How did you get into Communications?

20Years Communications Book Kevin Popovic

We all have our stories. Whether out of necessity or out of a lifelong desire to get into this business, you have to start somewhere. So we took ourselves back to the beginning the moment of truth, the big bang, the epiphany, the admonition from our folks to get a job or else and we caught a glimpse of our austere beginnings.

amazon-125From 20YEARS Communications: 20 Leaders, 20 Questions, 100’s of Lessons by Kevin Popovic

27 Comments

Lara (Eskievich) Lepley says:

November 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Wow…I had to think about that. I was always fascinated by print ads and tv/radio commercials growing up. The original Nike campaign (JUST DO IT) solidified it for me back in the late 80’s. The writing was amazing and really hit me at a time I needed it most. I actually still have a portion of the ad copy cut out from a magazine ad and framed on my makeup table and read it every day.

“Sooner or later, you start taking yourself seriously. You know when you need a break. You know when you need a rest. You know what to get worked up about and what to get rid of. And you know when it’s time to take care of yourself, for yourself. To do something that makes you stronger, faster, more complete. Because you know it’s never too late to have a life. And never too late to change one.” LOVE IT.

This ad came out when I was a sophomore In college and I was studying to be an accountant. I know..what was I thinking and after one semester I hated the math and started taking a bunch of marketing/pr/writing/advertising classes. I wanted to work at an agency and be a part of bringing something like Nike to life but had no luck. I started out as a marketing assistant right out of college for a very small real estate company. They sent me to get my real estate license back in ’92 and I said to hell with this. I don’t want to drive people around all night and all weekend looking at houses and I quit.

I knew I wanted to work at an Ad Agency so I called every temp firm in Pittsburgh and told them I wanted to temp as a “secretary” at local agencies. I got my first job temping answering the phones at EDMC and then started doing media post buys for EDMC and from there I got a temp job at the St George group as an assistant media buyer/planner, met a bunch of lunatics (Sam Matthers, Jeff Wood, Dick Snodgrass, the Evan’s brothers) and the rest is history. The past 20 years has taken me to the client side (GNC/PNC) but I always come back to the “vendor” side. The corp bullshit makes me crazy but I do love seeing ideas I have come to life and get implemented…but oh how I miss doing a TV shoot and sitting for hours in an editing suite:)

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:34 pm

How does the perspective from running your own agency compare to your perspective as an intern or assistant AD? Do you ever remember what you thought then now?

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Mark D. Dello Stritto says:

November 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Although I was an “art kid”, I had never thought about pursuing a career in design & communications. When the time came to choose a path for my higher-education, I decided to run with the artistic side of my being and went for a specialized degree in commercial art – although I was deathly afraid of computers.

I didn’t know where I would end up after graduation. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to take an early internship with a large ad agency in Pittsburgh. It was between myself and two other candidates and somehow, during my interview process and portfolio review, I made a connection with the very real, Kevin Popovic. The following week, my advisor told me I had landed the internship.

Upon working 6 months as an intern with Kevin and the rest of the St. George Group team, I was offered a full-time job as a Junior Art Director. Nearly everyone at the agency told me to run like hell, but I knew they had a unique passion for what they did on a daily – nightly – weekend schedule. After seeing the industry from the inside out and working with some larger clients, I was totally hooked. I was hooked on the process, the recognition, the atmosphere and of course, the people. And it opened up the door to do much more than design as I got the chance to work on television and radio. Everything I did was grounded in disciplined creativity – and my passion for creative thinking is what kept me in love with what I was doing.

So after three full-time jobs at ad agencies, freelancing for other firms or my own clients, and operating my own communications business for nearly 5 of my almost 16 years of working in the field, I’d have to say I’m still hooked.

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:32 pm

What do you think most people would do in the same situation (accepting 2/3 lower pay)? Do you recommend this strategy/thought process to students?

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Bernie Schroeder says:

November 16, 2010 at 5:34 pm

When I was getting ready to graduate college, had two job offers…one was for an administrative position in a major hospital…thought that turning out live human beings was an admirable product/service.

