Rick Boyko, Managing Director, VCU Adcenter n Carol Vick Bynum, Associate Director/Graduate Services Director, The Creative Circus n Mikio Osaki, Chair, Advertising Department, Art Center College of Design n Melinda Mettler, Director, Academy of Art University School of Advertising(AAU) n Pippa Seichrist, President, Miami Ad School n Richard Wilde, Chair, Advertising and Graphic Design Department, School of Visual Arts
What are the most important things your school has done to prepare graduates for the next era in advertising communications?
VCU: The Adcenter constantly monitors the industry and adapts the curriculum to reflect the changes affecting the business. For example, with the influx of new media, we created a new track for creative media planning to prepare future media planners for everything from product placement to blogs to embedded content; we also added a class in branding and nontraditional advertising where students must solve major branding challenges by considering all consumer touchpoints.
Creative Circus: We strongly encourage our students to break free from traditional solutions, media and technologies. We regularly expose the students to industry leaders through our speaker series. The students can ask questions of the people that are truly shaping the industry. Also, our instructors are all working creatives, so they bring a real-world focus to the classroom that is never the same from one quarter to the next.
Art Center: The most important thing about our advertising program is the trans-disciplinary focus in the students' core studies. We have successfully incorporated our advertising majors in a course of study with other departmental disciplines-graphics, film, photo, industrial design and illustration-as well as liberal arts and sciences.
AAU: One of the cornerstones of AAU's drive to prepare our students for the next era is that we hire only faculty who are very successful current advertising professionals. We are hiring people who are on the cutting edge of the industry, and who are often the people creating the cutting edge. Thus, the best and the brightest of today's advertising industry train the best and the brightest of tomorrow's advertising industry.
Miami Ad School: To prepare our students for the real world, Miami Ad School developed a program called Quarter Away. This program allows second-year students to experience up to four actual advertising communities. In these cities, students take classes in actual advertising agencies. The instructors, who are all working professionals, have the students working on portfolio-building assignments and on live briefs. Students also have the option to intern. The school locates over 190 internships a year for the students. While interning, our students have won four Cannes Lions and created the first-ever global TV spot for McDonald's.
SVA: The "next era" of advertising is very similar to every other era of advertising; the idea is everything. Strategic thinking is our mantra. The big difference in this "new era" is that now, a concept with legs can be effectively expanded into new areas including, interactive, wildpostings, web, etc.
What are the most important criteria for agencies when they're looking at prospective new talent?
VCU: Agencies want employees who are able to consider the client's challenges from many different angles (e.g., packaging, store experience, product design, distribution, etc.) Agencies want talent that not only can adapt to change but actually embrace it. That said, agencies need to be more open-minded and accepting of books that include nontraditional media in addition to the conventional print campaigns.
Creative Circus: It's always been ideas, but now they're the most important things in a book. Craftsmanship is a given. The computer has made everyone able to put elements together on a page. But if it doesn't have an easily understood idea, it doesn't matter how slick it is.
Art Center: Agencies still look for basic conceptual skills combined with diversity in strategic problem solving.
AAU: Today's agencies are looking for advertising professionals who are able to take an idea and blow it out to all media. Agencies are scrutinizing portfolios very closely to determine if graduates have this combination of technical and creative skills.
Miami Ad School: Agencies need graduates that are prepared to do the work the day they start. I remember an agency saying they need grads to be "instant profit centers." Graduates must have a strong work ethic, passion for the business and a flexible personality. A book with terrific print ads and TV spots will stand out, but it'll be even better if the campaign ideas are so big they incorporate gear, direct mail, guerilla and an online game.
SVA: The top creative ad agencies are looking for grads who aren't afraid to put themselves into their work and who solve problems through their own aesthetic. Their aim is to communicate and entertain while creating a sense of energy.
What if any change have you noticed in terms of the students who are seeking a career in advertising?
VCU: The average age of Adcenter students has dropped. Eight years ago, it was 28; now it's 25. We see more students coming straight from undergraduate programs because they recognize that schools like the Adcenter are becoming "price of entry" for the industry. Our students are incredibly passionate about entering the business, and they're willing to spend six years in school preparing for a career in advertising. We continue to seek out a diverse student body because we believe the industry continues to struggle with diversity.
Creative Circus: More students seem to be coming from other industries. That may be a good shift; it adds some unpredictability and new angles of thought. Many of the students are older and look at ad school as part of their career vs. more school and an excuse to party. That's the way it should be, and it makes for more polished work across the board. But we always stress that our graduates, whether they are designers, photographers, copywriters or art directors, are nice people. They're entering a collaborative, intense environment where being nice is almost as important as being good. Maybe even more so.
Art Center: Today, in our program have very diverse and open-minded interests. There was a time when most graduates sought out careers in agencies; but we find that with the design education experience offered here, they not only seek out traditional opportunities but find they can fit into various other communications venues.
AAU: We are seeing a sharp increase in the number of entrants in our Masters and certificate programs. Current professionals are realizing that they need to bolster their advertising-specific education in order to be successful in this field. We are also seeing an increase in the number of minorities and women enrolling in our programs.
Miami Ad School: Today's students are not just focused on working in an ad agency. They're open to all sorts of career options that use creative problem-solving skills. While most grads do decide to work in an ad agency, others are offered positions in entertainment companies like VH1, ESPN, MTV and HBO. More-independent creative entrepreneurial possibilities also exist; for example, one student recently launched a T-shirt line that is now nationally distributed.
SVA: In the past few years, many portfolios have all visual solutions. The biggest fear students have is how the industry will respond to the work, especially the new work that speaks specifically to their generation.
We sent a survey out to heads of creative departments and hiring managers at leading advertising agencies, requesting their top three advertising and design schools. We then weighted them according to ranking to determine the top five schools. In addition, we asked survey respondents to give each of their top three schools a rating of 1 to 10 in the categories of grad quality, program quality and innovation. The averages appear in the charts above.