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How to Successfully Break In with Geno Schellenberger

Published on December 4, 2023, 3:47 p.m.
by Alison Reed.

Geno Schellenberger is a successful Gen Z communicator and professional who has become an inspiration to aspiring practitioners and current professionals alike.

Geno Schellenberger

As the founder of the Breaking and Entering Media company, consisting of the “Breaking and Entering Advertising” podcast, Schellenberger connects with various professionals across the communications industry.

In addition to his personal story, his insights gleaned from established professionals are sure to help any aspiring communicator break in and thrive in the industry.

Before breaking in

Most people are lucky if they have a general idea of what they want to do for a career before starting college, but Geno Schellenberger has had a clear idea of his path since he watched the show “Mad Men” in high school.

Mad Men” is a drama series that explores the “Golden Age” of advertising, set on Madison Avenue in the 60s. Roger Sterling is the character that inspired Schellenberger the most. As the head of accounts, Sterling shows keen strength in communicating and connecting with clients.

Going into his freshman year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Schellenberger was determined to become an account executive at a large advertising agency.

Schellenberger discussed his college experience in a LinkedIn article. He explained that his goal was to have a specific, narrow approach to building experience on campus. UIUC is home to the largest student chapter of the American Advertising Federation. Schellenberger picked this one organization to not only join but also work his way up while still in college. He figured this approach would best set him up for a career post-graduation.

During his senior year, Edelman, one of the largest public relations agencies worldwide, visited the UIUC campus to recruit for its Immersion Associate Program. Schellenberger attended the workshop hosted by Edelman, despite not having an interview with the recruiters the next day.

After staying late to have a conversation with the Edelman team, Schellenberger was then offered an interview the following day. He spent his night studying Richard Edelman, the CEO of Edelman. After a successful and impressive interview process, Schellenberger was offered a full-time position as an assistant account executive at Edelman post-graduation.

Schellenberger had achieved his goal of landing a career in accounts at a large agency, but the world had slightly different plans for the beginning of his career. He was slated to graduate from UIUC in May 2020 and immediately begin at Edelman; however, the pandemic delayed Schellenberger’s start date, and many of his peers failed to land full-time jobs following graduation.

“I was sick of watching ‘Tiger King’ and having happy hour Zooms with my aunts [during quarantine],” Schellenberger stated. He was looking for ways to connect with people, while also being able to help out others in a time of uncertainty.

Thus, the first episode of the “Breaking and Entering Advertising” podcast was aired on April 16, 2020.

The heist to help others

What originally started as a small show that shared conversations with students and faculty discussing the advertising industry has grown to have over 200 episodes with more than 85,000 listens and covers content across communications.

Breaking and Entering Advertising Podcast

The “Breaking and Entering Advertising” podcast strives to help aspiring advertising professionals “break in and thrive” in the industry.

By interviewing award-winning professionals in all areas of communications, the podcast delivers advice to those looking to pursue the business. It has over 230 hours of advice from professionals, ranging from building digital portfolios to the power of networking.

The show also has a series titled “Adjunct” where successful advertising and communications professors share advice for current students. Whether the educators discuss different curricula, university programs or national student competitions, listeners can get insights from the “best of the best” in academia without paying the tuition.

Mark Barry, assistant professor and director of the Minerva creative advertising program at The University of Alabama, appeared as a guest on the “Breaking and Entering Advertising” podcast.

Barry noted that Schellenberger has connected with and interviewed a lot of influential people in the industry. “It is a student’s responsibility to seek out information, but if they are really interested in advertising, then his podcast should absolutely be on their radar,” stated Barry.

Since its launch, the name “Breaking and Entering” has extended beyond the podcast. Schellenberger and his team recently launched Breaking and Entering Media. The media company now consists of the Crowbar Awards, Unmasked Talent Awards, a student podcast network and more opportunities that help students break into advertising.

Schellenberger asserted that it is integral for aspiring communicators to find their one-sentence purpose statement, which he calls a “north star.” “If it is a truly big idea [that motivates you], then it will naturally expand into other extensions that are also meaningful,” Schellenberger said.