The other offer was from a small marketing agency that said they were “melding technology” with marketing to create something called database marketing…since I did not know much about technology or marketing, I felt it was my “plastics” moment from the movie The Graduate…I instinctively felt that marketing and technology were a major part of the future in general and I knew almost nothing about either…time was 1983 and I decided to take a chance and give it a year in the agency…I would either “get it” or I would not but I would learn something about which I knew nothing…so I accepted their offer which was 2/3’s LESS than what the hospital offered me…the rest is history.

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Would you offer your unpaid work strategy as a strategy to current job seekers or students looking to get into the business today?

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Joanne Patterson says:

November 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm

My first job was with Ketchum Communications — they weren’t hiring at the time I had applied and I had just graduated from Grad school at Pitt. I met with the head of their Marketing Research Department who told me there were no openings – they only hired MBAs — and that’s where I wanted to be. I asked if I could do a post-graduate internship to get my foot in the door and get some experience. They agreed — but it was UNPAID — which went against everything I learned in business school! It was a risky move but the economy in Pittsburgh wasn’t great at that time. It paid off. I worked there for a month for free — and then one of their freelancers left….I moved into her job and was paid an hourly rate — and then finally 2 months later, they could hire me full-time. Ketchum was a great place to work. I moved into Account Management after that. It’s great to hear the Agency mentioned on Mad Men (Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove)!

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Blair Kohn says:

November 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Your honesty is incredibly valuable, especially to people like myself that are just starting out. Thank you for sharing your story! (and reminding me that all of the hard work is worth it in the end).

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm

It seems as if the Internet has been an opportunity to a whole generation of creatives, John. Do you see the same growth and number of opportunities in other mediums?

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Danny Evans says:

November 16, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Once upon a time…I was hired for a 10-dollar-an-hour writing gig by the gone-but-not-forgotten St. George Group in Pittsburgh for the duration of one week.

At the end of that week, with 70 hours in, and sales promotions for Transitions Lenses completed, I asked my boss (my erstwhile brother George Evans) what to do next.

He said, “Come in Monday, see if anyone else needs anything.”

Turns out the Direct manager (the legendary Tim White) needed someone to write an IVR script for the same company, and asked if I’d be willing to tackle it for him given the time crunch he was under. Given that I was ridiculously cheap, and that I’d just finished a number of sales promotions, flying blind, within a week…I was an ideal candidate.

“No problem. I’m your man,” I said.

I didn’t even know what the letters I.V.R. STOOD for at the time.

My point is, you might be able to make your own breaks by being inexpensive and in the right place at the right time. But you also better be good at what you say you’re good at (in my case it’s writing), you better be humble, and always be hungry to learn anything, from anyone, at any time, to hone your craft.

Above all, never say “no” to anything if you can help it. Because if you don’t do it, someone else will. It’s been almost 17 years since that fateful first week, and because I didn’t say “no” I’ve had the opportunity to write for a living (And Produce. And Direct. And Brand. And Develop. And…).

Which isn’t such a big deal… unless being a professional writer is what you wanted to be when you grew up.

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm

It’s often interesting when creatives cite their particular inspiration or creative compass. Do you think more writers have such a reference or tool more often than creative directors or marketing strategists?

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Stan Muschweck says:

November 16, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I was an English/Creative Writing major at Carnegie Mellon University in the 70’s, and was fortunate to study with great writers like Galway Kinnell, William Meredith, Gladys Schmitt and Gerry Costanzo, and thru a writers program also got to meet Frank Herbert, James Dickey, E.L. Doctorow and Robert Coover. Always thought I would go on to get a Ph.D. in literature, teach, write and hold forth at some major university. I was accepted at the University of Virginia for their doctoral program in medieval literature, but in the summer of 74 my grant money fell through, and I had to look for a job. Visiting the job placement office at CMU, I was asked, “What do you think you can do, kid?” to which I replied, “Well, I know how to speak well and write well.” They said, “Then you need a job in either Public Relations or Advertising. Here’s a list of all the PR agencies in town and a list of all the Ad agencies in town, good luck!”

