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The Pareto Placement: How to Hack Your Way Into a Job as an Advertising Creative


Fallon's Elliott Starr offers a 'cheat sheet' for young creatives looking for a career in adland

The Pareto Placement: How to Hack Your Way Into a Job as an Advertising Creative

The Pareto Principle is a theory named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He developed the theory to show that in almost every area of life, 80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs. Or put another way, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. 

For example…

80% of the happiness in your life is probably created by 20% of the people in your life. 

For many businesses, 80% of sales come from 20% of customers. 

You probably wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. 

Obviously… the split isn’t always 80/20. But in most areas of life, a little does often create a lot.

In homage to Pareto, some might say that 80% of the truly great work in our industry is being done by 20% of the agencies. 

…And if you’re just starting out, you can use this to your advantage in three simple steps. 

Step one:  spend a weekend with your creative partner looking through agency’s websites. Don’t make it a chore. Make it a nice thing – buy some beers, or pop on the kettle. 

Assuming you have high ambitions, you likely want to work in a top-100 agency. If you’re in the UK, a good place to start is Campaign’s School Report. 

Maybe you want to be more cut throat? You only want to look at the top 50? Or 25? That’s up to you. (If you’re buying into this ‘Pareto’ thing… that’s probably not a bad idea…)

Look through the work. No one is listening, so talk honestly about it with your partner. Do you both like it? Do you both respect it? Does it make you jealous? Does it blow your socks off? Does it make you feel like your ideas are embarrassingly weak? Or is it just… nice? 

Step two: of the agencies you’ve looked at, write a list of the 20% that you thought were just straight killing it. This list should be in order of preference.

Then, halve this list. This is your top 10%. Agencies you’d possibly saw off and eat your own foot to get into. 

You want every agency in your 20% to see your work at some point, but your top 10% are the agencies to focus on. The agencies filled with creatives you should be showing your work to. Creatives that you really respect; you’ve looked at their book and you think “God if that could be me in five or ten years time… mum would really be proud”. 

These are the people to build relationships with. People that have the power to give you a placement but still remember what it was like to be a student trying to get into the industry. Show them that you’re willing to work hard. Show them how intrinsic your love of this job is. That you’re a smart, funny and lateral thinker who can work fast and crack a brief – or at least die trying. 

Step three: every time you see one of these agencies, make a note of which of your ideas/ campaigns they like/ don’t like. Enter all of this into a spreadsheet. Yes… a spreadsheet. Or simply a giant piece of paper if you want to go analogue.

Vertical column = Agencies.

Horizontal column = campaigns. 

If for example… Mother loves your idea for Kia… give it a nice big ‘Y’. 

But if they hate your idea for Aviva… give it a less pleasing ‘N’. 

Do this for every book crit, at every agency, every time you re-work your book. Assuming you’re listening to nice people you respect at agencies you respect and you are acting on their advice, you should soon see a trend appearing in your spreadsheet. A nice, but not perfect, line of Y’s. 

Guess what you are going to do next?

The campaigns that have a ‘Y’ against them for every (or almost every) agency in your top 10%, they are going into your book. 

You should now have before you a book full of campaigns and ideas that every agency in your top 10% likes. 

Now, some creatives might say “but this is your book. It should represent you, find your own voice”. 

But let us not forget, this is based on feedback from the top 10% of agencies you have decided are making the sort of the work you want to make. 

I am all for finding your own voice. But if you’re at the job centre collecting your dole money and not on placement shoving brilliant ideas in front of the right people, then you haven’t got a voice and you likely won’t get a job.

The 80/20 of getting a job in advertising is performing on placement.

The 80/20 of getting placements is having a book agencies like. 

The 80/20 of having a book agencies like is visiting the right agencies for you. 

And the 80/20 of visiting the right agencies, my friends, is looking at their work and choosing those that make you weak at the knees and fill you with big, squishy dreams…

…And the best bit is, no one needs to know that you are doing this. 

Good luck, comrades. 

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