What Does a Career in Advertising Entail?
Advertising Degrees and Careers At-a-Glance
On a basic level, advertising professionals create, sell, and measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. Creative professionals, such as copywriters and art directors, and business-oriented professionals, such as brand managers and product managers, all play important roles in the effectiveness of ad campaigns. While most advertising professionals work for agencies, they may also work for newspapers, magazines and radio. There are also a large number of freelancers in the business. While there are associate degree programs available, entry-level jobs in advertising typically require a bachelor’s degree.
Advertising Degrees and Careers In-Depth
A four-year advertising degree program entails both the arts and sciences, combining courses in visual design and copywriting with those in communication, psychology and marketing. Subjects such as consumer psychology and strategic analysis prepare graduates for employment in advertising agencies, public relations firms and media companies. For those who want to work in upper management or academia, advanced advertising degrees delve further into media and marketing.
The Steps to Pursuing an Advertising Degree & Career
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
While it is not required, a successful career in advertising usually begins with a comprehensive undergraduate education. A bachelor’s degree in advertising, communications, marketing or a related field can provide a foundation in the creative, management, interpersonal and analytical skills required to work in the field. Coursework in business, consumer behavior and media combined with classes in design, copywriting and photography prepares students to develop effective ad campaigns while employed at agencies around the country.
There are hundreds of programs offering traditional and online advertising degrees. Prospective students should always make sure the programs they pursue are accredited. In order to receive accreditation, a program must meet acceptable levels of quality set by the U.S. Department of Education.
Complete an Internship
Participating in an advertising internship allows students to gain practical advertising experience. Interns can form professional relationships in the advertising community which can prove invaluable when seeking a full-time job after graduation. With so much competition for advertising careers in general, it is helpful to stand out from the crowd when interviewing for work. Although an internship isn’t always required as part of an advertising undergraduate degree program, they are often available for credit to those interested in building their resumes. The benefit of participating in a college internship is that schools have existing relationships with employers and regularly place students in community businesses.
For those who earn advertising degrees that don’t have an industry component, there are still plenty of ways to secure an internship with an agency before and after graduation. In fact, because internships may result in offers of employment, more recent graduates than ever before are becoming interns to break into the business, according to CBS News.
Find an Entry-Level Position
Advertising degrees qualify graduates for entry-level positions in advertising or a related field. Titles may include assistant media planner, assistant account executive or junior copywriter. During this time, it is important to learn as much as possible about advertising careers and the industry as a whole. In most entry-level positions, duties primarily consist of supporting the team with day-to-day responsibilities. For instance, entry-level employees may research marketing materials, compile data and edit promotional copy. In time, it’s possible to take on larger roles contributing ideas, making pitches and working on campaigns.
Specialize in a Particular Area
Those who stand out in the competitive field of advertising earn a reputation for developing client relationships and sharing fresh strategies and ideas. Developing strengths working with a specific demographic or creating compelling copy can propel advertising professionals to top executive positions. One way to build a personal brand is to network with professional organizations such as the American Advertising Federation (AAF). It’s also helpful to find a mentor who works in that specialty, particularly at larger agencies where it can be easy to get lost in the crowd.
Find the Right Advertising Degree Program
Advertising is a large field, comprised of creative and business professionals who share one main goal: to motivate customers to buy products or services. Whether looking for an accredited online program or a traditional on-campus degree, students have plenty of options for receiving a quality education. Online advertising degrees are ideal for those who are passionate about pursuing an advertising degree, but have personal and professional obligations that make it difficult to attend classes on campus. With so many well-ranked and accredited online programs across the United States, it’s possible to get an advertising education no matter how busy your schedule or where you are located.
For those unsure of which level of degree to pursue in the quest for an advertising career, the table below explains each option.
Advertising Degree Levels
Advertising degrees are available at all levels, from associate to doctoral online or in traditional classroom settings. Each level prepares graduates for specific opportunities, from entry-level employment in advertising agencies to careers in academia. Before choosing a program, students should consider their goals and how each type of degree would best support them. Learn about each type of advertising degree below.
Associate Degree in Advertising
While there are not many associate degree programs in advertising, an associate degree in business or marketing can provide the skills needed to work in advertising support services. Some of these two-year associate degree programs allow students to choose an advertising or marketing emphasis with courses in advertising principles and advertising copywriting.