After investing in my first suit, I proceeded to apply for jobs, hitting three or more offices a day. After nine months, when my bank account was down to $33.90, I got a job as a copy-contact person at an agency called Reuter and Bragdon, making $500 a month.

It was an awful job, and many times I would wish I had gone to grad school. But it was the first line on the resume, and after eight months, I left for the client side at the mighty Dravo corporation as a Supervisor, Product Advertising. I was so fortunate to work with Ketchum as my ad agency, with great people like Vince Longo, Scott Young , Duff Young, Bob Carter and John Zlamal. It seemed to be a lot more fun on the agency side! So after a few years, I went to Fahlgren and Ferriss as an account manager for sixth months, until I was hired by Creamer Inc., the greatest agency in the world, where I spent my Mad Men days. Then on to the often-mentioned St. George Group, Hallmark Tassone which became Ten United, and Giant Ideas.

Through all of that I was fortunate to work with some of the brightest minds in the business, and certainly, knowing how to speak well and write well helped magnificently. My Ranger training, Medieval studies and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” have also schooled me well in strategy and marketing, but it all comes down to Communications in some form, doesn’t it? Glad I didn’t go to grad school, after all.

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm

LOL, can you share any of your Dad’s “two cents” on the use of social media? We’re interested in generational perspectives on new tools, or how he looks at your approach versus his own?

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Wendy Flanagan says:

November 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm

I followed in my father’s footsteps. His agency days were primarily focused on sales support for pharmaceutical companies, as well as newsletters and fundraisers for hospitals. I studied design at The Cooper Union and on exchange at Bath College of Art. Upon rejoining my father’s agency after graduation, I designed sales detailers, patient education, and packaging for pharma industry.

I expanded into some programming and eventually writing, marketing strategy and positioning. Major clients have included ADT Security Systems, SimplexGrinnell, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Novartis, Schering, and Verizon Wireless.

After partnering in agency ownership for a decade, I’ve decided to go my own way with solo consulting engagements.

Now I’m busy crafting and integrating social media with traditional marketing activities to build out 360 degree brands. Although working with a couple of great clients from different industries, I’m having fun in corporate sales motivation and incentives… a new investment in one-to-one marketing with a social twist.

I’m lucky: sometimes dad gives me his two cents 😉

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John LeDonne says:

November 17, 2010 at 1:37 am

I always gravitated towards art as a kid and always knew I wanted to follow a path that had something to do with being creative. I have always been involved in some type of art program in grade school and high school and naturally wanted to turn my love for art into a career. After high school I enrolled in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a goal of becoming a tattoo artist. As I developed through art school with the various drawing, painting, graphic design and advertising class, I started to think that I was more then just an artist, but I was also a conceptual thinker and I was gravitating towards the idea of applying my talents to the advertising industry.

My first job out of art school was in the newspaper industry working for a small weekly newspaper called In Pittsburgh News Weekly. Although I was only a production artists I was given many opportunities to apply my conceptual skills and I was also introduced to something called the internet – This was my big break. I embraced this new found medium and that was the launch to my communications career. I went on to work for Blattner Brunner where I was given the opportunity conceptualize and develop cross platform programs for B to B and B to C clients. The greatest aspect form me working in this filed is being able to see the results of the ideas.

A career in communications (especially in and advertising agency) is not for the weak. Rejection, on a constant basis, of great ideas is just par for the course. You have to fight (Nicely) for every good idea and you always have to be able to switch gears at a moments notice. You have to work long hours and always be at the top of your performance. The key to success is to always be hungry for knowledge from the mediums you are working with to the consumer’s personas you are communicating to – knowledge is king!

I have spent over 22 incredible years in the communications filed working for great advertising agencies and great brands, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a career where they can tap into their creative side and conceptualize the unknown.

