How to break into the media industry

Wavemaker associate manager of investment & activation Montana Bray
By Wavemaker associate manager of investment & activation Montana Bray | 11 December 2018

Before university, I really had no idea of what I wanted to do. Growing up in a household with parents who worked within the advertising realm – in marketing and creative agencies – I guess I had a soft spot for the industry. I chose to do an arts degree because it’s a well-rounded degree for indecisive students, and opted for a media major on an impulse.

One year into my degree, however, I was struggling to see how I could turn media into a career. The subjects were text-heavy and focused on the history and theories of media, rather than current trends and developments. Dry and uninspiring at best.

Luckily my perspective changed once I got to experience media agency life for myself. Towards the end of my first year at uni, I was offered an internship/work experience opportunity at Magna (Mediabrands) through a family connection. I soon realised that life as a media buyer was much more fast-paced and dynamic than I was given to believe through my courses at uni. I was eager to learn more.

I’ve now been working part time as a media buyer for just over three years, moving from Magna to Wavemaker, while continuing my studies also part time.

In those three years, I developed a strong passion for audience data and insights, and how to best approach and connect audiences to brands. If you asked me what I thought about audience data when I graduated from high school, I would have given you a blank look. It’s only through doing the ground work within a media agency, and becoming familiar with the different roles and how everyone works together, that I was able to work out what I really enjoy doing.

Along the way, I’ve learned three lessons that may be useful for other students or graduates considering life in a media agency.

1. Uni degrees are far removed from industry reality

The biggest challenge I’ve faced while being a part-time uni student and media buyer, has been relating class work to daily media buying tasks. I thought studying Bachelor of Arts, Media, would prepare me for what is expected within the industry, but a lot of what we learn in mandatory subjects has little to do with the day-to-day tasks of a media co-ordinator and buyer.

These subjects involved learning the history of Australian media and the theories of media, dating back to the 1800s. While some units related to the current media landscape – such as public relations, digital and social media – there was no overview of media buying, or even media owners and publishers. I had to learn on the job how to execute media campaigns, how to form relationships with media owners and clients, and become familiar with the processes and tools of buying media.

The best thing for me, was the flexibility allowed by Macquarie University. I was able to organise my timetable so that all classes fit on one day, allowing me to work within an agency for the remaining four days a week – and getting a head start on my career.

2. Look for mentors

Despite starting in the industry with little to no knowledge – being just one year in with my degree – I was lucky enough to learn from an amazing bunch of people who had all been in the industry for a number of years. My first boss told me that if I learnt how to buy TV, then all other offline buying would become second nature.

From experience, I am a strong believer in the value of mentors. Not only do they teach you the skills necessary for excelling in your day-to-day job, they can also offer life advice that ultimately improves your personal development, inside and outside of the workplace – which is what everybody strives for.

3. Don’t underestimate yourself

The most valuable thing I learned in my dual life as a student and media buyer is that you shouldn’t underestimate yourself. I never thought I’d be able to juggle university and a corporate workload, but I’ve been so fortunate to have the support of amazing managers who have offered valuable support and assistance when work becomes too overwhelming.

Despite my uni/work workload seeming insurmountable at times, and having to watch videos and photos of my friends’ gap years in Europe from afar, I strongly believe that by stepping foot into the industry at an early stage has given me a head start and has allowed me to gain knowledge in areas that will take current graduates two or three years to obtain. The scariest part is being one of the youngest employees in the agency – but I can deal with that.

Overall, I’ve found that knowledge is key in the industry and age is just a number. I would encourage any undergraduate student in media to search for intern opportunities before they graduate, to get a head start in the industry. Working in a media agency while I study has allowed me to figure out what I love and where I want to be much sooner than if I were to start in an entry-level position now. 

Wavemaker associate manager of investment and activation Montana Bray

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