For those with an interest in the creative side of advertising, another option is an associate degree in advertising design. Students take courses in graphic design, web design and communications. In this program, students develop a portfolio of their design work which they can use while interviewing for advertising design positions. After graduation, students can also pursue a bachelor’s degree in advertising.
Here are several of the courses offered in a two-year associate degree in advertising program.
Teaches students how to write and edit copy for all market levels of retail advertising and direct marketing; introduces visualization as a tool for brainstorming.
- Critical evaluation
- Grammar, punctuation, and spelling
- Creative thinking
- Message development
Analysis of the concepts, perspectives, and methods used in the development and implementation of integrated marketing communication programs; covers common business activities and terminology.
- Budget setting
- Media selection
- Research testing
Examines the role of media planning and buying in advertising; reviews the relationship between marketing and advertising objectives.
- Measurement tools
- Target markets
- Media-buying approaches
Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising
A bachelor’s degree in advertising is an essential step on the path to a full-time career in the industry. Students who earn advertising degrees learn about all facets of the business, including creative careers such as copywriting and art direction and business careers in advertising media buying, planning and sales. Typically, bachelor’s degree programs take four years to complete. Graduates can then seek entry-level positions in a range of agency settings performing research, developing ad campaigns, or managing accounts.
Below are examples of the courses students take in a bachelor’s degree in advertising program.
An overview of online research methods for strategic communication; explores web analytics, content analysis, online surveys, and online interviews.
- Audience measurement tools
- Analytics tools and data mining
- Designing and maintaining reports
- Secondary data analysis
- Questionnaire design
Instruction in the critical elements of brand management, including the role of brands and the concept of brand equity; examines brand extensions, co-branding and strategic alliances.
- Brand positioning
- Brand analytics
- Building brands
Examines consumer behavior and the theories and methods for the advanced analysis of consumer markets; focuses on the development of decision-making skills.
- Consumer motivation
- Marketing strategy
- Major analytics tools
- Audience segmentation analytics
- Writing analytics reports
- Social marketing
Master’s Degree in Advertising
A master’s degree in advertising program provides a blend of hands-on experience with education in the underlying principles of advertising. Students learn more about advertising careers such as copywriter, art director, account executive, and strategic planner. Most graduate programs take 1-3 years to finish. Those graduates with master’s-level advertising degrees are prepared for high-level creative and management roles in advertising as well as academia.
The following courses can be found in a master’s degree in advertising curriculum.
Analyzes the impact of advertising on individuals and society; evaluates the ethical, moral, and legal questions related to advertising.
- Product placement
- Advertising laws and regulations
- Public communication campaigns
Explores the strategic creative process in advertising; students conceive solutions to client marketing challenges across a range of media.
- Concept development
An overview of the techniques that attract and hold consumer attention in television advertising; covers challenges involved with writing and casting commercials.
- Preparing storyboards
- Editing video
- Directing video
Certificate in Advertising
The purpose of a certificate in advertising is to complement an undergraduate degree in business, communications or a related field. These programs prepare students for future careers in advertising, media or public relations and increase their chances of securing a job. Many colleges also offer certificates to working professionals looking to develop an advertising skill-set. Here are some of the courses taught in a certificate in advertising program and the skills associated with them.
Introduces various types of social media used by media advertisers and examines the principles behind them. Students will critically examine the principles and challenges social media brings to public relations.
- Social media skills and practices
- Photo and video sharing
- Social networking sites
Provides an overview of basic marketing concepts and terminology in today’s global environment; students evaluate and formulate marketing strategies.
- Marketing metrics
- Competitive analysis
Explores the role of account planning in an advertising campaign and the skills needed to be an effective account planner.
- Creative development research
- Developing creative briefs
- Campaign evaluation
PhD Degree in Advertising
While it is rare to find a standalone advertising doctoral program, they do exist. Those interested in a doctorate often pursue an alternate program in business or marketing with an emphasis on advertising. These programs typically cover consumer psychology and behavioral decision making as well as marketing strategy which are integral components of advertising. Earning a PhD in advertising requires students to complete three phases: a series of seminars, written and oral examinations, and the execution and presentation of a dissertation. It can take several years to meet all of the requirements. Those who pursue a doctorate in advertising usually plan to teach and perform research at colleges and universities.
