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ANA: Tech Titans and Weak Schools Fuel Talent Crisis

By Published on .

Credit: Association of National Advertisers

Advertisers have been bemoaning the lack of talent in the field for years and the industry's leading trade group has officially confirmed long-nagging suspicions: Feeder schools are way behind the times and tech titans are more than happy to mop up the brain drain.

The Association of National Advertisers has issued a scathing new report that -- without necessarily shocking anyone -- lays bare core challenges in the industry: Marketers and ad agencies face a "looming marketing and advertising talent crisis" because universities aren't keeping pace with the industry's changing needs. The study calls for more collaboration between marketing professionals and educators.

The association also found that more young workers are fleeing to consultancies and tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google that offer more generous salaries and perks.

Marketers and agencies are struggling to "decipher and adapt to the millennial mindset while being frustrated that recent graduates are often unprepared to enter the field," according to the study. At the same time, young workers say they are not getting opportunities for rapid advancement. They perceive the tech and startup culture as providing more purposeful work and creative job environments, the study found.

"Finding and retaining talent has been a serious problem in our industry for some time," said ANA CEO Bob Liodice said in a statement. "But this pioneering new study has revealed that the system to create our next generation of marketing and advertising talent is strained to a breaking point," he added, calling for "immediate action."

The report was commissioned by the ANA's educational foundation, known as AEF, and conducted by market research company GfK. Results came from surveys of chief marketing officers, human resources executives, university professors and deans, career counselors and new hires and college students.

Jason DeLand, founding partner of Anomaly, was not involved with the study. But he agreed with its conclusion about competition from other industries for talent, saying marketing and advertising has "experienced an incredible and unfortunate brain drain."

"If I graduated this year, I would not go into this industry," he said in an email interview. "I might want to, but there would be greater and better opportunities for advancement elsewhere." Agencies are "not making enough money and not being able to compete with other industries," he added. "We ought to do away with the billable hour and stop giving ideas away cheaply in an effort to survive. Put more money into innovations."

The study paints an especially dim view of academia, finding that "college and university curricula cannot keep pace with the rapid change going on in the industry." Furthermore, "coursework and textbooks are out of date almost as soon as they're published, and much that is taught about marketing and communications is outdated and unrelated to management expectations and students' actual experience in the field," the report states.

The study points to new digital channels that have led to new roles like social media and digital analytics managers that require skills such as data management and advanced analytics. But "these constantly evolving skill requirements and job definitions have made it difficult for marketers and agencies to define and promise clear career paths to students and prospective hires with any consistency," according to the report.

As a solution, the ANA and AEF has started a new initiative called "Pathways 2020," that seeks to deepen the industries ties with universities. The program pledges to organize more than 1,000 marketing and ad executive visits to college campuses by 2020, while creating a "formalized toolkit for industry representatives to ensure professional consistency of content and engagement." The AEF is also ramping up an existing program in which professors visit agencies and marketers. The goal is to get 1,000 professors at sites by 2020. The AEF also wants to lure 1,000 students to participate in immersion programs like summer internships. The AEF is creating accredited guidelines for internship programs.

"Marketing educators can, and the majority probably do, keep close tabs on developments in industry and supplement any textbook with up-to-date cases and discussion of things happening in marketing and communications as the course is being taught," Michelle Nelson, immediate past president of the Marketing Educators' Association and a professor at Linfield College in Oregon, stated in an email interview.

She said the AEF program to connect professors and students with agencies and marketers is "extremely valuable." She noted that "in the past agencies sometimes didn't see the immediate value of such programs for them but they are essential to strengthen the relationship between education and practice."

Derek Rucker, a professor of entrepreneurial studies in marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said in an email that "it's true that communications are evolving so fast that coursework and textbooks cannot capture everything," But he added that "at Kellogg we interact a lot with people in firms, so I'd say we are getting exposure that helps us to stay up to speed and to work on research at the cutting edge."

DeLand said a liberal arts education, not specialized marketing classes, is the "greatest foundation for this business."

He added: "My advice to incoming kids in this years freshmen class is to cast the net wide. I don't care if you can write a clever insta post, or a headline or design a logo or an app. I care deeply how you think. If you can solve problems and if you have a POV based on something real. If you can write, If you can think of ideas that power businesses and if you're willing to work your ass off and learn too, then you'll have my complete attention."

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