What brings an advertising executive into the industry is one of the first things that we ask when meeting with candidates. How they select this industry or how the industry selects them offers great insight into what works and doesn't work in building a great talent pool. Not surprisingly, there is a wide spectrum in the points of entry (an internship, a class, a speaker, the applicant's curiosity and passion for advertising, a career fair, etc.).
Not surprisingly, what we do not hear are candidates with role models or contacts in the business.
While the industry internship programs are vitally important, they are not and cannot be considered the only point of entry into the industry when at most 10% of the candidates in our extensive database entering the industry come through the highly competitive American Advertising Federation and American Association of Advertising Agencies multicultural internship programs.
With low retention levels (a hot topic for another day) in the industry -- particularly for multicultural talent -- the need to build a strong entry-level pool of talent and nurture that talent from the beginning becomes even more vital.
Rethink College Recruitment Strategy
The AAF National Student competition, the low involvement of multicultural students with student-level Ad Clubs and discussions with agency recruiters show that the traditional advertising feeder schools are not attracting multicultural students. It is time to aggressively and strategically marshal our brand-building skills and couple them with the support of successful multicultural talent in the industry to build some excitement and enthusiasm for entering the advertising industry and promote the career opportunities. Just showing up on career day is not going to work.
Take a Cue From the Financial Industry
The financial industry has done a great job of strategically targeting multicultural talent by building on career selling points. The students attracted to the advertising industry are quite different and looking for a career that is far more fun, energetic and creative. The ad industry is currently competing with the entertainment, TV and film, Internet, fashion and media industries for great talent. The lack of awareness of the career opportunities and the agency "brands" doing great work means that the industry is losing out on great talent currently seduced to work in other creative industries.
What Else Can We Do About It?
Let's put some great minds together and create a consortium of industry associations, include progressive and innovative agencies and holding companies and come up with a strategic plan that is funded as if we really intend to be successful. Let's create an integrated and strategic approach to relationship building with college staff and students.
Look beyond the same handful of colleges and target high-potential schools (high percentage of African American and Hispanic students) that attract creative, high-energy, smart marketing thinkers. Create a holistic long-term approach of selling the career benefits, building relationships and bringing in successful talent for the students to meet. A glance at past and current top-talent school trends can provide some direction.
Let's not forget about the great schools in our own backyard. I often meet extremely talented candidates from NYU, Pace, Columbia, Baruch, etc. There are some extremely successful agencies that have done a great job of tapping into this talent. (I won't give away their secrets!)
The AAF, which has done a great job of putting amazing student programs together, is embarking on the National Conference in Atlanta in 2008. The conference offers the perfect opportunity to generate some momentum in the hometown of the largest concentration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as regular schools with a high concentration of African American students. Let's step up and do what we do best: research, strategically plan, position, sell, create excitement and creatively work towards making a difference by building awareness.