The seminars below are typical of what is offered in an advertising or marketing PhD program.
Reviews topics in marketing strategy and marketing management; focuses on branding, market orientation, and the impact of marketing strategy.
- Defining and targeting market segments
- Brand positioning
- Maintaining focus on the customer
During the first half of the seminar, the instructor presents an area of research to critique in the study of how one’s attitude affects research; the second half of the seminar introduces topics in consumer behavior.
- Theoretical and methodological approaches to consumer behavior
- Developing testable hypotheses
- Presenting and writing research ideas
Familiarizes students with diverse perspectives in the quest to understand attitudes, memory, perception, and behavior in the social context; includes biological and cognitive perspectives.
- Apply psychological theory to the complex media environment
- Interpret the ethical implications of media and technology
- Understand basic research methods
Career Paths in Advertising
Because technological advances are continually changing the way people communicate and use goods or services, the advertising industry is a constantly evolving world of creativity. While innovation is crucial, advertising executives must also be able to work against deadlines and alongside marketing strategies. A career in advertising is a great fit for people who love to communicate, create, implement and grow within their professional lives. Based on the criteria of environment, income, stress, physical demands, and job outlook, CareerCast revealed the best positions in the industry are Promotions manager, Advertising sales representative, Film and video editor, Marketing manager, Graphic designer.
These represent only a tiny slice of the field, with myriad roles available in a range of different settings. According to the Advertising Educational Foundation, the industry can be broken down into eight categories, all of of which lead to multiple career paths. These categories are described in detail below.
New business is the area of advertising responsible for generating strategies to bring in clients. People working in new business must think strategically about client needs, identify problems with the client’s current advertising strategy, and generate solutions that both solve those problems and meet the client’s objectives. After entering the new business field, one may aspire to become a manager before moving into a director-level role.
Once the advertising agency has gained a new client, the account services department manages the relationship. This is a fantastic field for people who are enthusiastic about the power of advertising and also energized by interpersonal connections. To excel in account services, a person must be able to build trust, maintain customer satisfaction and manage projects while communicating the development process to the client. Workers in this category may be account executives, account directors or vice presidents of account services.
Strategic planning is an integral part of creating effective advertising strategies. Without accurate market research, a lot of time and money can be wasted. Planning departments are responsible for generating and processing quantitative and qualitative consumer data through methods such as focus groups and surveys. The planning department also helps generate creative strategies to reach consumer groups they have researched. Planners are people who like numbers, projections and strategy. Some move on to become associate directors of account planning or directors of strategic planning.
The creative department creates the artwork or content used in all of the agency’s media campaigns. Graphic designers, photographers and copywriters all work within the creative department. Artists who enjoy putting their skills to work in a fast-paced environment and working within set parameters — as opposed to those who prefer to work at their own pace or on personal projects — will excel in advertising. Opportunities for advancement within creative departments include positions as art directors or creative directors.
Production is the behind-the-scenes magic of advertising and involves making television ads, radio spots, posters and other media to be used in promotions. All ads involve a number of moving pieces during pre-production, production and post-production. Broadcast media involves shooting, recording and editing, in addition to finding locations, actors or voice talent beforehand. Production attracts people who love mobilizing teams, working with the media, and crafting a tangible product. Broadcast producers often go on to become directors or executive producers.
The interactive branch of advertising involves developing websites, online ads, games, blogs, and apps. These things can either be the product itself or serve to attract people to the product. For example, Candy Crush is an app that is also a product, but interactive designers also might add games to a website to drive traffic and get people to look at other products. Workers in the interactive branch are responsible for creating that connection with consumers. People with strong technical skills and creativity can do well as interactive designers, interactive art directors or interactive creative directors.
Similar to interactive advertising, those in social media engage consumers. They utilize platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to craft the client’s image and message, while also initiating and maintaining customer engagement. Professionals who manage social media accounts conceptualize and present media strategies, implement these strategies and engage with consumers to generate a positive online community surrounding the client’s brand. Positions in this sector include social media analyst, community manager, social media coordinator, and social media strategist.
