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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  How’d You Get In: Johnny Vulkan

How’d You Get In: Johnny Vulkan

Posted on February 9, 2012 and read 4,385 times

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It’s a pretty funny career trajectory when one of the men to reject your CV as a hungry junior later partners with you to found an innovative new agency model. But that’s only part of Johnny Vulkan’s story.

Starting with the present and taking it backwards, Vulkan is a Co-Founder of Anomaly, a not-advertising agency that values curiosity, open-mindedness and the diversity of perspectives that results from the combination of expatriates from other parts of creative industries. Vulkan is responsible for communications and media innovation at Anomaly, as well as stewarding digital strategy and philosophy.

Prior to that, he graced the top of the rosters and evolved both the client and agency business at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York and Fahrenheit 212.

But as they say, you’ve got to start somewhere. So how did Johnny Vulkan get in?

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image001 Howd You Get In: Johnny Vulkan
If you’d have looked at the wall of my room in my second year at university you’d have seen the usual selection of tour posters, covers of music magazines and pictures cut from The Face and NME. There was also a newspaper cutting from The Sunday Times (UK version).

The headline read, ‘The Quiet Giant of Adland,’ and beneath it sat a stern looking Martin Sorrell, the Chief Executive of a very young WPP and yet-to-be-named a ‘Knight of the Realm.’

I was studying marketing and psychology at the time and it was setting me up for a choice of two different paths. I could join powerhouse companies like P&G, Unilever or Shell… or I could use what I was learning to try and make my way into the mysterious world of advertising.

A year and a half later I was approaching the end of my degree and the UK was in a deep recession. I had applied to more than forty companies and most had responded with a polite, “Sorry, our recruitment is on hold, please try again next year.” I even had such a letter signed by Carl Johnson’s secretary – the man who five years later I would come to work for, and twelve years later would help start a company with.

I’d been on fifteen or so first interviews, ten or more second interviews and I was down to two strong leads and the final round of recruiting for a graduate trainee position at AMV (now part of BBDO) or Saatchi & Saatchi London. I had beaten off opposition from three thousand applicants for one of six spaces at each agency and we were now down to 25 candidates for each.

Both were great options – agencies at the top of their game – and both ran two-day final interviews to get a job in account management or planning (neither of which I knew much about at the time).

I missed on both. In each case I was told I came seventh and I was gutted. I’d spent six months writing letters, going to interviews and all while studying for my final exams and I’d literally just missed.

I returned to University for the last term feeling more than a little defeated and pretty worn out by the whole experience. I’d been through every process asked and failed.

A friend walked into my room to sympathize with me. Then he asked me something,

“If advertising is meant to be a creative industry how come the process to get in is so formulaic and rigid?’

Suddenly it struck me. I had to find my own way to cut-through, get noticed and convince someone I was worth a shot.

I turned on my Apple Mac Classic and started working. I spent two days on the plan. I would send a package to Saatchi & Saatchi (my first choice by then) explaining why I was still the right man for the graduate spot and why they should make an exception.

With the help of a friend, I designed an exact copy of the front page of Campaign Magazine (the UK’s biggest advertising publication) complete with photos and an authentic barcode I’d scanned from the original. I then wrote every single article on that page. Three were serious essays about industry issues (I read Campaign every week so I was pretty clued in), one was about Saatchi’s and one was a funny piece I created about myself.

Next I wrote a print ad in the style of Saatchi’s famous BA advertising of the time, but made myself the topic of the ad.

Finally, I wrote a cover letter pleading my case.

I made four copies of each, bought four poster tubes and sent them four different people at Saatchi and waited. And waited. And waited (this was before widespread email remember!).

I heard nothing. Finally, ten days after I sent the packages, I rang one of the people – Michael Mozynski. Yes, he’d got the package. Yes, he loved it. And yes, he had asked Human Resources to contact me, but they had said they still didn’t have a job for me. He suggested I stay in touch and the next time I was in London I should pop by to see him.

Six weeks later, still without a job, but now with an interview at Chiat Day London, I called up Saatchi and said I’d love to pop in before my interview to say hi and ‘stay in touch.’

At 11am I walked into reception at Saatchi & Saatchi in London. In reception was Michael. Sitting with him was the head of HR.

“Hi, we have something we’d like to say. This industry is about creativity, it’s about persistence and it’s about having the heart to not give up. In the last few weeks you’ve demonstrated all of those qualities so we’ve created another graduate space especially for you. We’d like to offer you a job.”

Of course I said yes (then cancelled my Chiat Day interview – little knowing that I’d end up as the COO of their New York office seven years later).

From being inspired by an article about a finance guy, to spending time as an account guy, new business director, COO, creative director and ultimately a co-founder of a company of which I’m immensely proud, I’d like to think that its those same qualities that served me well.

I have a lot of people to thank along the way for opportunities, trust and coaching, but in the end each of us has to trust in ourselves and look within for that little extra push that keeps you going when others give in. It’s what always makes the difference.

  • Evan Cooper

    It’s stories like this that brighten up my day, as it’s proof that hard work doesn’t always go unnoticed.

    Inspiring. Motivating. Thank you.




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