As college students or recent grads in the fields of advertising, marketing and PR, we're charging out into the work force armed with an arsenal of acronyms: IMC, CPM, SEO, CTR, the Four P's ... I could go on, but I'll spare you. Our education has turned our brains into a mushy alphabet soup of marketing terminology.
I think it's unfortunate that we spent the formative years of our marketing careers staring at color-coded note cards through bloodshot eyes, attempting to memorize definitions -- many of which we would never see or say again.
I'm a big believer that marketing can't be taught from a book. Marketing is an ongoing socioeconomic experiment, changing and evolving every day. If you're starting your fall semester with a textbook that was written in the spring, it's already outdated.
I don't want to undermine the importance of learning the nuts and bolts of marketing. You absolutely have to know the basics to be able to communicate in the industry. But it's not hard to memorize the definitions. It took me at most a year to learn the terminology and core principles. The next three years should have been spent putting those concepts into action -- creating and analyzing real integrated campaigns from start to finish, conducting research, studying the marketplace and experimenting with the most current tools. Thanks to a handful of good professors and an amazing internship program, I feel that I got a good education, but I wasn't just going to class.
If you're a college student in a school that has you regurgitating acronyms day in and day out, I would recommend taking control of your own education outside of the classroom. Here are a few ideas:
Try to find an internship that allows you to be hands-on and creative. The big companies look pretty on your resume, but a small company will give you some real responsibility, and you might even (gasp!) get paid. You've got four years -- why not do multiple internships?
Start a blog or a Ning network. Create a marketing plan for it, brand it, promote it, and then analyze your successes and failures. Not only will you be putting things you've learned in class into action, it will be awesome for your portfolio.
If you have a good advertising or marketing club at your school, join it. If not, how about starting one?
Volunteer to help with marketing or fundraising for a local charity or nonprofit organization.
At the very least, stay up on industry news and make sure that you're testing the latest marketing tools.
Learning takes place inside and outside of the classroom, and some of the most valuable experiences probably won't happen until you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.