AD SCHOOL REVIEW

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Here, creative recruiters relate their well-schooled opinions on the state of ad ed, what they look for in new talent, and which schools get it right. The players: Deanne McLean, creative manager, DDB/Chicago; Debbie Bougdanos, SVP/director of creative recruiting, Leo Burnett USA; Jan Jensen, creative manager, Deutsch/N.Y.; John Payne, creative manager, TBWA/L.A.; Linda Waste, creative manager, BBDO/Chicago; Monica Buchanan, VP/creative recruiter, BBDO/N.Y.; Kyle Daley, creative manager, Merkley + Partners

Do you think ad schools are keeping pace with industry changes in terms of training people for the realities of working as an ad creative today?

McLean: I think the best ones are trying to. For example, VCU delivers creatives who not only understand account planning, they've worked with them on projects. Creative Circus questions their Advisory Board yearly on how they can evolve their curriculum to be more responsive to agency's needs. And Miami Ad School's new alliance with Crispin Porter will definitely put their students in the forefront of "nontraditional advertising."

Bougdanos: The students that come from the schools know how to make ads. They have a good understanding of the process, but still seem a bit stunned with the limitations and boundaries. This is to be expected. The industry is changing on a daily basis.

Payne: I think the ad schools are keeping pace with the industry. If any thing, they're slightly ahead. The kids coming out of school are more savvy about the internet, TIVO, non-traditional media, and pop culture, than the crusty old creatives that got out of school in the 80's and 90's.

Waste: I think the schools are actually ahead of most agencies and clients in that the last year has shown a huge turn to focusing more on an idea as opposed to an execution. There is a much greater focus on new technology, web, and viral ideas, which are incredibly valuable skills that agencies are looking for. I do wonder how prepared some of the students are in the realities of getting a job in advertising. There is a real sense of entitlement with some students in the last two years. For example, we've had some entry-level positions open that would allow a young creative an opportunity to work in the creative department as an assistant art director, mount room coordinator, or junior designer. The response from some of the students was disheartening in that they many thought these jobs were below them.

Buchanan: I think the ad schools are keeping pace with the industry. In fact, some of the talent coming out of these schools is actually teaching us (e.g., they're into technology/internet, integrated marketing, etc)

What percentage of the student portfolios that you see consists mainly of print ads (with maybe a few TV scripts)?

McLean: About 90% are heavy print. 10% include some television, radio and/or ambient work.

Jensen: At least 95% of all the books I see for entry-level positions consist of print ads alone, and that's fine by me. When reviewing junior portfolios, I look for concepts and ideas over polished executions. TV is something they can learn once they get into an agency with creative directors to guide them.

Waste: I would say that 50% of the books are still just spec print ads. I am seeing more and more spec TV or TV script ideas with storyboards in addition to websites and guerilla campaigns. Those are the books that really show how a candidate thinks.

Daley: Most of the student books I see contain 5-6 print campaigns, a few one-offs, and in the case of art directors, some graphic design pieces. Few students show TV scripts and no one writes radio scripts. If I see 100 junior books a year, I'd say about 10% of them are worthy of hiring. Sadly there are probably a lot of students in the ad schools who don't have the natural abilities to be a creative.

What would you like to see more of in the portfolios you get from recent ad school grads?

McLean: Tougher assignments. Smarter humor (where are the new McElligotts?) Long copy. Television and radio scripts. Guerilla marketing ideas.

Bougdanos: The majority of the minibooks we see still follow the traditional pattern of television and print (mostly print). What I'd like to see is far more 360 thinking - fresher media neutral solutions. More holistic thinking. The interactive space is growing, and as we move into more of a one-to-one communication with the consumer, I'd like to see more ideas in this area.

