Like 25 laminated ads, for starters. Buffed books are in. Ergo, a boomlet in ad schools. "They're cropping up like gas stations," says Norm Grey, president at Creative Circus, Atlanta, and today's crop of young creatives is expanding to fill them. Choosing which to attend has become more complex than ever, especially when creative directors and recruiters complain that it is nearly impossible, by reviewing books, to distinguish one school's grads from another's.
But while it may be hard to tell the books apart, the difference between the approach these schools take has become sharper. When comparing the buff-your-book institutions with the more academic curricula found at the big-campus programs, we find that each has its respective strengths and, in some cases, weaknesses. Herewith, then, is a combination multiple choice/essay question examination on the current state of ad ed.
What kind of school did you go to?
(a) Old standby
(b) Finishing school
(c) Plain old U
(d) New guard
Old standbys like Pasadena's Art Center and New York's School of Visual Arts found successful formulas years ago, and they haven't tinkered much with them. They focus on basics in three- to four-year BFA programs that cost about $7,000 a term. Their strengths include faculty (SVA can rely on Manhattan's working professionals), strong alumni networks and rigorous, demanding programs.
Art Center, for example, selects only highly motivated students, usually older (average age is 24) than most college students. According to advertising department associate chair Paula Goodman, the goal is not to graduate "just art directors, but creative directors who are really going to shape and change the field-not just get a job, but run the shop."
Graduates from old standbys have painstakingly learned the tools of the trade, a lengthy process that some complain the "finishing schools" like Portfolio Center scrimp on. "I don't think anybody can learn design fundamentals and principles in two quarters," says Woody Kaye at Pagano Schenck & Kaye in Providence. "People need either a lot of good schooling or a lot of good experience."
Yet finishing schools have their place. Since Portfolio Center opened in 1978, college graduates have shoved their literature and Roman history degrees in a drawer and gone to Atlanta to learn to create a portfolio. It takes up to eight quarters (about $3,000 each), but they can leave whenever they think their book is ready. This approach has been successful in its own way, judging from the extent to which it is imitated; Portfolio Center has spawned both Creative Circus, which opened in Atlanta in 1995, and the Miami Ad School, launched in 1992 by PC founder Ron Seichrist.
These schools differ little from each other, although Creative Circus claims a "kinder, gentler, more family-structured" culture, says Grey (a former PC teacher), and Miami Ad School prides itself on diversity (30 percent minority enrollment, 20 percent international) and commitment to creating broadcast reels as well as print books, according to Seichrist. All three suffer somewhat from limited faculty options; the pool of working professionals in these cities is small and unable to commit to long periods of uninterrupted time. The schools counter the problem in various ways; Portfolio Center, for example, brings in creative directors for two-week assignment/critique seminars. Miami, meanwhile, has an added incentive with its condo-on-South-Beach accommodations for winter-weary top professionals.
But for many in the business, the polish of a finishing school isn't enough. "I like to see students who haven't just been single-minded about getting a job in advertising," says Anne Bingman, a recruiter at Jerry Fields & Associates in New York. "They should have a voracious appetite for pop culture and shouldn't be ad-focused; they should be life focused." Graduates from plain old universities may be more likely to have these qualities, especially if they come from places whose grads she always makes time for, like the University of Delaware or the University of Texas at Austin.
The latter is home to Texas Creative, where associate professor Deborah Morrison and ad department director Patricia Alvey manage to blend their industry and academic backgrounds in an attempt to train conceptual thinkers. Students here take Portfolio 1, 2 and 3 while also studying French, economics, marketing, etc. "We're kind of a strange beast," says Morrison. This animal evidently thrives; recruiters hover, and last year's grads snagged first jobs at shops like Fallon, Goodby and Kirshenbaum Bond. Here, a well-rounded education plus portfolio sufficed, with no "finishing" required.
