Talentworks Career Guide 2008

Reading, 'Riting And Reality

Schools Are Striving to Teach Students About a Multichannel, Digital and Consumer-Controlled Advertising World

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While many of her colleagues laid low this summer, University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Karen Cardozo decamped to Madison Avenue to spend her days meeting with copywriters and account executives, sitting in on new-business pitches, and brainstorming client campaigns for everyone from package-goods to pro bono clients at Young & Rubicam's New York office.

That's because Ms. Cardozo was one of several professors handpicked each summer as part of the American Educational Foundation's visiting-professor program. Nearly 400 professors have participated to date, spending two weeks embedded in an ad agency, marketing or media company. The premise, says the AEF, is to give instructors hands-on experience to enrich their teaching and give them more confidence and authority in the classroom.

"If it's important to provide students with some 'real world' experiences to complement their academic work, the AEF program taught me the tremendous value of doing the same for faculty, who may have spent their entire careers in academia without ever having experienced the corporate world," said Ms. Cardozo.

At the same time, students get a view into the inner workings of the industry they intend to enter. "This was enormously important for me because I've never spent an extended time inside the ad agency," said Patrick Vargas, who teaches advertising at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and also participated in the visiting-professor program this year, clocking time at Saatchi & Saatchi. "Before that I never really had a full sense of what goes on within an agency ... and what they look for in prospective employees."

Ms. Cardozo said she had the same experience. "For one thing, I now understand agency structures and divisions much better and have a very good sense of the different responsibilities of account management, creative talent or analytics and other market-research areas," not to mention "a clear idea of which student personalities and backgrounds will work best in different segments of an agency," she said.

Books down
Perhaps more important, at a time of rapid change in the ad business, the program is one way to better prepare students for advertising's new reality by bringing modern and relevant experiences into the classroom rather than relying on stale textbook examples.

Talk to agency executives -- especially at top digital and interactive shops -- and they'll tell you about one of the biggest hurdles colleges and universities must overcome now: that they are woefully out of touch with advertising today, as it increasingly grows multichannel, digital and consumer-controlled.

"While there are many wonderful teachers without major experience, it is certainly a background that I have found very helpful for students," said John Sweeney, a professor of advertising at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who entered academia following a career at Foote Cone & Belding, which has since merged to become DraftFCB. Particularly, the subtleties of the business as it is practiced can only be communicated having had real-world experience, he said.

"Our curriculum presently doesn't lend itself to digital communications," said Mr. Vargas, noting that the University of Illinois is working on updating its courses. "I think they really look up to the really big agencies ... they aspire to work at Saatchi or Leo Burnett," and not the Anomalys and Attiks of the world. Additionally, universities have a ways to go in terms of educating students about the range of careers they can pursue in the ad industry.

"There's not enough communication to students as to what jobs exist in advertising today," said Jessica Kolski, who recruits creative talent for Y&R. "Creative is kind of thrown around as just art directors or creative directors," but positions now are varied to include other vital roles such as broadcast and music producers, she said. "Unless you know someone in the industry, you don't know that those jobs exist," Ms. Kolski said. "The ad schools have perfected the print portfolio, the thing that they need to work on is more digital."

In an ideal world, many industry folks say, practitioners would have one leg in the industry and the other in academia. But attracting working ad folks as instructors, while becoming more common, isn't the norm, largely because it presents a practical financial challenge.

"As we all know, universities cannot pay much, so compared to what the industry pays, there is not much of an incentive to teach part-time unless the person does it for the love of the business," said Rick Boyko, managing director of the VCU Brandcenter in Richmond, Va.

Schools are increasingly striking a happy medium with experiential education via guest-lecture series and other regular programming that brings together top industry stars and aspiring student talent.

The VCU Brandcenter brings in guest lecturers each week as part of its Friday Forum. This fall it will play host to ad veterans including Martha Jurzynksi, account director on Goodby Silverstein & Partners' "Got Milk?"; Rebecca Van Dyck, worldwide advertising director at Apple; and Rob Feakins, president-chief creative officer at Publicis, New York. The University of Denver, Boulder, launched a new lecture series this spring, bringing students top creative talent such as Crispin Porter & Bogusky's Alex Bogusky and BBH's Kevin Roddy as guest lecturers.

To be sure, schools are striving -- and slowly, but surely, succeeding -- to prep students for real-world agency jobs, recruiters say.

'Homgenization of advertising'
"VCU and some of the other ad-specific schools are doing a really good job of producing qualified candidates, and the general universities like University of Texas-Austin, Syracuse and Delaware -- they also do a good job of realistically preparing the students for what they are about to encounter in the agency world," said Nancee Martin, worldwide talent director for Omnicom Group's TWBA.

"My beef is that we rely too much on these schools. ... It's becoming the homogenization of advertising," Ms. Martin said. "Where are the bartenders, the cab drivers, the boxers ... the people that come from all walks of life?"

Whereas agencies are simply looking for talented, diverse people with diverse skills, "given the economic climate we have now, many students mistakenly think that if they don't have that specialization in college they won't be able to break in," said Ms. Cardozo.

The reality is, they can.

"We hire from a bunch of different schools these days" and "focus less on people that are studied in advertising and more on people that are studied on communications and the internet," said Benjamin Palmer,n president-CEO of Boston-based interactive shop Barbarian Group. "I think we're ahead of the curve on this in terms of our focus on what kinds of folks we hire, and the advertising-specific schools are behind, as are the agencies."
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