Jensen: I would like to see more diversity in styles-especially with art directors. Even if the ideas are solid, when every ad looks the same I question whether or not the candidate can adapt to a variety of clients. Another thing I look for is a little personality to set that person apart from the rest. In addition to the campaigns for class projects, put in a one-off ad that speaks more to your personality and personal style. One thing to be careful of, however, is spending too much time branding your book and not paying enough attention to the actual work. There's nothing worse than seeing a portfolio that I think is really cool and interesting until I review the work itself and find it disappointing.

Payne: I would like to see more killer concepts in the books. I don't care if it's a crude pencil sketch. We need people who are great thinkers. Computer skills are important, but I would rather have a brilliant thinker that a computer whiz. The two most important qualities in a new hire are being a great creative thinker, and being hungry. By hungry, I mean someone who will bust their ass on anything that comes their way. I have no time for people who think they're above working on something. By hungry I also mean dependable. I want people who I can call on Saturday morning and have them working the rest of the weekend if necessary.

Waste: I would like the books to have personality. I see too many books that don't tell me anything about that person. A really creative, idea-driven candidate will have poured a part of themselves into their work and you can see it in their book. I'm not talking about fancy packaging and a bunch of shock value creative that shows a person is "edgy". I'm talking about telling me who you are and what your style of thinking is through what you choose to put in your book. Too many students are way too reliant on what a particular recruiter tells them should be in their book. I want them to pick the campaigns that they really believe say something about themselves. I'm not hiring a book, I'm hiring a person and I want to get to know that person when I am looking at their book.

Buchanan: I would love to hear some spec radio from junior copywriters.

Daley: I would like to see more books that stand out amongst the crowd. One criticism I have is that the schools tend to give out the same assignments to an entire class. When it comes time to look at the May graduates all of their books look the same. Each student has a campaign for canoes, Vietnam tourism and miracle grow. While there may be many creative ways to execute for these products, in the end when you are looking through piles of junior portfolios they all tend to blend into the same book and nothing stands out as unique. Personally, I like to see students who have done some work outside of the classroom assignments. I am not that interested in seeing TV scripts from entry level creatives. The TV scripts that I have seen from students usually don't help the overall presentation. I would like to see more students try to tackle radio. Its a very challenging medium and would give them an edge over the competition. Integration is another element to consider. If you really want to impress a potential employer, show that you can think beyond the print campaign. Execute a campaign idea across all mediums. This would be a good area for the schools to start doing more training in.

What do you think the best schools are in terms of the quality of graduates/work you see coming out of them? (Provide a top three if applicable)

McLean: VCU, Creative Circus and Miami Ad School are consistently producing good talent. Of the four-year schools, Syracuse University's graduation class at the School of Art and Design was a total surprise this year. They have evolved their faculty recently and you can see it in the books. Most of the books are still little raw, but conceptually very strong. And, quite a few can write great headlines! I'm ready to hire one summer intern from their program but he hasn't even finished his senior year!

Bougdanos: That changes on a yearly basis. I haven't seen one program consistently stand out above the rest. The most passionate students will do well in any program. Portfolio Center has an outstanding design program. VCU, Miami Ad School and Creative Circus are usually the top three in terms of advertising. We see a lot of interesting thinking from the University of Texas and The University of Colorado/Boulder as well. Though the books aren't quite as finished, the ideas are strong, and that's what matters.

Payne: The best schools: Creative Circus, VCU, Miami Ad School, Portfolio Center, Art Center. In that order.

Waste: I work most closely with Miami Ad School and VCU and have hired graduates of both schools.

Buchanan: Every portfolio school has its strengths. We've worked with Miami Ad School, VCU, Creative Circus and Portfolio Center, Art Center, School of Visual Arts, Adhouse and more.

Daley: I think the Miami Ad School is doing a good job in turning out students who have creative talent, a realistic understanding of the business, and have had experience working in an agency. The internship program allows students real-life practical training in a creative department. The students move around throughout the country and some even work in Europe. We have had great success with the interns we have taken on from Miami Ad School and have hired several. Creative Circus and Portfolio Center still turn out some good students, but the Miami Ad School seems to have the most visibility.

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