The new guard, a designation currently applicable only to Virginia Commonwealth University's Ad Center in Richmond (the University of Colorado is also exploring the concept), marries well-rounded with polished. Students earn a master's degree in the traditional sense, but their advertising training goes beyond what others offer. The VCU program simulates an agency; students have mini-offices and develop campaigns in teams that include account executives and planners. For extra help and an inside look, they can wander over to The Martin Agency, a block away.
"We're working as hard as we can to train leaders," says Diane Cook-Tench, director of the two-year program, which will graduate its first class in 1998. "We're really focusing on careers and foundations for careers. It's a tougher business than it was five or 10 years ago. The industry has higher expectations."
What kind of book do you have?
(d) All of the above
When Portfolio Center first opened, polished books were a rarity. Now they're not only common among job applicants, they all tend to look alike, which creates several as yet unsolved problems. "We used to get sketches and things," says Bingman. "Now everything is comped to the max, and that tends to get in the way. If the idea is really good, it will work well sketched out on a cocktail napkin." Not only did the idea's merit show in those sketches, but so did the student's individual and distinctive style. Cruder books better described their creators. Now creative directors and recruiters have to discount the polish to find the gem.
Slick books also "make juniors seem more experienced than they are," adds Woody Kaye. They create an illusion that hurts both employers, who expect more than they get, and employees, who find themselves trying to live up to expectations without knowing what they're doing.
Although they may have created professional-looking ads, "art directors haven't been on photo shoots or attended client meetings," concurs Jelly Helm, who teaches at VCU and works as creative supervisor/mentor at The Martin Agency. "They want to come in and do ads right away. But a lot of people are crashing, and they're not getting a lot of support. So many people have spent so much money on education, but one thing they've forgotten is that it's still hard work. Coming up with the idea is only five percent of it. The other 95 percent they have no experience at."
Schools try to counter the polish curse in several ways. At Texas, students must do everything their first quarter by hand, no computers allowed. At Miami Ad School, Seichrist won't allow stock photography or ripomatics. "We've shifted a lot of emphasis onto the concept," he says. But it may be just a matter of time before polished books are out and something else is in. As Helm points out, "The definition of being creative is making something that didn't exist before. You can't really train people to do that."
In the meantime, those on the recruiting end suggest simpler improvement measures for tomorrow's portfolios: Cut the grisly pro-life stuff, and please, no more Nordic Track ads.
Did you do the ads all by yourself?
To team or not to team is a significant question these days. In an effort to teach students the advertising process, programs like VCU's emphasize working with teams to strategize and develop campaigns. Other schools stress individual work. Or, people may work together informally, as at UT, but their final output is considered to be an individual piece of work. Although their experience may be valuable, those who work in teams may produce books that creative directors question. "Which person did the work?" wonders Richard Wilde, chair at SVA's advertising and graphic design departments. "Are you sure you're getting the right one?"
At Portfolio Center, tea ms take a somewhat different turn. The usual disciplines still work together, but doing each other's tasks; the photographer can't take the photo, the copywriter can't write the headline, and so on. "If you tell someone they're an art director, that's what they're going to become," says Gus Pitsikoulis, who chairs the ad department. "We want to graduate creative thinkers."
Whose job do you want?
(a) Bill Westbrook's
(b) Jeff Goodby's
One of the major downfalls of hot schools and buffed books is the illusion they create in student's overzealous imaginations. Too much attitude is a widespread malady, report agency execs, and it seldom works. "If they cop a 'tude the minute they come in the door, I deep-six them the minute they go out the door," says Fallon's Luke Sullivan, who has written a book for young creatives due out next year. Adds Bingman: "They've spent so much money on school, they say, 'My book kicks butt. It looks great, and I don't want to work for Grey or Wells. I want to go on the A list.' "
Part of the problem, say the teachers, is the people who choose advertising as a career. In the past, the field had some negative connotations, if it was considered it at all. Now it has a certain glitz and glamour; the relatively recent discovery that one can make a good living in the marketing-idea industry has become widespread.
