After flitting about North Florida for a few months with a shiny degree, a spec book, and unabashed enthusiasm for writing advertising, I decided that to really break into the field, I had to look to people who loved it as much as I did. Namely, Creative Directors at the big agencies on Madison Avenue.

So I spent hours at the library pouring over the Red Book to find shops in NYC that seemed to best match my particular style. I targeted eight agencies with a very specific appeal. I found the names of the top CDs at these agencies, and even called to confirm that these people still held these posts. Then I decided to put my skill to work for myself.

I knew that getting the attention of such important, creative and busy people meant more than a nicely written letter with some spec ads that demonstrated my ability to solve creative problems. I needed something that they’d actually see. And remember. So–I sent each CD a fresh Vidalia onion in a small box with a hand-written note that succinctly juxtaposed the creative problem solving process with the layers of an onion. I ended the note with the line, “Now go wash your hands.”

Imagine being the personal assistant to the Group CD at a major Manhattan advertising agency and receiving a note for your boss like this. Let’s just say – it got noticed. Of the eight agencies I sent the onion to, I received six calls and three interviews. The other three were just to say they appreciated the effort. 

My point is not to give you the idea to use an onion as part of your own appeal, but rather to take the time to demonstrate your passion by utilizing your own strengths. And if you’re a creative person, don’t forget to dance with the one what got you here.

As the owner of a small boutique agency, not a week goes by that I don’t receive an employment inquiry via email. I’ve found that most of people fall into two categories:

1) Here I Am! – These are the folks who don’t reference you or your company by name, but who feel that because they have graduated with a degree in design or PR, that they have an inherent right to work in advertising and that by God I should be lucky they’re contacting me at all. These emails get deleted with no response.

2) There You Are! – These are the people I respond to. Sure, because we’re a virtual agency, and rely heavily on seasoned talent, we don’t hire right out of college. But when someone takes the time out to mention the work they see on our site, or effectively translate their passion for this business in a sincere way – I always make a point to respond and provide any references I can to help them out.

If you want to break into any field, not just advertising, my advice is for you to prove it. Because one of life’s hard lessons is learning that the world owes you nothing. Stephen Crane put it this way:

A man said to the universe, “Sir, I exist!” “However,” replied the universe, “the fact has not created in me a  sense of obligation.”

Proving your passion means more than a nicely written cover letter and going through the front door. Sometimes it means using a crowbar. Or an onion.

Jim Mitchem

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Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.