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Advertising Overview

  Advertising is the business of salesmanship: it finds creative and effective means to reach consumers and influence their purchasing decisions. Because outreach to consumers is based on in-depth research of the general public and its lifestyle, good advertising both reflects and affects the values and perceptions of a culture at any given time.

  Due to the vertically integrated process of researching, creating and producing a successful ad, advertising is an extremely versatile career field. Before an ad appears in public, several areas of expertise – including art, writing, math and science - must be combined to insure its effectiveness:

  • the product market must be defined
  • competition within the market must be evaluated
  • the target audience must be identified and researched to determine how and why it makes purchasing decisions
  • a creative concept must be developed and produced
  • the ideal form of media – broadcast, print, interactive, viral, mobile – must be identified and procured to reach and influence the target audience.1

  Because all of this must be done within a budget and timeframe, and with measurable results, advertising is a competitive, evolving and often lucrative career path that employs many creative and analytical minds.

Who The Advertising Industry Serves:

  The advertising industry serves companies and organizations with products, services or messages that need to reach a large number of people in the market or general public. The goal of effective advertising is to place the ad, at the least cost, in places where only the target audience will see it. When advertising is seen by people who have no use for or interest in the product, ads are ineffective and wasteful. The best ads are cost-efficient, informative and persuasive, and producing them requires a delicate combination of research and creativity.2

  Advertising can be generated in-house or by advertising agencies. An advertising agency handles all aspects of ad conception and implementation for its clients (the advertisers). In general, the industry is divided into four areas of expertise: account services, which communicates with clients and ensures that their needs are being met; creative, which designs the messaging and branding of the client's product; research, which explores and analyzes the product's market and target audience; and media, which determines and obtains the best medias to reach the target audience.3

Advertising Specialties

  • Creative - Creative talent is the advertising agency's most valuable asset. The creative department, or "creatives," takes the information from researchers and the strategy from account executives and creates a concept that will effectively communicate what that strategy demands. Typically, this is done by a combination of copywriters, who write the ads, and art directors, who put the words into a visually appealing package.4 Creative directors coordinate this process and are ultimately responsible for all the creative work developed and produced in the agency. Those who work on the creative side of the business must be innovative thinkers and team players, capable of both creative output and execution.5
  • Research - As heavily as the advertising industry relies on art to attract attention and persuade consumers, it draws equally upon science and mathematics to find and understand its target audience and market.6 Market researchers study consumers by testing their reactions to different ads, acting as the agency's expert on the target audience. They interview consumers, study purchasing trends, and conduct surveys and focus groups to better predict what types of advertising would be most effective. Because market research requires scientific studies and statistical analysis, more advanced degrees, such as a Master's degree or doctorates, are recommended if one's ultimate career goal is research. Those interested in pursuing careers in researcher should have inquisitive and analytical minds in addition to the communications skills necessary to obtain and evaluate consumer opinions and to brief other departments on the ad team.7
  • Media - Media planners and media buyers work together to ensure that ads reach the consumer using the most cost-effective means available. Only a decade ago, media departments were using the same means to reach consumers as half a century earlier: newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Today, because of the internet and emerging mobile technologies, media planning and buying is becoming one of the most exciting and lucrative aspects of the industry. Media planners, like researchers, learn as much as possible about their target audience to determine how prospective consumers receive information. By learning about the viewing, listening and reading habits of consumers, planners can more intelligently decide when and where to place ads, and calculate how many consumers each ad is reaching. Media buyers secure ad space and time at the lowest possible costs and under tight deadlines. Because this involves dealing with salespeople on a daily basis to successfully negotiate the lowest possible costs, buyers must be personable, organized, quick-thinking and excellent negotiators.8
  • Additional Opportunities in Advertising - For some larger advertising firms, it is more cost-effective to use in-house production services rather than outsourcing to production companies.

  These firms will employ their own staff of professionals to produce the ad concepts designed by the creative department. More often than not, however, those in production services simply coordinate the production process rather than execute it themselves. They oversee the hiring of the actors, artists, directors, set designers, etc., on a project-by-project basis.

