How I Got My Foot In The Door

By Brett McKenzie Posted on Jul 15, 2019

Creative directors and recruiters share how they broke into the biz

The One Club for Creativity's Intern & Creative Networking Summer Spectacular continues! Every summer, we organize free events in various cities around the US, all designed to help give ad industry newcomers an edge when looking for their first big break. After kicking things off in the Big Apple last month, we're "goin' back to Cali" this week for not one, but two amazing speaking panels, featuring agency decision-makers offering crucial advice.

We get it; sometimes the struggle to land that juicy internship or your first junior gig seems insurmountable. But here's the thing: pretty much everybody you're hoping to make an impression on has been in your situation themselves. So ahead of this week's double feature — tomorrow night in San Francisco and Thursday night in Los Angeles — we've asked the panelists for both evenings to tell us about how they managed to land their own first industry internships or jobs.


Joel Kaplan
Executive Creative Director

“Before I got into advertising, my goal was to be in music production. I went to school for sound design, worked in studios as much as I could, and eventually got an internship at Danetrack Audio, a sound design house that had recently done all the SFX for The Matrix.”

“One week, in the middle of my internship, they won an Academy Award for their work. The day after the awards ceremony the owners came in with the Oscar statue and passed it around. Everyone, even the interns, got to hold it and celebrate. I remember it was much heavier than I had thought it would be. It felt like a barbell. ”

“As soon as everyone had held the Oscar, they got us all together and told the team that we would be pulling an all-nighter to make a deadline for their next film, Red Planet. Our job as interns that afternoon was to set up cots so the sound designers could sleep for a few hours. All I could think was, "Damn, even when you win an Academy Award, the deadlines don't move."

Jessica Kassel
Head of Recruiting

"One of my first internships was at O’Brien Advertising, a small agency in Denver. Having been on the Media Studies track at CU Boulder, I started there as a Media Intern. Turns out, I’m no good with numbers and media means something completely different in agencies than it does academically. So I floundered for the most part. But what I did realize was that I was naturally a pretty organized person and could fall back on that. I also found it easy to multitask, and I liked collaborating with the creatives and other strategists there. I gained a real understanding for all the different facets within an agency that summer, and when I realized that media wasn’t in my future, I made sure I spent as much time as I could with key people from other departments, learning more about their day-to-day."

"I could have looked at my experience as a Media Intern as a failure, but even though it was challenging, I learned what things I liked and didn’t like. What things I was naturally good at doing and what things I needed to spend some time working on. This internship led me to start my career shortly after in New York City as an Assistant Account Execute at Badger and Winters. From a rocky start, I found a path that better suited me and helped launch my career in advertising in a role where I could flourish. Thus, my biggest piece of advice – don’t be afraid to fail. Rather, focus on what you learned and how you’re going to springboard off those moments with more clarity and more drive!."

Tyler Hampton
Creative Director
Venables Bell & Partners

"My first job in advertising was in the mailroom of an old-school agency here in San Francisco. It was the ultimate internship because I got to know every player and department as I pushed my mailcart through the halls, which were filled with smoking and drinking and sadness."

"And while I wanted to be a copywriter, the experience of learning how the whole business works was invaluable. In a couple of months, I learned more than any 'marketing' degree could teach. Most importantly, I realized the creative I was seeing was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to work at that 'Silverstein Goodby' place down the street. Eventually, I did. Moral of the story: Soak it all up. There are no bad experiences."

Anders Gustafsson
Creative Director
Butler Shine Stern & Partners

My first job was at this tiny Swedish agency back in 2000. I was 21 and fresh out of ad school. Young and foolish obviously. Nothing short of an obsessed ad idealist. But I was fortunate enough to work with people who encouraged me to not just push the work but also allowed me to push back on clients that 'didn’t get it'. The agency had a rep to be a bit difficult to work with and I seem to remember other Swedish agencies calling us 'Advertising Taliban' or something of that nature. We had kind of a “take it or leave it” vibe. Went out of business two years later. Go figure. Haha.""

Back then it was 90% print and OOH. I was totally obsessed with Luerzers Archive and Wallpaper Magazine at the time. The Stella Artois “Reassuringly Expensive” print campaign is still one of my all-time favorites - the level of craft and clever simplicity is still super inspiring I think. How to tell a story with so much attitude using so little. And what it does for the brand perception. Amazing really. I loved making print ads and I still love making big billboard campaigns. The OOH portion of the Apple TV launch campaign is a great example of how my first job has impacted my career later on. Other than just living and breathing the Apple brand, I think a lot of what made me really wanna lean into the billboard portion and pushing that specific piece of the campaign was the fact that I started my career with this intense love for print and OOH. If my first job had been different, let’s say mostly writing for TV or interactive — I’m not so sure that would have been the case. I guess sooner or later the stars align and you get that opportunity to do what you love. That’s some magical Zen stuff right there, kids."

Karin Onsager-Birch
Chief Creative Officer
FCB West

"Fresh out of Art Center with a hot book I caught the attention of a creative giant. Big talent, big guy. He used his 6’4” frame and a baseball bat to convince me to take less than the going rate for a jr AD with the promise that I would get credit on doing real work, right away. My first ad, a small budget TV spot I sold to the client by myself while he was out of town, won gold at the LA Addys. When the credits rolled he had put his own name as Creative Director, Copywriter and — wait for it — Art Director. I didn’t even call to quit. What I learned was it's good to work for creative giants, as long as they aren’t giant dicks."

