Caroline Wellman is on a high-speed tour of the working world. At only 25, she has worked at three advertising and marketing companies on two continents in just over two years. Wellman's fast-track career is courtesy of WPP's Marketing Fellowship program, which places promising MBA and university graduates in marketing positions at WPP agencies.
The three-year fellowship is a sweet deal, especially in the depths of a marketing recession. Wellman, a graduate of Edinburgh University with a degree in history, calls it a "platinum" opportunity. "You are treated as an exotic species by the companies where you work," she says. "You are not put in a box."
WPP's eight-year-old fellowship program may be the most ambitious and exclusive among industry education efforts. Only 15-18 fellowships are given each year. More than 1,200 candidates competed for those spots in 2002.
"A key benefit is that it allows WPP to recruit the best graduates from around the world before they go into other fields," says Martin Sorrell, WPP Group chief executive.
A key benefit for participants is exposure to the best and the brightest in the business. Wellman's mentors have included top names such as Jon Steele, WPP's roving strategist, and Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, London. In her fellowship's final year, Wellman has landed the job she wants to keep, an account planner post at Berlin Cameron/Red Cell in New York, where she is working on new business and a campaign for Coca-Cola's Dasani water. Because she is a fellow, WPP pays her salary.
The caliber of the program dazzles employers. Andy Berlin, co-CEO at Berlin Cameron, says Wellman came in with "two giant ideas that were wonderful, deep and simple. She's one of the best new employees we've hired this year."
While WPP's fellowship is geared toward newbies, most education programs offered at the parent-company and network level are for existing employees—usually middle managers and senior executives. Classes and case studies teach students the nuances of integrated, multidisciplinary marketing and how to strengthen abilities in leadership, collaboration, management and decision making. The training programs tap prominent executives and retired leaders at the company as instructors and coaches. Despite the stumbling economy, insiders say training will continue to grow as long as managers need to learn how to advise clients across a wide range of marketing fields.
Company-sponsored, on-the-clock training can be quite elite. Current and former Harvard Business School professors teach executive and professional skills to employees enrolled in Omnicom Group's Omnicom University. Invited participants must make a two-year part-time commitment. Omnicom covers all other costs. More than 600 senior managers from all Omnicom divisions have graduated since the program's inception nine years ago.
Not every training program requires an intensive commitment. Omnicom's BBDO offers three- to four-day courses at four regions around the world. Called BBDO University, the program is for rising stars, says director Antony Poole. Participants can have as little as two years of experience. A newly hired account director from Prague began the courses in 1998 and today is CEO of BBDO's Prague office.
Employees in Omnicom's DDB network can take one- to three-day seminars at DDB University. The network also runs a global educational intranet called DDB Connect, which is open to all DDB employees and offers access to educational-research centers.
IPG's McCann-Erickson WorldGroup provides five-day workshops through its Human Futures Development department. HFD's global program serves about 70 senior execs a year at a single location, and its regional program trains 50-100 midlevel managers at four locations.
Among HFD's alumni is Nina DiSesa, chairman and chief creative officer of McCann, New York, who signed up in 1995 as a student. "I met our best up-and-coming people, and when we worked together afterward, we could hit the ground running," says DiSesa. "It was one of the best weeks I ever had."