Should the Ad Industry Have a Certification Process?

An Interior Designer Needs a License, but Anyone With a Laptop Can Be an 'Art Director'

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Jaci Russo
Jaci Russo
Take a look around the room at your next gathering of professionals. Each of the following is classified as a "professional" based on experience, education, certifications and credentials.
  • Lawyer: college + law school + a little thing called "The Bar"
  • Architect: college + apprenticeship + test for licensing
  • Doctor: college + med school + internship + residency + lots of tests
Now, let's take a look at the training, testing and certification of an account executive, graphic designer or other agency professional. (I will pause for a moment so you can imagine the sounds of crickets breaking the silence.) Yep. All you need to call yourself an art director or copywriter is a computer, phone and a copy of "place any do-it-yourself marketing book here."

Even Realtors and interior designers require testing and certifications to practice their trade, and it just seems wrong that our industry does not require the same amount of quality control. In the end, I guess the question we need to answer should be, "Is what we do important?" How can we expect clients to respect us if we don't even take our industry seriously enough to insist on testing and licensing?

What about continuing education? Yoga teachers and speech pathologists are but a few of the professionals that are required to attend continuing-education classes to maintain their licenses. Yet advertising and marketing professionals have no such requirement. I don't think the human body has changed nearly as much as our industry in the past 10 years.

So, now the train is off the tracks. Within the industry, different companies use the terms advertising, marketing and branding very differently. Without standards, how can we expect the public to know the difference? Self-taught designers are hired by companies to create their materials and then are shocked when those materials don't help them grow their business. Every time a client hires an untrained, inexperienced person thinking it is getting an "agency" it hurts the credibility of our entire industry.

This isn't a problem that affects large agencies. A company that needs a global network would not accidentally hire a freelance designer that is posing as a full-service agency. But the clients of small agencies aren't always as savvy. And they are the ones that suffer.

I'm not the new Rodney Dangerfield complaining about a lack of respect. And this isn't about stopping competition and keeping other agencies out of the market place. The goal is to raise the bar of quality in our entire industry and create standards that will ensure better quality. I'm not sure how to fix it at this point. Who steps in to establish a plan? The government? Schools? Trade association like the 4A's or AAF? What do you think? Is this a problem in your market too?

Jaci Russo is a senior partner and brand strategist at The Russo Group in Lafayette, La.
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