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:17 pm

If you had to do it all over again, would you change how you got to being in the business, or out on your own?

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John says:

November 26, 2010 at 8:37 pm

I believe that mobile is the “Next Big Thing” in the US market. We have been in the back of the pack with this medium and consumers are finally accepting mobile as a means to connect with the internet and receive and deliver information. I believe that for the larger percent of the average US consumer, the tipping point to accepting this medium had a lot to do with the IPhone and Facebook.

I have seen a lot of growth in 2010 with new vendors and their offerings and new mobile applications. I have also seen a lot of brands asking for insight and development of web based mobile applications. The mobile platform as seen in many of our favorite science-fiction movies is the perfect device to connect our lives to our friends, home, car and information and every company should be evaluating their offerings and exploring how they can Integrate with their consumers on this platform.

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David Engel says:

November 17, 2010 at 2:40 am

I went to college and decided that it wasn’t for me. Stumbled around in a B2B sales career for awhile and started designing ad campaigns for the company while I was supposed to be on the phones selling.

I knew no one in the ad industry… read no books about advertising… had no clue what a copywriter was. I just started writing ad campaigns. The CEO said the campaigns were pretty good and bought me a copywriting course.

The recession hit, and I decided to start my own business during hard times–with hardly any experience and 0 connections. (You can imagine how fun that was.) After a lot of writing, cold calling, and documenting my ideas… my career started to take off.

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Kevin Popović says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Remember that “luck” is often defined as “preparation meeting opportunity”, Kent. Kudos on being prepared 😉

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Kent Sewell says:

November 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Seems like I’m one of the rookies here but since my start wasn’t that long ago, here’s my experience for any college graduate looking to get into Communication as a career.

At Rutgers, I studied Communication, but from the courses I took, it basically set me up for a career in PR. My plan was to find myself a job at some big agency in New York. I didn’t realize that having no internship experience in PR would severely curb my chances of getting an interview. I did, however, have internship experience in pharmaceutical advertising at an agency in Princeton, NJ. So after 40+ resumes and zero calls back, a recruiter found my resume online and through them, I was hired as an Account Coordinator at Draftfcb. In January, 2007 I officially became a working man.

Since then, I’ve jumped around a bit and have taken on an assortment of positions that my Communication major set me up for:
-Pharmaceutical copywriter
-Consumer, digital copywriter
-Public relations for video games and gadgets

Now I’m firmly entrenched in pharmaceutical advertising and I feel lucky (believe it or not) to live in New Jersey. I have access to New York, where opportunities abound, and the amount of pharmaceutical companies and agencies in New Jersey is nothing to scoff at either.

If you really break it down, I got my break by being lucky. But after that first job, I’ve gotten all my other ones the hard way. Today, I can’t see myself working in any other industry. Sure, the hours can be long and not all the work is exciting, but when I wake up in the morning, I look forward to what the day will bring. I know that on any given day, someone will come to me needing a great idea. The wonderful and terrifying part is not knowing where it’ll come from.

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Rock Armstrong says:

November 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm

I knew I wanted to have a career in publishing since I was 14. In high school, I worked on both the school newspaper and yearbook, serving as editor-in-chief of the yearbook my senior year. In college, I also worked on the newspaper and was editor-in-chief of the university yearbook as a senior, just as I was in high school.

After graduation, I selected Petersen Publishing Company as the company I wanted to work for the most, as I am an automobile enthusiast and they published “Motor Trend,” “Hot Rod,” and nine other famous titles. It was located in my home town of Los Angeles. (Today this company continues successfully as Source Interlink Media.) I prepared a cover letter and resume and sent it to the Human Resources Department.

As luck would have it, there was an opening in the Advertising Service Department and I was granted an interview. It went well, and I received a job offer. I was ecstatic and on my first day began work on “Hunting” magazine. The gentleman training me in company procedures had a doctor’s appointment at lunch.

