Careers in Advertising: Guest Speaker Olivia Johnson

Mar 6, 2024

Today we were delighted to welcome Olivia Johnson who spoke to our students about careers in advertising. Olivia has had a long and successful career in advertising since first joining Bartle Bogle and Hegarty (home of the legendary Levis jeans advert) in the 1980s.

After 5 years at BBH, Olivia moved to BMP DDB, credited as the ‘home of planning’, where she rose to Head of Department. After a few years of managing people, budgets and resources, she decided she missed being a day to day practitioner.

She took on the role of European planning director on Dove at Ogilvy, and was part of the team that created campaignforrealbeauty. This campaign was ground-breaking in terms of challenging the beauty industry and the artificial and unattainable standards it sets: it resonated just as much with our students today.

Later in her career Olivia worked in senior global roles at McCann and JWT.

Olivia now works at the Marketing Academy Foundation, which helps talented young adults from challenging backgrounds get started in careers in the marketing industries. This also benefits the marketing industry which is waking up to the challenges of their lack of social diversity, with many firms crying out for help to improve their talent pool.

Given Olivia’s understanding of the challenges young people face when trying to enter the world of work, she was able to offer our students some very useful advice:

  • Study what you love at university! You will do better and all university students gain transferable skills in terms of research, writing and presentation.
  • Enjoy your time at university both academically and socially and start to think about your career as you move into your final year: you can research jobs at the ‘Milkround’ (university careers events) or through university careers offices.
  • If you can’t break directly into your chosen field because it is so competitive, think about related industries and move in sideways. For example, Olivia worked in market research before getting her first job in advertising.
  • Take care with your CVs, covering letters and online applications: poor spelling, grammar, or an irrelevant personal statement will mean you are not selected. It’s better to send fewer, better applications.
  • Olivia favoured a shorter and well targeted personal statement at the top of a CV – ideally it offers a personal example which makes the candidate stand out as being suitable for the job. Long vague statements do not actually demonstrate anything.
  • If you get to interview stage, make sure you can talk about the industry and have examples, i.e. if you go for a job in advertising, be ready to talk about adverts or areas that have piqued your interest. Often people forget to do this research.
  • And her final words of wisdom were that it often seems looking back that people have gone in straight lines in terms of their career trajectory, but quite often it has in fact been a sideways and roundabout route. So don’t worry too much, just be prepared to WORK HARD and you will get there in the end!

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