He found that the idea of inspiring future professionals naturally took shape into the additional initiative. Schellenberger explained that each project contributes to the goal of helping others break in and truly thrive in advertising.

Whether it is recording the podcast or looking at submissions for the Crowbar Awards, Schellenberger explained, “I like to help students, and it also helps keep me learning, which is worth consistently pursuing.”

After meeting with such a vast community of professionals and professors alike, Schellenberger is happy to share his insights to help the next class of communicators.

Tips to break in

Schellenberger found his current position as senior communications manager at Havas by hosting Myra Nussbaum, chief creative officer and president, on the “Breaking and Entering Advertising” podcast.

Following the episode, Nussbaum invited Schellenberger to apply for an open position at Havas and was willing to overlook the fact that he didn’t have the required years of industry experience.

Havas Life Chicago

In the end, Schellenberger’s pursuit of his passion in addition to his career efforts helped him secure his current role. “If you explore your passions, you will find ways to weave them into your professional life,” he explained.

When discussing the podcast and the impact it had on Schellenberger’s career, Barry stated, “Everyone is passionate about something,” and the important part for aspiring communicators is to find ways to uniquely showcase said passion, just as Schellenberger has done.

“You want to let them [employers] know that you are more than just a student studying advertising or public relations,” said Barry.

Whether it is an “About Me” section on a digital portfolio or a personal side project, it is important for students to showcase who they are as both a professional and person, according to Barry and Schellenberger.

Schellenberger’s current roles with both Breaking and Entering Media and Havas have shown him the importance of collaboration within various sectors of communications.

Who’s crime is it anyway?

As a senior communications manager, Schellenberger has a part in various projects at Havas. Despite working for a global advertising agency and hosting an advertising podcast, Schellenberger has recently found himself practicing both public relations and journalism skills as well.

He noted that companies and guests are now pitching to appear on the “Breaking and Entering Advertising” podcast, which allows him to act as a journalist. “You have to be able to determine what is newsworthy or important,” Schellenberger said.

By overseeing pitches for the podcast, he then uses the “newsworthy” filter to better pitch Havas stories and content to ad trade publications for his job.

“If you want to become a PR professional, it is most valuable to understand the mind of a journalist,” stated Schellenberger.

He also explained that both current and aspiring professionals have to have a knowledge of what is going on in the industry.

Barry emphasized the importance of being aware of industry happenings. “As students, you should be getting familiar in building industry literacy to identify agencies and people you want to work with before graduating,” said Barry.

Schellenberger continually points students to resources such as Little Black Book and Ad Age.

By interviewing industry professionals and continuing his current roles, Schellenberger has seen the increasing intersection of advertising, journalism and public relations firsthand. He explained that a practitioner must have a thorough and continual knowledge of all three in order to “break in and thrive.”

Time to prepare for the heist

Schellenberger’s closing advice to students is to “nerd up, work up and cool up.”

Aspiring professionals can increase their chances of breaking into the highly competitive industry by “working up.” According to Schellenberger, this consists of creating work related to the role that a student wants to pursue.

For example, students interested in creative advertising should enter competitions with real-world client briefs to gain experience in creating strategic and holistic campaigns. He also advised aspiring practitioners to enroll in journalism courses and gain experience in writing for a magazine or a blog.

As previously mentioned, having an understanding of the industry one is pursuing is invaluable. Whether it may be advertising or public relations, aspiring professionals need to constantly be studying the “winners and losers” of the industry.

By “nerding up” students can better prepare themselves for the careers they are entering post-graduation, but they can also stand out in interviews with their knowledge of — and passion for — the industry.

Finally, Schellenberger reinforced that students must discover their passions and weave them into their professional goals. He proudly stated, “It’s cool to be good at something.”

Schellenberger seeks to help the next class of communicators succeed within the industry, and this “north star” purpose will continue to inspire the growth of both Schellenberger and the Breaking and Entering Media company.

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