Models for success

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Executives at Laughlin Marinaccio & Owens Advertising, Arlington, Va., have made it their mission to prove to minority high school and college students that a successful career in advertising is worthwhile -- and possible.

START WITH HIGH SCHOOL

"There is some research that shows if you want to interest students in a career, you have to reach them in high school or earlier because by college they have pre-set ideas," says Professor Constance Frazier, coordinator of Howard University's Advertising & PR Sequence. Ms. Frazier, who has been running Howard's advertising sequence for eight years, adds that parents of first-generation African-American college students are most likely to encourage their children to study education, law, medicine or social work.

FIELD TRIP

"If you go to school for business, you don't specifically think of the advertising business," Ms. Frazier says.

On Feb. 10, Ms. Frazier led a group of her students on a field trip to Chicago, where they spent the day at Burrell Communications Group. Later, they had dinner with executives from Leo Group's Starcom Worldwide, including Rene Richardson, assistant media director.

PEEK BEHIND THE SCENES

The trip served two purposes: It gave students the opportunity to go behind the scenes at an ad agency, and it provided them the opportunity to connect with role models.

"There aren't that many students who can say, `Oh! I met Tom Burrell, I want to be just like him,' because there are not a lot of Tom Burrells in the industry," Ms. Frazier says.

That's why agency exec Ron Owens is cultivating students' interest in the business.

"There is a misconception among minority students that this profession is an old boys' club [or] it's a white man's country club," says Mr. Owens. "I hate to say those words . . . that it is an industry which is not, in fact, very open to, nor hospitable to blacks wanting to come into the profession."

CARRIES THE MESSAGE

Mr. Owens, an African-American, is in a position to carry the message. Today, he is a partner and senior VP at Laughlin Marinaccio & Owens, a $32 million full-service general-market agency with Doug Laughlin, president, and Dave Marinaccio, senior VP. Their agency, founded in 1995, is located in the office once occupied by Bozell Worldwide.

Mr. Owens also is the first African-American man to serve as president of the Ad Club of Metropolitan Washington.

He says he got his start in the ad business when he was hired as the first African-American account exec by N.W. Ayer & Partners in 1970.

Before he was offered the job, Mr. Owens says he was interviewed by every executive in the agency. The final decision to hire him was made by then-Chairman Neal O'Connor. Once in the door, he went through the fast-track account management program.

"At the time, Ayer had the Army account," says Mr. Owens, who resigned from the U.S. Army after eight years to take the job at Ayer. The agency was faced with marketing the Army as an all-volunteer branch of the military.

FAMED ARMY SLOGAN

Mr. Owens says he participated in the brainstorming sessions that led the Army to adopt the slogan, "Be all that you can be."

He stayed with Ayer for seven years and then moved to Della Femina Travisano & Partners for two years. Other career stops included Mingo-Jones, W.B. Doner & Co., Needham Harper Steers Worldwide, BBDO Worldwide and finally, Bozell Worldwide.

He left Bozell to become director of worldwide advertising and PR for Pitney Bowes.

"The stereotypes and misconceptions are planted pretty early [in children's minds]. That's why we go into the high schools on career days," Mr. Owens says. "We at least reach [students] in their junior and senior years in high school. There's nothing like giving some bright-eyed and freshly scrubbed kid that realization and hope that they stand a good opportunity to realize their dream."

LMO invited 14 high-school students last August to tour the agency and talk with executives about account and media planning, research and creative. The students were attending a two-week "Multicultural High School Summer Advertising Workshop" at Howard University.

Mr. Owens says his agency also interacts with students who attend nearby urban high schools.

SOME LACK HOPE

"They feel they are out of it," he says. "There is little or no hope of ever getting into a profession like advertising . . . sometimes they don't even think beyond high school."

Those urban students are a strong contrast to the Howard University hopefuls in Morrie Kayanan's Monday-night advertising class.

Mr. Kayanan, senior copywriter at LMO, says Howard is an elite African-American university and the students attending have very high career expectations.

"They fully expect to graduate and eventually take their place as leaders in the African-American community," Mr. Kayanan says. "More than half of these young kids actually want to go into advertising and have their own business. They want to be entrepreneurs. Advertising is an ideal; they'd love to work in advertising and own their own agencies.

"These students come from families that are upper class. A lot of them have parents who expect them to be entrepreneurs and be leaders in the black communities."

LOW AD SALARIES

"What's hardest for them is that the salary in the ad industry is so low in comparison with other career options," Ms. Frazier says. "I have one student who was very interested in working as a creative, but because the salaries were so low and [it was] so hard to break in . . . he's now working in a media organization."

Ms. Frazier says several of her students have chosen media planning careers and now work at Burnett, Chisholm Mingo, UniWorld Group and Fallon McElligott.

"We've been fortunate in that our students have had jobs at prestigious advertising organizations such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Bates [Worldwide] in New York," she says. "Some of my students are at Campbell [Soup Co.], The Gap and Kraft [Foods]."

Mr. Owens says his main objective is to see more qualified minorities choose a career in advertising.

"I think with a concerted effort on the part of my fellow ad folks that they, too, can realize the goal of bringing more minorities into our profession," Mr. Owens says. "Let's get them into the communication schools."

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