Letters, Nov. 2, 2009

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Attack on ad schools unfounded

RE: Livingston Miller's "Do 'Teach' and 'Advertising' Belong in the Same Sentence?" (AA, Oct. 26). Of course you can teach advertising, and many other creative fields.

Advertising is a craft, just as is music, art, writing or woodworking. In each, practice and study improves performance. There are people with a natural talent in any field. But, without training, unpolished potential often remains unpolished and merely potential.

VCU does indeed have an undergraduate advertising program. It's been around (and winning awards and sending graduates into the business) since the 1970s. VCU's full-time faculty are drawn from the industry, and most continue to do work for agencies and clients in addition to teaching. Many of its courses are also taught by working professionals from the Martin Agency and other noteworthy shops. Its graduate program -- the VCU Brandcenter -- has a faculty, board and visiting lecturers who are, in all honesty, titans of the industry.

This is not a program of theory and fluff. It is a practical and demanding preparation for a variety of careers.

The course names may sound silly, but their purposes and outcomes are not. Far from being "saddled with" a curriculum that dims the lights on the future of advertising, the content of these courses is far-ranging, functional and slightly more current than David Ogilvy's "Confessions." (Naturally, VCU students also learn about Ogilvy -- if nowhere else than in the History of Advertising. Perhaps we should rename that course "Glory Days" for the benefit of practitioners attached to the past.)

To quote Mark Fenske, one of the key authors of the curriculum, "Our goal is to graduate students unfettered by the legacies and expectations of the mainstream they will eventually replace."

In other words, VCU is training students for jobs that don't even exist yet. No, it's not exactly old-school.

It's also important to note that two-thirds of VCU advertising students' college courses are in the liberal arts -- precisely because Russian, history, anthropology, the sciences, etc., really are important to the kind of well-rounded mind that a successful advertising career demands. If job placement, industry awards and acceptance into competitive graduate programs are any indication, it's working.

Students at VCU, and many other programs, can be proud of spending their undergraduate years studying advertising. My guess is that most of them already find what they do more interesting and personally rewarding than any other career choice. Maybe that'll save them a few years on a tugboat.

Will Sims
Associate professor
VCU Advertising
Richmond, Va.

Quit making excuses about ROI

RE: Phil Johnson's "What's the ROI of Putting On Your Pants in the Morning?" (AdAge.com, Oct. 20). Clearly marketers should put their pants on before they catch the train to work each day. Otherwise they'll wind up in jail. But a lot of marketers invest their company's money in a way that, with any other discipline, would also wind them up in a small cell -- right next to the overexposed commuter.

With the marketing discipline, it's not unusual to invest $100 million-plus dollars a year for a company and not know if marketing returned more than the $100 million invested.

Look at any other discipline for a contrast. For example, imagine that your company hired an investment manager, and entrusted to him $100 million a year, and the investment manager said after a few years: "We don't know if we generated positive returns. But we showed excellent judgment . . ."

What would happen?

You got it: Club Fed.

Marketing is an investment, with a calculable return, and it needs to pay out, just like other company investments. Marketers have increasing advantages and importance in the modern corporation; they have distinct advantages in creating profit and growth.

I'll go so far as to join the marketing chorus that the discipline excels in qualities like judgment and risk-taking.

But where I disagree is that marketers can keep leaning on these qualities as an excuse for not even knowing if they're near break-even. That's a crime.

Greg Banks
Javelin Marketing Group

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