After lunch, my boss who was also head of the department called me into her office. I was nervous and believed I had done something wrong on my first day. Instead, she reported to me that the gentleman training me had learned that he had an advanced case of cancer and would not be returning due to several months of treatment. She told me I was now the official advertising coordinator for “Hunting” magazine. Soon, however, they found me more useful to be a “floater,” to work on each magazine when the ad coordinator for that magazine was ill or on vacation. So in addition to my duties on “Hunting,” I also filled in on “Car Craft,” “Teen,” “Vans and Pickups–and our flagship “Motor Trend,” as well as the other titles. So I was now Assistant Manager of Advertising Service.

My boss and colleagues were terrific and incredibly helpful. Many had worked there for over 15 years. It was a happy beginning to my career and these events happened over 30 years ago. Starting out at Petersen, then located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood where La Cienega ends, was exciting, too, for a young man just starting out.

Rock Armstrong
Rockford Armstrong Marketing Innovations
Los Angeles, California and Portland, Oregon.

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Anibal (Joe) Cardenas says:

November 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm

It was my number 1 problem as a human being until I found out how important it is for human beings!

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Diana Dugina Dugina says:

November 18, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Like our Andy, I used to do several shop windows on Shadyside’s Walnut St. and for a little while, some crazy boutiques in Georgetown. I mummified mannequins, looped Opera to Eno, broke T.V.s faked robbery scenes and pawed prints over furniture. You could say I like to set a mood.

Down the road, I put scenic ideas to film and paper, I ended up interning at HBM Creamer. Three months later the name was changed Della Femina McNamee. On my first day of work, Les Gallagher, VP Account Service said to me ” Welcome home. Ms. Dugina.” Names, halls and walls have changed…scenes and sounds as well. But I’ll always be home, no matter what I do, or where I go. The business stirs and gets in your blood. Rest in peace, Les.

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Susen Rasmussen says:

November 18, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I financed my college education by working in the collections department at a local hospital — yes, making the evening phone calls to get folks to pay their bills. When a marketing position opened up, I decided it would offer a great “practice interview”. So I borrowed a blue suit for a co-worker, gave it my best shot and received a job offer.

A short while later my boss was relieved of his duties and I faced a sink or swim moment which led to a leadership position early in my career. I never thought I would be marketing healthcare services but it fuels my inner “professional student” as technology is ever evolving. It’s also personally fulfilling knowing I can impact the lives of others by helping to influence the decisions they make.

Today I sit on the other side of the desk as a consultant. That zag in my career path occured when a communications firm I worked with approached me with interest in developing a healthcare division. I have made a few employer changes since then but all have resulted from networking, particularly via active involvement in trade associations. Volunteer boards are a great way to get noticed and to let others see you in action — or to try before they buy.

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Tim Wrobel says:

November 18, 2010 at 10:55 pm

It all started in the US Army. At 19, I jumped out of a C-130 Starlifter in the middle of the night, with a parachute on my back, a rifle on my side and a radio on my hips. After I landed, I humped 13 miles to set up the Tactical Operations Center to communicate with HQ. Since then, my journey has taken me to some amazing places and given me great experiences with incredible brands. While working in corporate communications won’t get you shot, nor do you risk your parachute not opening, or your plane crashing and burning — we all still go to battle in our own way every day. Fight the good fight comrades!

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Hunter A. Homistek says:

February 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm

As a senior in college, I am still very green in the field of communications. I entered college as a chemistry student with medical school aspirations but quickly found that such a future was not for me. I was not inspired by my course materials, and I simply could not see myself in the field of neurosurgery as originally planned.

What drew me to journalism was, primarily, my love of writing. Throughout high school, I read considerably more than my peers, and I always had an appreciation for a well-crafted sentence or song lyric. I wanted to join these authors that I so respected, so I decided to try my hand at print journalism.

The curriculum revitalized me. I finally found something that I was good at and that I also enjoyed, and that has led me to where I am today. This field has opened (and will continue to open) numerous opportunities for me as I move forward, and I eagerly anticipate the journey ahead.

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