Fourteen months after the Association of National Advertisers issued a scathing report highlighting academia's lackluster role in preparing students for jobs in the industry, its ANA Educational Foundation (AEF) says it's making inroads into fixing the problem.
The report had found that universities bear much of the blame, with outdated curricula and a lack of real-world preparation. But the AEF now says there's growing interest within the industry, and colleges, in several programs it has to get schools and students up to speed: These efforts, known as Pathways 2020, include more emphasis on bringing professors into agencies and marketers to advance their own learnings; increasing the number of executives who visit campuses; and, importantly, a summer internship program, which launched this year.
"It's frankly been shocking to see the eroding quality of interns that are coming through," says Bill Imada, chairman of Interpublic-owned multicultural agency IW Group and a member of the AEF board. "We're definitely seeing people that are coming through the door that cannot write." And larger agencies often scoop up the best talent, he says
The internship program, Marketing and Advertising Education (MADE), developed with input from companies including IBM, Mastercard, Verizon, Ogilvy and McCann, has a rigorous submission process. Early evidence suggests it's working. IW Group's summer intern, from Chapman University in California, "is an exceptional writer and a confident speaker and presenter," says Imada. IBM, meanwhile, was so pleased with its intern that it gave her a job, says Ann Rubin, IBM's VP of corporate marketing and an AEF board member.
The AEF wants to put 1,000 students through the internship and other "immersion" programs, such as member-only conferences the AEF began holding on college campuses this year, by 2020. More than 700 applied for MADE this year, with 32 securing spots at 29 companies. The program hopes 50 companies will offer MADE internships in summer 2019.
The AEF has made other inroads into increasing the interactions between academia and real-world companies. The lack of such cross-pollination in general, not just via the AEF, is an issue that concerns many professors.
"There's some disconnect between academia and the industry," says Mindy Welch. The associate professor of marketing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor entered academia seven years ago after working as a creative services manager at Scott & White Health, a Texas health-care system. (Her first move, she says, was to put more real-world experiences into the curriculum, such as having students craft three-year strategic marketing plans for local businesses to emphasize long-term planning.)
The AEF's goal is to have 1,000 executives make on-campus visits by 2020 (so far this year, there have been 250, up from about 150 a year ago, it says) and 1,000 professors engaged in on-site industry experiences and visits. Other programs the AEF offers to professors include roundtables with practitioners, and an annual colloquium run by the AEF academic journal Advertising and Society Quarterly.
"It seems that every time I go out, I'm learning something new that, frankly, didn't exist before," says Jef Richards, who teaches in Michigan State University's advertising, and public relations department and who has visited agencies including Leo Burnett, Doner and Campbell Ewald. He's boosted his knowledge, he says, about everything from "analytics to geofencing."
Auditing a class
At Loyola University Chicago, replicating the real world includes getting real about deadlines.
"Done and delivered is better than perfect and late," says Stacy Neier Beran, a senior lecturer in the university's Quinlan School of Business. This semester, her marketing research students are preparing RFIs, RFPs and campaigns for BMO Harris Bank and for a Chicago Fair Trade coffee line. The marketers review the work.
To help create an authentic work environment, students gather in Loyola's Schreiber Center in downtown Chicago instead of meeting in a lecture hall. There, in the tech hub, they learn how to use programs such as IBM's SPSS statistical analysis software. On other days, teams of students congregate at conference tables, often with their heads buried in their laptops, communicating via Slack. It doesn't get more real-world than that.