Advertising departments and agencies need to get their product in front of the consumer, a task often done by purchasing print media, radio, television or Internet media spots. Media buyers or planners need to understand what opportunities are available across the region, the return potential for each media investment, and which media approaches align with the client’s goals and values. Media planners may become media supervisors or group media directors.
Advertising salaries represent a truly expansive realm of possibilities, with top earners taking home significantly more than the national average. For those who are extremely driven and thrive on responsibility, the following careers have the highest median salaries in the industry.
Since few people start off in upper management positions, it is also informative to look at the median salaries of more common careers within the advertising industry:
Components of a Successful Advertising Career: Skills, Tools and Technology
Advertising is a popular industry to work in because many people are fueled by the excitement and creativity that permeates the workplace. It is a large industry that not only offers opportunities for growth, but also encourages risk taking and experimentation. Of course, this type of industry is not for everyone. To be successful in advertising a person must be:
There is a great deal of competition in the industry, so advertisers must prove themselves in order to get ahead. That means long hours and hustling to meet deadlines.
Clients are not always happy. Managers are under deadlines and need results quickly. Advertisers must have thick skin and be ready to bounce back with a new idea or solution. There will always feedback and criticism in this industry, and those who view critiques as positive parts of growing are able to get ahead more quickly.
Entry-level salaries are often low, and advertisers may need to do an unpaid internship to get their foot in the door.
Technology has completely transformed advertising in recent years, and even the most seasoned executives need to be constantly honing their skills to keep up in the developing media age.
Advertising is a major production, integrating the talents of many people of varied skill sets. It is imperative for advertisers to be team players and great communicators, able to work with people of all stripes.
Many advertising firms work internationally, meaning that candidates with an understanding of different consumer groups and a willingness to travel are extremely appealing.
Advertising is about reaching consumers and enticing them to purchase a product. Goods and services being advertised need to touch the consumer’s emotions in some way, evoking desire and a sense of urgency. Advertisers need to connect to the consumer on a personal level, so creative ideas with a personal touch are the most successful.
Advertising Job Growth, Prospects and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the advertising industry are expected to grow slightly slower than the national average of 10.8 percent between 2012 and 2022. This potential growth may be fueled by a 5.2 percent growth in ad agency revenue reported between 2010 and 2015 in the annual Advertising Agencies Market Research Report.
Because advertising pervades so many different industries, growth rates vary significantly among these. While advertising roles in the manufacturing industry may be growing slowly, those situated in the world of technology may expand more rapidly. The growth rate is also quite different between jobs within the same industry. For example, sales agents will likely see a small decline in job growth, whereas public relations specialists may see as much as a 12 percent increase between 2012 and 2022.
Due to advertising’s reliance on the success of other industries, it is wise to consider working in sectors with strong job growth in all areas. The following table presents information about the top states for promotions and advertising managers, one of the most common roles within the industry. While the national projected growth sits at 12 percent for this role, some states will see increases far beyond this number.
Median salaries are a great way to gauge earning potential, but it is wise to understand the full range of growth for each career track prior to choosing one. Job seekers using this data not only get a better sense of what to expect when starting out but also understand the potential for increased salaries over time. The following table outlines the salary ranges for five careers related to advertising.
Many people considering careers in the fields of advertising, marketing or public relations are likely to be qualified to work in any of them. When choosing a career, job seekers should assess each career’s growth trajectory and median annual income. The chart below compares these factors across eight different careers, including examples of jobs both directly tied to advertising and in related fields.
Advertising Degrees & Career Resources
Duke University Libraries manages a database of over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian publications from 1911-1955. The collection represents a variety of categories including Beauty and Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II.
AEF provides educational content including case histories, materials, research studies and speaker presentations for advertising students and those already working in advertising careers. Industry professionals can find career advice, interviews, and a creative leader series.
Since 1905, the AAF organization has served students, educators, and professionals across all disciplines in advertising. Members can access professional development webinars and details about upcoming events.
The 4 A’s is a national trade association representing advertising agencies since it was established in 1917. The association offers webinars, training programs, and access to published management studies. Membership benefits include discounts on a range of retirement and insurance programs.
IAB provides advertising professionals the opportunity to meet digital media partners, clients, and experts at numerous networking events across the country. Membership includes access to professional development courses and webinars as well as a listing in the Member Directory.