  Similarly, large advertising firms often maintain a traffic staff, which facilitates the entire process within the firm by helping various departments communicate and meet deadlines. In addition to facilitating progress, members of the traffic staff literally carry the ad proofs from one department to the next, moving the process along from start to finish. The traffic staff therefore provides excellent opportunities for recent college graduates who desire to work in advertising, learn firsthand about the advertising process, and network with advertising professionals.9

  In client-side advertising, ads are conceived and produced by advertising professionals who work for the company itself, rather than a firm. The work is similar to that at an agency, but the main difference is that in-house advertisers work on promotions for only that company and its respective brands and products. If the company is outsourcing to an advertising firm, then they make the hiring and purchasing decisions. While there is less variety in-house, there are substantial benefits, such as greater job security and pay. 10

Advertising Breaking In

What Employers Want

  In general, advertisers look for innovative thinkers, team players, excellent communicators and a strong creative drive. Entry-level jobs at advertising firms are highly competitive, and nearly all require a college degree and previous experience. Small firms and small companies with in-house advertising departments offer valuable experience for those beginning in the industry, as do the traffic departments and internship programs of large firms.

  While JHU does not offer an advertising program, it does offer a prestigious liberal arts curriculum which can enable students interested in advertising to distinguish themselves from other candidates with standard degrees from advertising programs. For those interested in the creative side, Writing Seminars, Film & Media Studies as well as non-departmental art courses would provide an excellent educational background in addition to internship and extra-curricular experiences with advertising. Digital media skills are also increasingly valuable.

  Psychology and sociology are ideal choices for those interested in the research and strategic planning aspects of the business, as are applied math and statistics. For those interested in the media side, Entrepreneurship & Management provides a well-rounded business, sales and leadership background.

  Most important, however, is work experience and a genuine passion for the industry. Internships, advertising work on campus, and retail sales experience are invaluable ways to demonstrate interest in the industry and an aptitude for salesmanship.

What They Hire Undergraduates to Do

  Entry level positions are available in all aspects of advertising for recent graduates, as well as internship programs for undergraduates. In account services, candidates with bachelor's degrees can seek entry-level positions as assistant account planners. In creative, positions are available as junior copywriters and assistant art directors. Entry-level positions in research are assistant research executives. Those interested in media can find entry-level positions as junior buyers or assistant media planners. Finally, those seeking to learn more about advertising before going into a specific area of the industry can work as traffic assistants in larger firms.

  Because of the competitiveness of the industry, beginners in advertising are quickly given the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and advance to positions with more responsibility and creative input. Another way to get to the top in this industry is to open one's own firm.

Advertising Alumni

Christine Cheng- Account Manager, Eleven Psychology, Class of 1999

  1. Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career? - I’m an account manager in a small (~60) independent ad agency in San Francisco; think of it as an uber-project manager of any given assignment. I took a really convoluted path to my job today: I started out doing freelance production/design as a hobby, then worked through a variety of design departments at various companies, and was recruited here by an industry contact.
  2. What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? What is most challenging? - Rewarding: being near smart, creative work every day. Challenging: it’s an extremely high-stress and fast-paced environment and is a constant challenge to maintain some semblance of work/life balance—I achieve it maybe 60 days out of 365
  3. Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - Hugely different. I thought I would continue into visual perception research when I left JHU. Nowadays...I’m in a different sort of visual perception research. I use a lot of the critical thinking, thoroughness, research and lab-management skills I developed at Hopkins, and apply it every day.
  4. What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field / industry? - To some extent it matters very little what you major in-choose something that you find interesting day-in day-out to study. Stay curious. Don't be worried when everyone around you is becoming a doctor/lawyer/engineer. When you are passionate about what you do and work hard at it, there's very little that can stop you from finding a vocation you enjoy. There isn't enough money and accolade in the world to compensate you for doing something you find soul-destroying.

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

    LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.

    LinkedIn Hopkins Alumni in Advertising - LinkedIn is a professional networking site where you connect with and identify alumni and other professionals by industry, geographic location and organization.

Advertising Resources



Industry /Professional Organizations:

Industry Websites:


  Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.

  Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.

  If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.


  Advertising Footnotes