Future rests with best of best

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The advertising industry can learn a lot from realtors' focus on location, location, location. The key to our industry's future is talent, talent, talent. For years, everyone has acknowledged that the industry is suffering from a minority of star talent, yet we have no trouble filling jobs-there has always been an abundance of resumes and far more candidates than open positions. However, of more concern are the resumes that are not reaching our HR departments. We are simply not attracting the best of the best.

While starting salaries vis-a-vis compensation garnered by other career choices (i.e., finance, consulting) may be one factor, I was greatly disturbed to learn that the compensation issue is negligible when compared to the bigger issues that exist. On campuses across the country, the discourse between academics and students surrounding advertising and its contributions to our society and culture is less than favorable. Of equal concern is that advertising, as a career, is framed poorly and as a result attracts the wrong type of students. There is a real lack of understanding of advertising's influence in society, and the widely held stereotypes about the industry deter the most qualified students from entering the field.

The Advertising Educational Foundation (more on what the AEF is doing later) recently conducted a survey among university professors to understand how advertising is taught in American colleges and universities. The discussion about advertising tends to center around how it influences societal stereotypes regarding gender, ethnicity and sexual preferences, to name a few, and contributes to consumerism in negative ways: "promotes materialism"; "excessive consumption"; "unhealthy body images"; etc. Professors do not cast advertising as an undesirable career per se; however, the shallow depiction of advertising a la the stereotypes of the profession from American films, TV and books (glad-handing, media-hungry, less than intellectual), influence the type of students that tend to self-select. Many professors report that advertising is viewed as a glitzy, chic career that attracts a certain type of student dazzled by celebrity and creativity. One seasoned professor said, "It seems like a fluffy occupation filled with puffery, in which you have to close your eyes about a lot of things. Our students would never rank it as high as medicine, law, things like that. It seems more like a trade than a profession to many people in this university." From one Ivy League professor: "A trade. Glitzy."

trickle-down effect

It's not surprising that these misperceptions filter down to students and influence the caliber of talent that we are attracting to our industry. It's apparent how misunderstood this profession (not trade) is among academia. It is essential that we communicate a more accurate depiction of the business and the fiercely strategic, complex, business-oriented, financial nature of the work that we do (and certainly far from glitzy and glamorous).

Clearing up these misconceptions and facilitating a more well-rounded discourse oncampus is key to the future of our industry.

About a year and a half ago, I was recruited to join the board of the AEF. The board consists of accomplished advertising, media and marketing executives such as David Bell, Shelly Lazarus, Nina DiSesa and O. Burtch Drake, as well as professors from top universities across the country. Created in 1983 as a nonprofit operating foundation, the AEF serves as a link between academia and the ad industry by initiating dialogue and providing much-needed perspective and accurate information to help correct misconceptions and elevate the status of our industry. Specifically, the AEF is the most comprehensive resource for students and educators on the role of advertising in society, culture, history and the economy. And, through programs such as the Inside Advertising Speakers Program, where advertising execs and marketing pros discuss topics such as gender portrayal in ads on campuses, or the Visiting Professor Program, which offers on-the-job experience for professors, or aef.com, which serves as one of the top resources for professors and students for educational information related to advertising, AEF is the catalyst for changing opinions about advertising-one professor and one student at a time.

It's ironic, but most marketing professionals remain unaware of this foundation-a foundation that exists solely to benefit our industry by improving the status of our profession and, ultimately, the quality of prospects interested in advertising as a career. For this reason, I wholeheartedly believe the AEF is a cause we all need to better understand and actively support.

year-round battle

At Deutsch-and I suspect at many other agencies-we have been challenged in our recruitment efforts to identify special talent. We believe it all boils down to the quality of talent, and that has been the most crucial underpinning of our success. This year is no different than any other for Deutsch, in that we will continue to focus on identifying, nurturing and cultivating the right people. It's a year-round battle for which we all must assume responsibility and ownership. The AEF provides a much-needed voice on the university campus, which is becoming increasingly vital to our ability to improve these misperceptions and influence the quality of candidates that our industry attracts. This is not some lofty crusade. It's about a real business problem affecting all our businesses everyday. Every agency and individual should feel an obligation to participate by volunteering time and/or donating dollars to support these grassroots programs, including the AEF Web site.

To the ivory-tower professor (who has seen too many episodes of "Bewitched"), advertising may seem like a fluffy occupation filled with puffery. To those of us in the trenches, we have selected advertising over professions such as medicine or law because we are passionate about this energizing, dynamic business. We feel rewarded by creating strategic-marketing programs that connect brands with consumers and produce solid business results. We simply cannot look the other way when it comes to talent, because we realize advertising, like any other dynamic business, has always been (to paraphrase a resonant piece of communication) "about the people, stupid."

About the author

Linda Sawyer is managing partner-chief operating officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, and a member of the Advertising Educational Foundation board of directors.

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