The Education Gap

Without a doubt, cultivating new talent is the most pressing issue facing our industry. As we all know, we cannot move ahead without new talent and right now, there is a dearth of it-particularly in new media disciplines like interactive.

The problem begins in the universities. We are all struggling to attract the best and brightest to our industry. There was a time when advertising was considered a sexy, desirable profession. In the 1970s and 1980s, top graduates from the best colleges and universities pursued careers in advertising, fueling the industry and creating a body of work that built brands and changed the world. In the mass-media era, the lure of advertising was strong: Agencies were a great place to make one’s mark in terms of both money and cultural influence.
CM8ShowAd(“Middle”); The invention of the Web, which ushered in the era of consumer control, changed all that. As consumers gain control of the marketing landscape, advertising has lost its luster-ironic considering there has never been a better time to join the industry. As those who attended Cannes last month can attest, the diversity of work today is breathtaking. We saw campaigns that range from Dove “Evolution” to Tate Tracks to Burger King Games to Nike+. The days when award-show winners were synonymous with television spots and print ads are over. We’ve come such a long way that there is now recognition for everyone in advertising.

The shortage of talent has also driven up salaries to record levels. It’s as if we are living inside another dotcom-style bubble-minus the flocks of people migrating to our industry as they did back then. Without the inflated stock prices of those days, I can’t see us going back to recruiting parties, stock options and signing bonuses.

To change perceptions, we must begin inside the university programs from which agencies draw their talent. Whereas Goldman Sachs and McKinsey need target only one kind of student-graduates of the nation’s top MBA programs-the advertising industry must draw from sources as diverse as business schools, design schools, and specialized programs like VCU Adcenter and Miami Ad School. Digital agencies also need to target students in computer science programs as well as programs like MIT’s Media Lab and New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).

As agencies and clients, we need to take a proactive role inside all these programs if we’re going to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation.

I serve on the boards of four universities: VCU Adcenter, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (which houses ITP), Parsons School of Design and, most recently, the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. My involvement with these schools has been rewarding personally and professionally. From VCU, we recruit some of our hottest young account planners. NYU’s ITP program is the source of dozens of our top interaction designers. Our visual design department is loaded with Parsons grads. And I’m counting on the Berlin School to feed us top creative talent in the future.

By providing us with first-rate recruits, these schools are helping my agency. Coming full circle, my participation is helping them shape their curriculum to fit the needs of agencies in our new marketing era. The kinds of professionals needed today have changed dramatically in the past 10 years, but in many cases colleges and universities haven’t entirely caught up with the new reality. Just as agencies and clients have too many people working in the old marketing model, colleges have professors who use outdated methods to train the next generation of ad-industry pros.

Take copywriting, for example. Whereas copywriters in the past focused on the narrative arts associated with television and print, the next generation of copywriters needs to tackle a more diverse mix of assignments, from response-generating copy in banner ads to viral videos, Web sites and mobile campaigns. In this one area alone, there aren’t enough professors with diverse backgrounds-and the problem is replicated across disciplines like planning, design, data intelligence, media and all the departments that make up the modern agency.