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How’d You Get In: Zak Mroueh

Posted on February 11, 2009 and read 6,115 times

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Anyone familiar with my story about getting into the business will recall that after a stunt outside of Toronto agency TAXI, then Vice President & Creative Director Zak Mroueh brought me and my partner out of the cold and into the shop for ‘a coffee and a creative brief’. What I left out of my article was that while working there for the next few days we saw the hard work and long hours that went into creating the caliber of work TAXI has been known for. And after reading Zak’s story its plain to see that he learned early on his career what it takes to make a splash in advertising.

Now Creative Director and Founder of Zulu Alpha Kilo, Zak Mroueh had humble beginnings in the Saatchi & Saatchi mailroom. His story is well dated with mentions of a $12,000 starting salary and something called “pica sheets”. I’m going to need to Google that one.

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zak Howd You Get In: Zak Mroueh

I took the classic route into the business. I accepted the first job that moved and landed in the mailroom at Saatchi. Starting salary: a whopping $12,000 per year. This experience taught me to be humble. I loved it. Being in an agency at any level was thrilling. I was actually torn when I got another offer. My short-lived mailroom career lasted three weeks.

Next stop: writing direct mail copy at Sears. I actually had fun learning how to write and fit copy using pica sheets. (Now I’m really dating myself.) I quickly learned what sells and what doesn’t. It was invaluable training and I remained content for an entire eleven months.

Eager to return to an agency, albeit in a slightly elevated capacity, I knocked on virtually every shop’s door, sent out hundreds of resumes, and called just about anyone with a phone extension. Well, I eventually got hired as a junior writer at a small start-up agency only to be let go my first day back from vacation.  The best part of this experience was that it gave me the fuel to prove them wrong. I was there exactly one year.

Three weeks later, I landed my first big agency job at SMW (now Publicis). It was known as a print shop and I learned the importance of strategy and craftsmanship. These were some of the happiest times of my career and I made some lifelong friends. I stayed what seemed an eternity at the time—three whole years.

In February 1992, I landed at what was then Chiat/Day. At the time, it was the top creative agency in the country and was nicknamed Chiat/Day & Night. We sent a mailer with two sleeping bags and said we were ready to get started immediately. I’ll never forget my first day. I literally pinched myself. I had finally landed that elusive “dream job.”

Upon reflection, I realized it had taken more than three interviews to get in there. It had taken over five years of perseverance and tenacity. For the first time in my short career, I felt like I’d “kinda” made it. It was both heaven and hell. I’d never worked so hard in my life. The sleeping bags certainly came in handy. I stayed for a couple of years and then it was on to new adventures at home and overseas.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d still start by happily delivering the mail.




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