A grad’s guide to Australia’s top ad agencies

In this guest post, Lou Hayward, a student in the market for a job at an ad agency, says how well she thinks agencies in the Mumbrella Creative Agency Review are set up to take in new blood. 

In alphabetical order, she recounts her experiences after approaching 13 of Australia’s top shops.

BMF. Take a look at the long list of ‘fun’ in the ‘join us’ section of the BMF website and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at some sort of holiday resort. Pinball machines, two full-time massage therapists, pilates classes, BBQs. I’m sold!

But seriously, my chat with BMF’s head of HR, Katie McGrath, left me with no doubt that this is an agency for which graduate recruitment is a high priority. After all, Matthew Melhuish (the ‘M’ in BMF, head of Australian Agencies for the Photon Group, on the National Board of the Communications Council, chairman of the Australian Effie Awards, etc) is a product of the Comms Council’s Graduate Trainee Program. As part of the scheme, BMF will be taking on five grads in its Sydney office and up to two more in Melbourne.

Possibly more than any other agency, it seems that BMF places a real emphasis on development and learning – comfortingly, the agency’s website states “we welcome recent graduates, who we will nurture”. In fact, while other Comms Council scheme participants prepare for their AdSchool foundation course, the BMF grads will already be in the office as part of a 12-week introduction.

During this time they spend two weeks in each department. Which I think is a really great idea as they get an overview of the entire agency and have the opportunity to meet all the people they’ll be working with when they return to begin their nine-month contract.

While the Comms Council scheme is a fantastic opportunity to get paid work at Australia’s best agencies, it is (understandably) incredibly competitive and also limited to Aussie citizens and permanent residents (which counts me out). Thankfully, however, the agency also offers a mix of work experience and internship opportunities throughout the year. So you may yet get to see the BMF fussball tables for yourself.

BWM. From my first look at BWM’s rather serious-looking website I noted that they choose not to publish specific contact details on their website and, aside from including an email address for employment enquiries, make no reference to job or internship opportunities. Call the agency up, however, and it’s a different story.

Simon Hadfield, BWM’s GM, was more than happy to talk to me about opportunities at the agency, stressing that he believes it is “important to the entire industry that agencies open their doors and allow graduates to come in”.

Although BWM has previously participated in the Communications Council Graduate Trainee Scheme, the agency has opted not to this year. Which is a pity. However, they do still make a real effort to bring on graduates and are very open to work experience and internship requests.

As with all agency applications, you have to make yourself stand out from the crowd and showcase your personality when applying to BWM. In that respect, grades do not maketh the application. So Simon specifically encourages graduates to include their hobbies and interests on resumes.

What really stood out from our conversation was that unlike other agencies who claim to be snowed under by resumes and internship requests BWM actually does not get as many enquiries as you might think. For this reason alone I’d say it’s well worth making contact. Even if they aren’t going to spoon-feed you an email address.

Clemenger BBDO. With two offices in this year’s top 30 creative agencies list, Clemenger BBDO is an obvious target for graduates… and if you haven’t heard of the Clemenger Group’s ‘Seven Brains’ graduate program, well, something’s wrong with your radar.

As the ‘Brain Collector’ himself (aka Tim Parker, Clemenger group executive director, who is far more approachable than his moniker suggests) explains, what differentiates this program is that it gives candidates exposure to lots of different disciplines.

Chosen brains (around 12 each year) attend the Communication Council’s AdSchool Foundation course before working as account coordinators across three different group companies in Sydney or Melbourne. So, even if you think you have your heart set on one path, the Seven Brains program gives you a chance to explore other options, which you might not get on another, agency-specific program.

Oh, and did I mention it’s paid and there’s a high chance of a permanent job at the end of it?

The emphasis seems to be on doing, not observing, and it’s great that Clemenger aren’t afraid of giving graduates some responsibility. After all, who wants to spend all day making coffee? In fact, even the program’s initial shortlist is selected by the brains from the previous year.

There aren’t specific ‘how to apply’ instructions on the local website, but Clemenger BBDO is open to speculative applications from new talent and all the offices offer informal work experience placements throughout the year. When it comes to CVs, obviously, BBDO Clemenger is a name that’s going to look great on your CV, but there are hundreds of other people who know this as well. Competition is fierce.

Tim assures me that GPA’s aren’t everything, and that what they’re really looking for is curiosity, creativity and passion. But to prove yourself you’re going to need to try to make a connection and do your homework. Just saying “I quite like that thing you did for NAB” is not going to make your brain stand out from the crowd.

DDB. In my efforts to contact Mumbrella’s top 30 creative agencies, I have been extremely impressed at how willing many have been to talk to me about their internship and graduate training policies. I have also been disappointed at the lack of effort from some…

I think DDB deserves a special mention for the amount of information and level of detail the agency gave me in response to my questions. Thank you!

