Home > finals > Copywriter starts advertising career as 35-year-old unpaid intern

Copywriter starts advertising career as 35-year-old unpaid intern

By Brook O’Neill
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Don Aguirre saw no milestone too large for him to achieve his goals.  He knew what he wanted and did whatever it took to make something of himself in the advertising industry.

Don Aguirre

Don Aguirre

“I started out metaphorically cleaning the floors,” Aguirre said.

The Phoenix native received his undergraduate degree in English literature in 2002. He wasn’t ready to get a real job, so he applied and was accepted into Creighton Law School.  After realizing how much private school tuition cost, Aguirre decided law school wasn’t for him.

“The only reason why I went to law school was because I didn’t want to get a real job,” Aguirre said.  “I could have cared less about the legal profession; I just wanted to extend my college career.”

However, he did like politics, and wasn’t willing to let his passion for writing go.

He volunteered for the Nebraska Republican Party during Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s campaign writing press releases for three weeks before Fortenberry and his campaign manager offered him a job.  He became communications director with no knowledge of what the job really entailed.

But after working in politics for about three years, he soured on the profession.

“It was a horrible existence for me,” Aguirre said.  “It’s a brutal cutthroat world in politics.”

After doing some direct mail pieces for Fortenberry, the owner of the direct mail company commended Aguirre’s work and asked if he had ever thought about advertising copy; he wasn’ t really sure what that job was either.

But after doing his research, everything clicked.  Aguirre quit his job and applied for the master’s in advertising program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

‘It was an interesting conversation with my newlywed wife telling her I was going to quit the job that paid our bills to go back to school,” he said.

While enveloped in his new passion for advertising, he noticed the creative work of an agency called Archrival and immediately said, “That’s what I want to do; that’s where I want to work.”

He found out the agency’s owner taught a class called Creative Concepting.  He was determined to take the class and distinguish himself.  He di , receiving one of the few A’s ever given out by Clint Runge, a co-founder of Archrival.

“Taking Clint’s class elevated my game,” Aguirre said.

At the end of the course, Runge emailed Aguirre asking about his career goals and he immediately responded, “I want to work for you!”  That’s when his life as a 35-year-old intern began.

Although Aguirre jokes about being the janitor at Archrival, he gained respect through starting out at the bottom.  People saw him do whatever it took to get what he wanted, eventually getting to express more of his creative abilities while learning his passion for youth marketing and social media.

All of Archrival’s brands enabled Aguirre to research youth culture, learning how they think and why they think what they do.

“I still see myself as 12 years old; I still love toys, cereal, cartoons, reading comic books and with that said, I’ve always found youth culture fascinating because essentially if you do something cool you can affect popular culture and I’ve always found that challenge fascinating.”

Aguirre describes his time at Archrival as being in a “sorority or fraternity for grownups” and it being “a dream job for anyone.”  But he yearned to write and wanted to do more of it.

Aguirre joined the Swanson Russell team last August to be a full-time copywriter.

“At my job all I do is write, that’s it, write,” Aguirre said.

He stressed the importance of voice in advertising. Every project requires a different voice based on the client and the brand.

“The thing with copywriters is that you have to immerse yourself into a client’s brand.  They have a specific voice so you can’t just write one specific way for everything.  You have to have an ear for writing.”

He credits his ability to pick up different voices and styles in his writing from being forced to read so many different writers’ works while studying literature as an undergraduate.

“That challenge is exactly what sustains me as a creative.  Being able to use what I think is a God-given ability of writing and being able to use that on the behalf of someone else.

“Advertising is hard,” Aguirre said. “It is not easy even if you are a good writer because you have to create something unique every single time, and when it works it’s like frickin’ music.  It’s awesome.”

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