Schools have begun to screen more carefully, searching for those prospects who have some affinity for the business as well as the motivation to learn it. As Helm puts it, "If they're drawn to it as a cool way to make a living, there is going to be, as they say in stocks and bonds, a correction in the market. They really need to love it."
"We've turned down people with 4.0 averages who are dull as doorknobs," adds Cook-Tench, whose VCU program has only 50 students. "We're looking for entrepreneurs."
It's not about glitz, industry execs repeat; it's about "getting Cheez Whiz off the shelf and into the basket," says Bingman. "It's no more glorious than that. It's not about the One Show." She prefers grads who want to link up with CDs whose work they admire. "That person I can work with," she says. "The others I tell to come back in a few years when the business has taken the edge off them."
If you got the job you want, could you keep it?
What is becoming apparent is that although yesterday's greats may have stumbled into this profession and made it their own, the chances of doing that today are increasingly unlikely. Cocktail napkins may be perfectly fine vehicles for the stellar idea, but the fact is, an art director has to know Quark and Photoshop and a writer has to know how to create a television commercial. And that's just for starters. It is not uncommon for young creatives to be on the front lines, producing broadcast campaigns within six months of being hired straight out of school. And they better not expect any coddling.
This reality puts great pressure on the schools to not only place students but also to make sure they will be able to survive in an often ruthless and fast-paced industry. Administrators expect that we'll see even more programs operating at higher levels than we've seen in the past. Many point to VCU's graduate school program as a harbinger of education to come. Certainly it has attracted the attention of many industry icons, some of whom are quite willing to help. (Ad Center agency board members include high-powered names like Dan Wieden, Bill Westbrook and Jay Chiat, along with client ad directors like Sony's John Roberts and Coca-Cola's David Wheldon.)
But the necessity for depth and detail is not lost on the other schools, either. "The bottom line is to get a job, and the way to get a job is by having a book," says the Circus' Grey. "But the way to keep a job is by learning enough about advertising so you don't lose your job the minute you get it. We want you to have a bulletproof two or three years."
The best perspective may come from Helm, who entered the profession as a product of today's schools, and who has not only survived but excelled in today's creative environment-he's now teaching today's students. "I thank my lucky stars I went to Portfolio Center," says Helm, who won a One Show pencil for a self-promotion piece he did there that also landed him a job at The Martin Agency. "They did teach me creativity," he claims, but his concerns go beyond the tools of the trade and the polish of the book. "We never talked about ethical issues and social implications, for example," he recalls. "This is a complex business. We want to train not just better creative people, but better people."
The One Club hosted its third annual student exhibition on May 8, and as usual it was standing room only. Work was on view from students currently enrolled at Art Center in Pasadena, Creative Circus in Atlanta, Miami Ad School, Portfolio Center in Atlanta, The Red & Yellow School in Cape Town, South Africa, the School of Visual Arts in New York, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Here's a sampling of the best stuff on display that night. Better call these kids quick, before their salary demands soar.
UT/Austin: Art and copy by Sean LaBounty.
Miami Ad School: Laura Metrano, AD; Eddie Hahn, CW.
Miami Ad School: Marci Bergman, CW; Juan Carlos Gutierrez, AD; Tali Cohen, illustrator.
Creative Circus: Art and copy by Jonathan Cude.
Portfolio Center: Brett Yasko, AD; Mike Roe, CW.
Portfolio Center: Karen Zuckerman, CW; Travis Sharp, AD.
VCU: David Williams, CW; Tom Scharpf, AD.
SVA: Art and copy by Alice Butts.
SVA: Art and copy by Sung-Yoon Lee.
SVA: Art and copy by Donna Betgilan.
Portfolio Center: Jeff Reich, CW; Brett Yasko, AD.
SVA: Art and copy by Cora Flaster and Heather Plansker.