DDB is one of the few major agencies in Australia to offer its own formal, structured graduate training program. This highly regarded scheme has been in place for over 10 years and, testament to its success has resulted in about 80 people finding employment at DDB Group Sydney including many senior staff (such as the group MD, Chris Brown and the group CEO and chairman, Marty O’Halloran).

The lucky grads who make it through get a full-time role within the DDB group, which includes an eight-week internal training course and attendance at the Communication Council’s Graduate Training Program Away forum. Of course, because of the scheme’s reputation, applications are numerous and competition is fierce. Numerous hopefuls apply every year for an average of 4-7 roles. But this is advertising, so what would you expect?

For those not lucky enough to get a place on the DDB Graduate Scheme, there are other opportunities available at the agency.

DDB offers a 3-month, formal internship program called LaunchPad for aspiring creatives, designers and business managers. Unusually for a short-term placement, applicants receive an allowance during their time. Nice one DDB!

There may also be other paid and unpaid opportunities available. So it’s definitely worth making contact. Many agencies claim to offer a welcoming, supportive atmosphere. But if the effort DDB put into responding to my RFI’s is anything to go by, this is an agency that takes it one step further than the competition.

GPY&R/The Campaign Palace. Charged with overseeing all Y&R Brands agencies, it’s hardly surprising that HR Director Elvas Basile is an extremely busy man. Unfortunately for Elvas, his role means that I was pointed in his direction not once, but twice to discuss opportunities for interns and graduates at both GPY&R and sister agency The Campaign Palace. Fortunately for me, he gave me lots to write about both.

As well as offering graduate training as part of the Communication Council’s Graduate Scheme, GPY&R offers work experience and internships on an ad hoc, informal basis. These run from one to 13 weeks, which is both far more generous and flexible than other agencies I have spoken with. In addition, GPY&R Melbourne offers a local initiative for journalism students.

At the moment, The Campaign Palace is not taking on any Comms Council grads. But Elvas assures me that, as with other Y&R Brands agencies, the agency is open to applications for work experience and internships and is keen to help students “transition from the theoretical to the practical side” of advertising. I think it’s important that agencies don’t lose sight of this fact. After all, no matter how passionate and enthusiastic the graduate, real life can be a lot different from what is written in the textbooks.

An exciting development in 2012 will see both GPY&R and the The Campaign Palace participate in the ‘Z Academy’. This initiative is a global apprenticeship program that is currently offered by the Wunderman Group. But Elvas explains that next year, it will be rolled out across other Y&R Brands agencies.

The Z Academy aims to match students to agencies depending on the needs of each particular business. Importantly, because it’s all about ‘marrying’ the students’ skills with an agency’s needs, the Z Academy won’t just target those studying traditional marketing-esque subjects. As part of the Z Academy, students will spend between three and nine months with an agency providing hands-on support.

At the moment, unfortunately there is no information available online about the Z Academy’s expansion into Australia – on the GPY&R or Campaign Palace websites or elsewhere. But keep an eye out for news in the future.

Grey. Grey Melbourne has a long history of taking on interns having maintained a close association with RMIT University for close to 20 years.

I don’t understand why more high profile agencies don’t forge links with universities given that this can be such a mutually beneficial relationship.

Randal Glennon, Grey Melbourne’s GM agrees with me. Not only do students have an opportunity to form valuable contacts, but the agency has a direct route to the brightest and best of each graduating class (and can confirm or disprove this with their tutors). Randal tells me that Grey Canberra maintains similar university connections, but for some reason this is not something that JayGrey has developed to the same extent in Sydney.

In the past Grey Melbourne was happy to take on interns on a full-time basis for 6-9 months. But nowadays they usually stay for about 3 months. The prospect of working for free for 12 weeks is never going to be the most appealing career move. So I liked that Grey allows its interns a degree of flexibility. They do not have to come in for a full five days every week, so can combine their work experience with a paid job or studies.

As I’ve heard from other agencies, for Grey “single mindedness is attractive”. So it’s far better for interns to have an idea of precisely where you’d like to spend time so that the agency can plan to use them in the right areas ahead of time. The downside of this is that you may have less opportunity to see the work of other agency departments.

Grey does not currently participate in the Comms Council Graduate Trainee Scheme. But the agency is apparently in the process of developing its own program and is  extremely open to receiving CVs. It’s all about timing though, and in the absence of formal programs for internships or graduates, it may simply be a case of being persistent to make those connections. After all, as Randal sees it, “we all started the same way”.

Host. Host is the recipient of my ‘two for one’ award, being the only agency to offer me a chat with not one but two bigwigs – Karen Martin, head of account management and Jodie Couzens, director of people and culture.

