Everyone gets a different start in marketing. A college friend of mine majored in advertising and was a regular part of our school’s ad club competitions. I, on the other hand, studied literature and philosophy before completing a related masters degree. Despite the differences in our path, we both ended up in the marketing world. That’s why I’m going to cover some of the foundational steps that you can take to get a job in a digital marketing agency from any point in your career.
How to Get a Job in a Digital Marketing Agency
This type of story gets repeated over and over in this industry. Some can start off in customer service at a retail store before realizing they have an interest helping their run their store’s social media campaigns. Others were good at writing and sent in a “Hail Mary” application to an agency with no previous experience. Others receive degrees in marketing and design.
If you are just finishing high school, college, or grad school, your start in the marketing world will be unique to you.
Regardless of your starting point, everyone can find a place for themselves in an agency if they put in the work to develop the right skillset. But we all have to start somewhere. Keep reading to learn about the foundational steps you’ll need to take to get a job at a digital marketing agency.
Do Your Research
Thanks to shows like Mad Men, many people have a renewed interest of working with a marketing agency. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many popular depictions of agencies aren’t exactly true to nature.
There’s so much more to do in a digital marketing agency than just writing, pitching topics, and sipping on whiskey.
So, the first step you’ll want to take is an educational one: research.
Take the time to research what position would be best for you if you haven’t already specialized in something, like graphic design or writing. If you already know what area interests you, start researching the different responsibilities of that position – or if there are multiple positions that you could fit into.
For example, someone who is interested in writing could also personally enjoy data and crunching numbers. In this case, they could be the perfect fit as a writer or as an ad campaign manager who can write and review the campaigns.
Learn about the differences that exist in different types of agencies. A writer in a startup agency would be doing a much different job than a writer working for a well-established agency, for example. Similarly, a writer at a medical marketing agency would be doing a vastly different job than a writer at an agency that markets for tech companies.
Learn about the Industry
Another important aspect of this research phase is actually building a foundation of knowledge about the industry.
This means you should have a solid understanding of the trends and common procedures in your area of expertise.
There’s a lot of overlap in the skills necessary to succeed in a digital marketing agency, so learn about the industry at a macro-level before moving on to the smaller details of the type of position you’re interested in.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once you have a better idea of what you’d like to do in an agency, it’s time to get a few reps in.
For some, the easiest way to do this is to sign up for a class where you will be working on projects that closely mimic the work completed by agencies. For others, online research and self-guided practice can be a good start.
Whatever your area of interest is, get a few completed projects under your belt!
Some graphic designers choose to create branding for companies that don’t exist. Some writers outline a made-up company and create detailed campaigns and blogs for them. You can even get your start by freelancing for businesses and agencies in your area. Oftentimes, designers and writers alike can get their start and work real projects without being associated with an agency.
Another benefit of this stage is that, the more you’re able to practice, the clearer it will become if you have made the right decision.
Build Your Portfolio
In the marketing world, it’s important to have a body of work that backs up your claim that you’d be a good fit in an agency.
Just like advertisements saying “Company X is the best” don’t matter if they have dozens of 1-star reviews, you’ll have to prove yourself.
One way to do this is by building a killer portfolio. Everything from work done in school, self-guided projects, and freelance work can be showcased in your professional portfolio.
Make sure your portfolio is available online, as that is often the easiest way to get it in front of someone without an in-office visit. Websites, such as Wix or Squarespace, offer non-designers the ability to create a great looking website on a budget. With some planning and design-work, you can create a great website that functions as your portfolio and a hub for freelance work.
Protip: Place the URL for your digital portfolio directly on your resume. This allows potential employers to clearly see that you have work available to attest to the skills and experience listed on your resume.
Find the Right Agency for You
Once you have a solid base of knowledge and a great portfolio, it’s time to start breaking into agency life!
I recommend doing research in your area, or an area you’d like to move to for work, and compiling a detailed list. For this stage, spreadsheets can be your best friend if you want to be extra efficient.
Take a look at the websites for all of the agencies in your area. Note whether or not they have a suitable opening. Write down the contact information for someone you can reach out to, such as the CEO, head designer, or content coordinator. Check out company online reviews, see what other customers are saying about that agency
Once you have your list in compiled, prioritize it! By creating tiers of agencies, you can adjust your outreach strategy. These tiers could look something like: perfect, great, good, okay.
Remember, the goal is to work with an agency that will support you and be a good fit, so doing your research at this stage could save you time down the road.
Master Your Pitch
Whether or not your dream agency has an open spot on their team, you’ll need to master your pitch.
Since you have already compiled contact information while you were looking at agencies in your area, it’s time to start outreach.
Make sure your resume and portfolio are in great shape and begin reaching out to key influencers in that agency. Remember, your focus should always be on the value that you add to their team – not just that you think their agency is great.
Your pitch should be straight to the point, professional, and creative. Showcase your skills and experience within the framework of how it can be an asset to their team while still demonstrating an interest in team collaboration.
With some luck, you will hear back from these agencies after your first email. If not, continue reaching out to them 1-2 more times with invitations to grab coffee or to discuss how you could be a fit for them over the phone. Regardless of the position you’d like to fill, everyone at an agency has to be a salesperson of sorts – both for their own skills to get a foot in the door but to also sell clients on concepts that will ultimately make them more successful.