advertising industry is constantly evolving. Alastair advises that to thrive in this dynamic environment, aspiring professionals must embrace change and adaptability. Be open to new technologies, trends, and ways of thinking. The ability to pivot and adjust your approach is a valuable skill in the ever-changing world of advertising.

Continual learning and personal growth are essential in the advertising industry. Alastair encourages young professionals to invest in their education and skill development. Stay updated on industry trends, attend workshops, and seek out mentors who can guide you on your journey. The more you invest in your growth, the more valuable you become to your clients and employers. 

2. Preparation is key

Alex emphasises the importance of thorough preparation before entering the industry. Aspiring professionals should invest time in understanding the advertising landscape, trends, and key players. Networking and meeting people in the industry is equally crucial, as it helps build connections and gain insights into the field. 

3. Collaborate and Build Diverse Teams 

Collaboration is a cornerstone of success in advertising. Alastair loves assembling diverse teams of individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives. Collaborative teams bring fresh insights and ideas to projects, leading to more impactful campaigns. 

4. Positive provocation

Anna highlights the culture of positive provocation at Wavemaker. She encourages aspiring professionals to seek out agencies and organisations that embrace this mindset. Being part of a team that constantly challenges the status quo and seeks improvement can be immensely fulfilling. 

5. Enthusiasm and passion

Passion and commitment are attributes that Alex believes are essential for success in advertising. Regardless of the specific role, bringing energy and enthusiasm to work every day can set individuals apart in a highly competitive industry. The willingness to learn continuously is another vital trait that can lead to a successful career. 

6. Learn from experience

Anna's own career path is a testament to the value of gaining diverse experience. She encourages aspiring professionals to embrace a ‘zigzagging’ career path, where you explore various roles and gain a breadth of experiences. This not only broadens your skill set but also helps you discover your true passion within the industry. 

7. Develop a Strong Point of View

Alastair emphasises the importance of having a strong point of view when entering the advertising industry. A genuine passion for the industry and a unique perspective are essential. It's not about conforming to the status quo; it's about having a perspective that sets you apart and showcases your commitment to the field. 

8. Be Proactive and Network

Being proactive is crucial for success in advertising. Alastair advises young professionals to get out from behind their desks and network within the industry. Building relationships, attending industry events, and meeting people from various backgrounds can open doors to exciting opportunities. Your next career move may come from a chance encounter or a connection you make. 

9. Take Risks and Be Creative

Creativity is at the heart of advertising. Don't be afraid to take risks and think outside the box. Clients appreciate fresh, innovative ideas that can set their brands apart. Challenge yourself to push boundaries and explore creative solutions to client challenges. 

10. Emphasise Simplicity in Storytelling

Alastair believes that simplicity is a key factor in effective advertising. While the industry can sometimes get bogged down in data and technology, the core of advertising is about storytelling. Simplify your messaging and focus on the idea and the work. When simplicity is done well, it resonates with audiences and drives results. 

11. Stay open to new opportunities

In the advertising industry, your initial role may not be where you ultimately find your niche. Anna advises newcomers to remain open to different types of work and opportunities. You may stumble upon a role or specialty that you didn't initially consider but end up loving.

The advice is clear: be yourself, be interested, be passionate, and be committed. By developing a unique point of view, embracing change, and investing in personal growth, you can navigate the advertising industry with confidence. Remember that creativity, simplicity, and collaboration are key to making a lasting impact in this dynamic field. While specific skills may vary across roles in advertising, these core qualities can pave the way for a fulfilling and prosperous career in the industry.


Anna Hickey, Alastair Bannerman and Alex Altman are Global Client Presidents at Wavemaker.

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