Currently, Host takes on graduates from the Comms Council Graduate Scheme. Which is hardly surprising given that the agency is a sponsor of the Council, their CEO Anthony Freedman is the chairman, and Host was responsible for launching Johann’s Ladyquest, a campaign to promote the scheme to grads.

Graduate training is clearly something that is taken seriously at Host, which focuses on giving participants as much exposure as possible on the understanding that “the more you put in, the more you get out”.

Host offers ad hoc work experience for up to three months, during which students are given an induction into all parts of the business, from planning to creative. The agency currently has close links to a number of universities and is looking to develop a more formal scheme. One word of warning though. Places are limited and preference is given to local students.

At present, the ‘jobs’ section of the agency’s website informs me that Host isn’t “currently searching for any new recruits, but always welcome a bright spark”, which is a nice touch. I always like to think that just because an agency doesn’t have a specific opening, it doesn’t mean that your CV will be referred to the paper shredder.

Instead, Karen and Jodie assure me, when they come across applicants they think are ambitious, resourceful and a good cultural fit they are more than happy to have a chat and keep resumes on file.

Innocean. Given that Innocean Australia has only been around for a couple of years, many graduates would be excused for being ignorant of its presence in Sydney. But they’ve grown a lot in that time and now have a staff of 45. This is small compared to many of the other agencies in the top 30. But after contacting Innocean I am inclined to think that this is a case of good things come in small packages.

The agency definitely scores highly for approachability. As well as being able to see what some of the team would look like as bobble-heads, the ‘About Us’ section of Innocean’s new website gives specific contact phone numbers and email addresses, which I’m a big fan of.

The problem is, as Innocean’s new business director James Welch explained to me, because of the agency’s size, as much as Innocean would like to offer students and graduates the opportunity to take part in a formal internship or graduate training program, they simply do not have the capacity to offer much at the moment.

That said, despite not having an official program, Innocean does take on interns and offers work experience on a needs basis. So it’s definitely worth getting in touch, just in case. Especially if you speak Korean. As a relatively young agency with potential, it is well worth keeping an eye on Innocean.

Leo Burnett. With a well-known history, an impressive clientele and a CEO on every ad student’s favourite it’s-not-just-entertainment-it’s-research TV show, the Gruen Planet (née Transfer), Leo Burnett Sydney is at the top of the hitlist for many graduates.

However, with both the Sydney and Melbourne offices being inundated with student and graduate requests to their generic office email addresses (no specific names or contact details are given on either the Sydney or Melbourne websites) based on my experience it seems the chances of your email reaching the right people are slight.

I was unable to make contact with anyone with knowledge of the HR policies of both Leo Burnett’s Sydney and Melbourne offices, but did obtain some information regarding practices in the former from Susie Henry, who has worked as an executive assistant there for more than twenty years so must know her stuff.

Susie, one of the gatekeepers of the Sydney@leoburnett email address, explained that the agency does offer informal work experience and internship opportunities, but added that they usually receive an enquiry or a request for information every couple of hours from students and graduates located both within Australia and abroad. Due to the high number of messages, those with unrealistic expectations are unlikely to make it out of the inbox. But the remainder are passed on and the ultimate selection made by Leo Burnett’s department heads.

Although Susie was unable to give me further details, the Communications Council has confirmed that Leo Burnett Melbourne is participating in next year’s Graduate Trainee Scheme. For some reason, it seems the Sydney office has elected not to this time around. However, those on the internship-trail may have noticed earlier this year that Leo Burnett Sydney’s social media director Nicola Swankie actively advertised for interns and graduates to work on digital and social media projects, which is very rare – and encouraging for those with a passion for all things digital.

There are a number of reasons to seek experience with Leo Burnett (not least the fact that Susie assures me that when interns start they don’t want to leave) and it seems the best route is to make contact with a specific department head… but be warned that making that contact in the first place may be harder than you think.

303Lowe. While researching the top 30, I’ve been surprised at how few agencies are willing to divulge specific names and contact details on its website, preferring to provide only generic info@agencyname.com.au email addresses.

Not the case for recently-merged 303Lowe, who easily scoop the award forthe most approachable agency I’ve spoken to. It’s clear from the get-go that Angela Palandri, the agency’s operations manager, is passionate about recruiting graduates, not least because she replied to my email in less than an hour – and she left me with the impression that this would be a great place to intern or work.

I particularly like that this agency really seems to understand how scary it can be to start a new job. Especially when fresh out of uni. For instance, to help them settle in, all new starters (not just grads) are aligned with a ‘buddy’ of a similar age and level.

Currently, 303Lowe does not have a formal graduate scheme or internship program. Although in the past 303 was happy to offer short and long term work experience, unfortunately the agency feels that it is now limited by the Fairwork Australia rules governing internships, vocational placements and unpaid work. So placements are now only offered to Australian students who need to do work experience as part of an educational program, which is a real shame and not a response I encountered elsewhere.

