Generally, the term “placement” refers to full-time work experience that takes place while a person is still at university. Many universities offer four year courses that require a placement to be taken as one of those years. Alternatively, students may take placements during the summer months. So essentially, a placement is the same as an internship. The same rules apply for both so please read our guide to internships for more information and advice.
In advertising and marketing, “creative placements” are the standard career path for creatives to take. Rather than applying for a job straight out of university, a creative will often have to take multiple placements at various agencies, building up their portfolio all the time, before being able to apply for permanent positions.
There are pros to this and some very obvious cons, but with the current state of the creative industries, it is practically a requirement if you want to be an advertising or marketing creative.
Landing a creative placement
Creative roles aren't often advertised. You have to go after them yourself. Get contacting agencies and creative people to ask for meetings, book crits and placements. Most agencies will offer them but they'll be very precious over who they take. And with thousands of creatives graduating each year, they can afford to be.
The first step will require putting together a portfolio if you don't already have one. Then you'll need to start going out and meeting creative directors for book crits in order to improve your portfolio to the point where it's good enough to get you a placement. Keep going back to the same people because building those relationships will pay off. Obviously the earlier you start this, the better. Read our portfolio guide for more information and advice on building a portfolio and going for book crits.
It's not impossible to bypass this system. Sometimes pulling off a creative stunt can impress a creative director enough to give you a placement without wanting to look at your portfolio (be careful, a creative stunt is awesome when it works but damaging when it doesn't, think it through and test the idea). But you'll find that most creative stunts (even the super famous, amazing ones that you've heard about) are only good for getting you an interview. Getting interviews is the easy part so it's not usually worth the effort. Spend your time on your portfolio.
Tips for making the most of your creative placement
- Nothing is beneath you – work hard and do anything that is asked of you. Proving yourself on small things will mean that you might be considered for better and more exciting work later.
- Be proactive – Ask for work and always ask questions if you’re unsure about something. When Kieran Child and Stephen Atkinson first joined Table19, they would scavenge the printing machine for briefs that people would leave. The duo would then and come up with ideas for these briefs, much to the disbelief of the accounts team running the pitch.
- Work hard – Many creative teams will tell you that one of the best things you can do is to continue working well into the evenings on new ideas for the agency's clients. If you come up with a decent one-off or a very low budget idea, the agency may want to pitch it to the client and you'll be a hero. Try producing an advert or piece of work for an upcoming event which the agency and client hadn't thought about, e.g. April Fools or Father's Day.
- Don’t be irritable – You’re there to work and a huge part of working for someone is getting along, having a laugh and occasionally having to chat about things you're not amazingly interested it.
- Get feedback – With any creative work you do ask for feedback from various people and make notes on it. Take it or leave it but make sure you've got it.
- Ask questions – Be curious about what people in the agency do. You don't have to interrogate everyone in a dark room with a bright light pointed in their face but a few questions in the kitchen or at lunch will help build your understanding.
- Don’t be taken advantage of – Just because you're young doesn't mean companies can get away with treating you badly. Many agencies now pay their placement creatives so if someone expects you to work for free, you don't have to accept it – weigh up the pros and cons and decide if you can afford it.
- Manage expectations – It’s important to impress but at the same time you might need to rebuff certain requests. If you’re flooded with work, be realistic and tell people you'll need more time rather than make an impossible promise.
- Don’t hide – Share your opinion, interact and go to the pub with everyone. This is a great chance to not only see if you really want to work at the company but to build a lasting relationship with the team. If people don't really like you, they won't want to keep you around (no matter how talented you are).
- Be nice – As with most things treat people as you wish to be treated. The creative industries are a very social bunch and everyone seems to know each other. You'll be surprised at how many people you bump into again and again.