Zach Canfield
Associate Partner, Director of Talent
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners​

"My first agency job was an admin gig. I desperately wanted to get my foot in the door and would have taken any job to do so. That position was amazing because I immediately got to know almost every person in the agency. I knew I wanted to eventually transition to the Creative Department, so I worked 9-6 doing my admin gig and then stayed late every night working on my creative chops. I would offer to help people with comps or presentations, or anything else didn’t want to do. It was an amazing training ground getting to work so closely with such fantastic creatives. Eventually the long hours paid off and the doors opened to me being in the Creative Department full time."


Brittany Allen
Brand Manager

"Imagine spending your summer on The Real World or College Hill.  That was my first experience in advertising. I, along with thirteen of the dopest designers, social media specialists, and writers lived together under one roof and created our own pop-up agency.  We worked for The Marcus Graham Project, a bootcamp that develops young and diverse professionals, ready to change the face of the industry. We partnered with brands like Pepsi and Bevel, and learned how to work the industry from the inside out.  It was a defining career moment, and I learned how to hone my craft with real experience. The biggest lesson I learned was that every challenge is an opportunity for personal growth. The best work comes from the hardest assignments, but it's worth it in the end because you ultimately prove to yourself that you can accomplish anything."

Ian Nelson
Founder, Executive Producer
Bubba's Chop Shop

"Funny enough, I got my start editing demo reels for actors. I didn’t go to college so it was really up to me to learn on my own. I moved out to LA when I was 19 and my biggest fear was not being able to support myself and having to move back home to Minnesota, 18 winters were enough for me. I told a good friend of mine who went to design school that if he could teach me how to edit, I would go find us clients and Bubba’s Chop Shop was born. We had a pretty punk rock/janky website but people thought it was funny and they called us."

"After a few years and what felt like a few hundred demo reels, we got a call from an old friend who was a producer at Nike, she needed complete post-production on a video for Nike Tennis. I was thrilled! It went really well and they came back with a lot more. At the time my buddy had moved to Portland to make websites so it was just me in my little apartment trying to keep it all together. I think I ended up doing almost 40 videos for them before it was all over."

"This was really my first taste of working with a major brand. I definitely got the full experience, high expectations, fast turnarounds, tons of notes, QC, QC, QC and I loved every bit of it."

Owen Williams
Global Director of Recruitment
TBWA\Media Arts Lab

"My first internship was with a film studio in LA, surrounded by my heroes who made films that made me dream as a child. There I spent the majority of my summer reading countless scripts per day for the sequel to The Punisher, getting coffee and washing the same Porsche over and over. Three years later I found out that they ended up making Punisher: War Zone. Yes, that train wreck of a film. Needless to say, this was not my dream being realized. All I wanted to do was be surrounded by creative people and make shit. Hello advertising!"


Darren Moran
Chief Creative Officer
The Wonderful Company

"My first internship was in the marketing department of Revlon in the summer of 1989. Through dumb luck, I ended up with a corner office on the 49th floor overlooking Central Park, but the rest of the job sucked. The most creative writing I did was an analysis of deodorant coupon redemption rates in the drug store channel. Even my mother wouldn’t read it. I once overheard her telling a friend I was spending the summer begging for change outside the mall. So much less embarrassing."

"The best part of the job was when Revlon’s ad agency came in to present a campaign for a new perfume. The creative director didn’t present a story; he wove a tale of mystery, romance, and danger that began in the perfume aisle of Duane Reade and ended with everyone in the meeting room getting out of their seats to applaud the “creative genius.” Business people with millions of dollars to spend gave a standing ovation to a guy in jeans with an idea that all of America would see."

"Yep, that was the job I wanted."

Ned McNeilage
Executive Creative Director
BBH Los Angeles

"My first experience inside an advertising agency was at FCB in Sydney, Australia, where I worked day and night on briefs in exchange for cookies and coffee (a.k.a. six months without being paid a cent). I shared an office (a windowless closet) with my art director, and we were told that at the end of our stint there might be "one" job available, pitting intern against intern. And yet, it was a privilege just to be in an agency learning the craft at that point. Making it through those hard hungry days served us well, instilling a sense of urgency. Eighteen months later, Dan Wieden called and changed everything. Your early days shape you in ways you don't understand at the time. So dig in. Have fun. Push through the hard stuff. It'll get good."

Meaghan Diamond​
Director of Creative Operations​

"My first internship — also my only internship — was during the summer before my senior year of college. I worked at a local nonprofit Arts Council where I was the Publicity and Media Intern as well as the Director’s assistant for a summer music concert series. I worked at my internship by day, managed and waitressed at a local restaurant by night, and bartended at a bustling hot spot on the weekends. It was a busy summer, but it taught me a lot about pushing your limits and truly hustling for that $$$."

"There was a lot of self-teaching and coming up with my own solutions and processes, given this was a small scrappy operation like many in the art world can be. Part of my job was to design and produce concert press materials, however, I often had to drive to city hall just to print them. I used existing connections in my network and grew my network to make things happen for the events. At that time, my network was my clientele and boss from the local restaurant I worked at. From this experience I learned three major takeaways that helped me immensely in my advertising career:"

  1. The beauty of working smarter and setting up a system for yourself is that it allows you to have resources at your fingertips.
  2. The power of your network and relationships is invaluable
  3. ​Hustle hard and never give up, because you’re doing better than you think.


The One Club's Intern & Creative Networking Event summer schedule is as follows:


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