Nevertheless, as the self-described “place where bad CVs go to die”, Angela explained that they’re always on the look-out for people who are passionate, strong and both “thinkers and doers”. Openings are more likely to arise in the more established Perth branch. But a downside of the merger is that the agency is now going through a period of change, not least relocating both its Perth and Sydney offices. This means that concrete opportunities may be less easy to come by. However, Angela assured me that even if they don’t have any vacancies, CVs are kept on file for when they do.

Oddfellows. In an industry known for being hierarchical, I found it refreshing to be told by Helen Bradley, HR manager for Oddfellows, that the agency is not only “very teamy and supportive” but “low on ego and preciousness”. By way of example, you may be aware that Oddfellows recently participated in the Gruen Planet’s ‘The Pitch’. What you may not be aware of is that agency’s chosen idea was actually pitched by their receptionist.

Unfortunately, as Oddfellows does not have a formal internship or grad program of its own, it seems your main route in is via the highly competitive Comms Council Graduate Trainee Program.

That said, if you are successful, during your nine-month tenure with Oddfellows you’ll have an opportunity to gain hands-on experience working on real campaigns and real clients across all aspects of the agency. Unlike other agencies, this includes the chance to see what goes on in the in-house film production resource Rotor Studios and Oddfellows’ audio and music studio, Speed of Sound.

Helen explained that Oddfellows does take on a lot of students for work experience. Unfortunately, this is usually only for a week at a time. So while it’s a chance to learn who’s who in the Oddzoo, to be honest in that limited time you’re not really going to learn much more than what everyone’s names are and where they sit.

Ogilvy. As a truly global agency with a name synonymous with the advertising industry, it’s no surprise that Ogilvy receives a constant stream of graduate enquiries.

As well as taking on Comms Council graduates (three in Sydney, five in Melbourne), David Sayer, Ogilvy Australia’s first head of talent and performance explained that internships are also offered on an ongoing, ad hoc basis depending on the agency’s needs. His approach is that it’s “always worth meeting people, because you can’t tell a lot from a CV”. So chances are if your resume makes it past the first screening, you’ll get an interview.

That said, it’s key to specify which area you’re interested in. Because instead of simply meeting someone from HR, at Ogilvy they try to put applicants in front of the right people based on their skill set and career aspirations. Which means you probably need a more specific objective than ‘I want to get a job in advertising’.

Unfortunately, although the Ogilvy Sydney website is full of lots of fun ‘clicky’ things to play with, there’s a notable lack of contact details and only four Ogilvy ‘Dreamers and Doers’ are profiled. Worse still, the agency’s larger Melbourne office doesn’t even get a standalone site, instead being represented on a subsection of the STW Group page. This means interested grads are going to have to work a bit to make that all-important connection at the agency.

Given that no agency relishes the prospect of investing heavily in a graduate only for them to get itchy feet and swan off overseas a year or two later, liked that David described the agency as having a “responsibility to keep people engaged”. And working at a big multinational like Ogilvy means that if and when the wanderlust does strike, there is the opportunity to move to an overseas post within the network. Although telling the agency ‘I want to get a job in advertising to travel’ probably won’t get you very far.

The Monkeys. The Monkeys is seen as one of Sydney’s ‘coolest’ agencies by young people trying to get into advertising. And I suspect they receive enough applications to sink a Ship Song Project. Although according to Mark Green, the MD, he is surprised by how few applicants have actually done their research.

As with many other agencies, Sydney-based The Monkeys takes on graduates from the Comms Council Graduate Trainee Program. But importantly the agency also offers work experience on an unofficial basis with students being able to support in any capacity they can. Encouragingly, Mark told me that the agency actually looks kindly on grads who take the initiative to find a connection and make contact outside of the Comms Council Scheme.

It’s worth bearing in mind that when The Monkeys does take on interns, it does so with a view to finding the “Monkeys of the Future”. The agency wants to invest in people who could join them on a full-time basis. On the other hand, this suggests that if you get your foot in the door at The Monkeys, you do stand a good chance of getting a job where one is available.

Making a connection is, however, easier said than done using The Monkey’s enigmatic website. There are no specific contact details given for any individual Monkeys. You have to dig pretty deep to even find a name. The Monkeys are a busy bunch. So be prepared to ring a few times to catch one at his or her desk.

I get the impression that an internship at The Monkeys would be a slightly different experience to that at a larger, more traditional agency. For one thing, the design of the office is anti-hierarchical and work experience students get the opportunity to sit a few places away from the most senior people in the business. The flipside of this is that if you don’t pull your weight, you’ll quickly be found out.

Lou Hayward is studying a master’s degree in PR and advertising at the University of New South Wales


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.