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Advertising agency executives have long complained about the difficulty of finding well-rounded copywriters, art directors and account directors.

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va., hopes to make that recruiting task easier when it graduates its first class of master's in advertising students in the spring of 1998.

VCU is spending $1.2 million to launch the VCU Ad Center, a two-year graduate program that's set to enroll its first 60 students in September 1996. A joint venture of VCU's communications and business schools, the Ad Center hopes to supply the industry with creatives and account managers who understand not only ad strategy but all agency disciplines.

"Craft schools have done a spectacular job of cranking out young kids with great portfolios, but there is a shortage of young kids with the thinking that goes beyond superficial aspects of execution," said Harry Jacobs, chairman emeritus of the Martin Agency, Richmond, and a member of the center's board.

VCU surveyed 139 senior ad executives around the country on what they look for in new hires. "Marketing ability" ranked near the top for account service, copywriting and art direction.

The program will offer classes in marketing, communication arts and design, mass communications history, theory, ethics and research. Agencies in Richmond and around the country will offer internships to Ad Center students and will offer students at the center chances to work on real client projects.

In effect, the program will custom-produce the equivalent of MBAs for the ad industry, said board member Burt Manning, chairman-CEO of J. Walter Thompson Worldwide. "If it works, other schools will then try to compete with VCU, creating a good stream of talent for the industry long-term," he said.

The makeup of the center's board underscores the fact that many agencies are hungry for well-rounded recruits. Jay Chiat, founder of TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., and Dan Wieden, president of Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., are among 10 prominent agency VPs or presidents on the board.

Diane Cook-Tench, associate professor of mass communications and a former senior VP-creative supervisor at the Martin Agency, is the center's director.

Richmond agencies played a key role in launching the center, providing leadership and more than $500,000 in pro bono services. Ms. Cook-Tench credited Tim Finnegan, chairman and CEO of Arnold Finnegan Martin, Richmond, for being the catalyst.

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