Make a commitment to colleges' brightest

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Four weeks ago, I sat mesmerized as 64 college students presented campaigns that blew away a room full of ad executives at the peak of their careers. That would include me.

These were not just kids from Harvard, Stanford or the colleges that make the list of top business schools. These were advertising students from the University of Alabama, Indiana University and 14 other colleges that are quietly producing the top-notch talent agency executives say they can't find.

I've got news for you. They're out there. And not just in New York and L.A. Lurking in the Midwest, the deep South and as far away as Honolulu is an astonishing array of undiscovered talent that's simply off the radar screen of Madison Avenue executives. The students I watched in the American Advertising Federation's National Student Advertising Competition were nothing short of awesome. Just ask The New York Times. As this year's sponsor, the newspaper got the rights to comprehensive marketing plans by 2,000 students that it describes as "fabulous, fresh and amazing."


The Times understands the extraordinary value of AAF's young human capital. I hope the agency chiefs on Madison Avenue soon will, too.

Meanwhile, those agency executives despair that kids who used to flock to their doors are simply not showing up. They complain that advertising is not even a blip on their radar screens.

To parrot Pogo the Possum, I have seen the enemy, and he is us. The AAF has 6,000 students in 260 college chapters, but for the most part, we don't court these kids. When we do find them, we often don't pay them a living wage. I'm not suggesting we match the salaries dangled by dot-coms with wads of cash. But it's hard to feel passion and pride when your first year's salary is less than your last year's tuition.


We need a better industrywide recruiting system. One way to do that is to reconstruct the Eight A's -- the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.

I don't mean to formally merge them, but to increase the dialogue and teamwork of these three great organizations.

The AAF and the Four A's already are working in tandem on recruiting issues, including the diversity leadership initiative championed by the AAF. We'd like to see the ANA be a part of this effort as well. Meetings on a regular basis by the presidents of these three groups could leverage the impact of the ad industry on a number of fronts.

One of those fronts is advertising itself. If we are passionate about our profession, maybe it's time we take our own advice and advertise! I was flipping through the pages of Fortune and Forbes the other day, and I didn't see one ad for agencies or for advertising. I did see ads for Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, Andersen Consulting and enough dot-coms to give me a dot-headache.

Let's preserve our real estate from any more erosion. Before the bottom drops out of the economy and ad budgets once again are sacrificed, let's remind decision-makers (and college prospects) about the power and capacity of advertising. Let's shout from the rooftops that advertising is the way great brands get to be great brands.

"Advertising: The Way Great Brands Get to Be Great Brands"

Remember that line. You'll be seeing it soon, thanks to the efforts of the AAF to promote our discipline. It's been far from easy. The AAF has struggled to make this campaign for advertising a reality, to raise the money and to gain the support of the ad industry outside its membership. I frankly don't understand why every agency and media company in the world isn't throwing resources at this campaign. And why not some advertisers, too?


What has surprised me more are the companies and organizations that are squarely behind it: the Magazine Publishers of America, the Electronic Retailing Association, American Business Media. Yes, they're industry groups that rely on advertising, but which threw their weight behind an effort they did not initiate because they understand that a rising tide floats all boats.

Carmichael Lynch is another party that deserves praise. The Minneapolis agency accepted the challenge of creating a campaign to put advertising back on the map.

My greatest praise is reserved for the companies with seemingly the least to gain: the companies that agreed to let their trademarks be used -- not to showcase their brands but ours.


Coca-Cola Co., Energizer Co. and Sunkist Growers said yes to letting the AAF use their trademarks for this campaign, and they deserve tremendous credit -- not just for permitting the AAF to feature them in this campaign but for demonstrating their continuing conviction in the power of advertising; for viewing it strategically and investing in it accordingly; for being a better friend to advertising than advertising has been to itself.

It's time to follow in their footsteps. I'll do what I can in my year as chairman of the AAF. I hope others will join the cause.

Mr. Liebler is senior VP-global brand marketing, DaimlerChrysler.

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