AGENCIES NEED STRONG PARTNER IN DIVERSITY EFFORT COLLEGES CAN HELP BY TRAINING MINORITY CANDIDATES FOR AD FIELD

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The pages of Ad Age tell the story. The advertising industry is at last waking up to the fact that it needs more people of color. But is Jay Chiat's call for the creation of a superfund to train and recruit members of the nation's minorities the answer?

As a recent Ad Age editorial noted, Mr. Chiat is right to recognize that any solution is going to take money. But it's also going to take people. And while the advertising industry may have the necessary financial resources, does it have the human resources to recruit and train all of the talented people of color advertising needs? Or will the industry have to find a strong partner?

Training programs are a luxury. Most agencies have already been forced to cut back or eliminate their account service training programs. And now they don't have the time to bring junior creatives along either. A recent survey of 300 top creative people conducted by the University of Colorado at Boulder made it very clear that entry level writers and art directors are expected to hit the ground running. As the creative director for a major Chicago agency wrote back, "We can't afford to baby-sit juniors anymore. If we don't think they can start producing almost immediately, we don't hire them."

No time to recruit minorities. Recruitment may prove even more daunting than training. If we're to compete with industries that can offer higher starting salaries and better benefits, we can't wait until the end of the career decision process to reach prospects. Nor can we depend on the occasional panel discussion or internship to make a decisive difference.

Instead, we must identify top candidates early on-during their first years in college or last years in high school. And then we not only must provide them with financial aid but we must also establish a relationship with them. Enabling them through internships, mentoring and continuing personal support to come to value the challenges advertising can offer and the contributions they can make. That way by graduation it will no longer be a matter of choosing a career but of selecting a job in a field they've already chosen.

While such an approach is clearly necessary, the industry is just as clearly in no position to implement it. Agency people may be able to participate in panel discussions and provide internships. But they will never have the time to scour the country for top prospects or be able to provide students with the kind of continuous personal support a successful recruiting effort may require.

College ad programs. Goats or heroes? Universities could be a valuable partner. After all, they have well established outreach programs. Programs which have helped increase minority enrollment by more than 50% over the last 15 years.

Admittedly, college advertising programs have been no more successful at attracting people of color than the industry as a whole. That record, however, could be significantly improved if college recruiters could not only talk about the opportunities advertising provides but could also back those words up with scholarships financed by Mr. Chiat's proposed superfund and paid internships and talented mentors provided by the local ad community.

But let's face it. The industry won't spend money recruiting students for college programs if those programs are seen as flawed or irrelevant. And that's all too often the way industry leaders see it. In fact, our recent survey of top creative people showed that 57% of the respondents believed that college programs turn out students who are either somewhat unprepared (37%) or poorly prepared (22%). But even the university's harshest critics admit that some departments are turning out highly qualified candidates.

And it only takes a few qualified schools. In fact, a successful recruitment and training effort should initially be built around a core of no more than 10 universities and art programs. That would enable the industry to provide participating schools with a meaningful level of support. And that support would allow the schools to recruit a critical mass of talented students of color.

A valuable partnership. Clearly, each side needs the other. But whether they can work together remains to be seen. After all, the professional community would want to maintain some quality control over the programs it was financing. So universities would have to involve the industry in policy decisions about courses and faculty. That's something most schools would be loathe to do. In turn, such a partnership would require the industry to treat university people as equals and respect both their teaching ability and their insight into the business. Not an easy thing for many working professionals to do.

But the benefits would be worth the effort. Because if the universities' human resources can be joined with the industry's financial ones, Mr. Chiat's proposal could be the catalyst that helps transform the face of advertising.

Mr. Robbs is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Colorado at Boulder.

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