Want to Reach More Students? Teach the Teachers

We Must Connect Directly With Professors to Improve Their Perception of Advertising

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For years now, we all have acknowledged the need to change the way we pique interest among, and acquire fresh talent from, top college students.

I would like to offer another solution: Influence the influencers by educating the educators. We need to directly connect with the professors, provide them with exposure to our business and improve their perceptions of advertising.

I recognize that part of the problem is that the challenge is far too large for any one agency to tackle on its own. A pooling of resources and a unified front will be required to really make change happen. Fortunately, there is already an organization with the requisite infrastructure in place to make it all possible. That organization is the Advertising Educational Foundation.

The AEF is a nonprofit foundation whose mission is to work toward enriching the understanding of advertising as an essential component of our economic and social system.

This is necessary because many students only hear about advertising in the context of reinforcing stereotypes such as conspicuous consumption, creating false demand for goods and negative gender portrayal. In fact, many of the professors from the top liberal arts universities view advertising as a "trade" and a profession appropriate for a certain type of person who appreciates glitz over substance.

We need to dispel the antiquated notions about our industry by firsthand experience.

The AEF has one such arrangement -- the Visiting Professor Program. The VPP is a highly competitive, two-week fellowship for professors of advertising, marketing, communications and liberal arts. A professor can be placed with an ad agency, marketing or communications company or other media company depending upon his area of interest.

The VPP gives professors a greater understanding of the industry. They go back to campus able to give students a more accurate, and often more positive, image of the business. Meanwhile, host companies have an opportunity to develop closer ties to academia -- and offer instructors real-world insight into our fast-changing industry.

This past summer, Deutsch hosted Natalie Tindall, who teaches PR at Georgia State University. She described her experience as "a fantastic opportunity to build a rapport with industry leaders." She was able to "understand what they want in new hires" and "catch up at a time when strategic communication is merging and changing at such a fast rate in the real world."

But there is one problem. Last year, 75 professors from top schools submitted applications to the AEF. Only 18 agencies participated. That's 57 missed opportunities.

We need the industry to step up, engage, and commit to hosting professors.

And we need to leverage the AEF's Visiting Professor Program by significantly ramping up participation.

We all know the power of word of mouth. The professors' influence on the student body makes a difference.

Linda Sawyer is CEO-North America at Deutsch.

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