Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What the hell are they teaching you?

The other day I had the pleasure of having coffee with a 20 year old advertising student that emailed me asking for some guidance. He was troubled. Not with the industry and its current state but with the school he has attended. A 2 year advertising program at a college that has basically prepared him for absolutely nothing.

I asked him about the curriculum and what he told me left my mouth hanging open.
They are teaching old school methodology. Concept driven drivel on generic products that have been done to death year after year since the late eighties. How original…lets create a new print concept for a hot sauce. It doesn’t matter that 30,000 before you also have an ad like this in their book, or that agencies (in the past) have won numerous awards for this client. You are sure to one-up them.

I asked the student about interactive and what courses he was taking?
Blank Stare.
I asked him about social media and what they have touched on?
Blank Stare.

“This is the problem” he stated. “I don’t think they are preparing us for what we need to succeed in this industry”.

He is right. Advertising today is not about creating a billboard for a hot sauce. Advertising today is about creating what is right for the client. And every one of them is different. If the client is best served by an ad campaign on a social networking site, then you do an ad campaign that will be successful on a social networking site.
They aren’t touching on web design programs? Not even one day on the basics?
Nearly every creative want-ad in the careers section of industry magazines (in today’s market) wants an interactive art director.

Many schools need to wake up and stop taking student’s money with the false promise of careers in this industry. The curriculum needs to be updated every few years with a focus of what is new and what is coming. Not what was and is now going.

According to this student, the instructors also persuade them to take on spec work for clients to help build their portfolios. This is not the first time I have heard this. In a recent comment on one of my past blog posts, the writer states…

“What really frustrated me was how the teachers at my school would encourage us to take jobs from "good clients" at a ridiculous price to "make our names". I think our teachers weren't aware that it didn't work like that anymore”.

To sum up, what I have seen (time and time again) in meeting with graduating students is that many schools are taking their money, the instructors are tired designosaurs teaching what they knew back when they were at the heights of their careers (decades ago), and they are instilling in these kids a low sense of self-worth. The very people that are supposed to be preparing their students for a successful career in this industry are contributing to the demise and immorality that has taken over through spec work, contribution to contests, and working for little to no money with the hope that somebody may take notice down the road.

Very nice.

If I were to teach (and I have thought of doing this many times), my course would focus on real world business preparation. Many end up freelancing (in one form or another) so I would teach them the basics. How to write a proper proposal. How to create a proper contract and invoice. How to prepare for taxes. Things that hold up in this business. I would prepare students for the real world. No sugar coating. I’d even give a lesson on how to collect from a deadbeat client. If I was to have them work on a client, I’d pick some obscure start-up and have them start from the bottom up.

The last thing I would have them do is create an ad for a generic client, in a tired medium, and tell them to get out there and sell themselves short. If you’re going to teach concepts, make the students adapt their work into executions for different mediums available in today’s world. The ad for hot sauce should not just be a billboard, it should also be applied into some form of a promotion utilizing the internet. It should involve different applications and mediums for a complete execution.

Students, research the school you choose. Research how many graduates got hired in their respective field. Research the backgrounds of the instructors. Where do they stand in the industry right now? Choose your school the same way you would choose your spouse.

Very carefully.

Because before you know it, the only thing you’ll be able to do with that hot sauce ad is identify the product easily in the supermarket.

Until next time, keep dreaming.


Creative Beard said...

Well stated. I would like to see you expand upon your would be course through the social media outlets you employ. Far too many creatives are unprepared for the career they embark on and it doesn't need to be that way.

Jon said...

I can't agree with you more. I recently interviewed a couple of new intern applicants and was sorely disappointed in what was being taught.

One of the more promising was a recent SCAD graduate who had excellent print design skills but nothing in web. I partially put the responsibility of the student to be aware of what they want to do, but the schools need to guide them better. No offense to those who only do print, but it's a dying medium.

Even if it wasn't, web design has increased so much that any design job you look for requires the minimum of web design and minor development.

Tony Austin said...

I use to fear students coming out out refutable schools. Over time that fear changed to laughter, then to pity, then to anger, now to outrage.

Schools from k-12 all the way up to $30,000 a year "*** *******" college are failing so bad that I truly think this country is circling the drain.

Robert Sokol said...

Rich post, Ronnie! I'm adopting designosaurs as my word of the day. Honorary mention goes to Tony Austin for his typo. It would seem more and more of these institutions are indeed refutable as schools.

c.mack said...

Im sorry Jon, but you are wrong. Print isnt a dying medium, web is a complimentary medium. Print will not die just as books and magazines didnt die when TV came. I find it slightly embarrassing that todays advocates for new media still manage to go in the same trap communication experts and other know-it-alls did 50 years ago... I totally agree with the article that the curriculum needs to be scrutinized every so often to adapt to modern life. But please, stop thinking the internet is the only fuure communication channel... Cause it aint!

Serge said...

Totally agree. The same can be said about many private colleges that offer programming, design and other related skills.

The pallet of available mediums has grown so much in the last 5 years that it changed the whole game. Ant its still evolving. I wonder if any school can keep up, especially in the light that teachers are often unemployable in the industry and thus were recycled in teaching positions...!

Great article...

I am a liar said...

Hi there, I've read your post and i was astonished of how similar is the teaching method at my city/country... (at least at college)

Fortunately I've had the chance to put myself in a good place, I've started a couple of mouths ago a 9 month course of Digital Advertising/Art Director @ LisbonAdSchool. (

This "school" works kinda like an agency, here we got the chance to practice along all the 9 month period with real clients, we even enter in some competitions... just not to say, we're taking classes with some of the best people in the business.

I'm telling you this just to make the point, that the Ad colleges should all be kinda like this "school"... and their riping off whom ever goes there with high expectations.

Once more nice post, and i hope to ear from you...

(ps. My e-mail is, in case you like to talk 'bout this further.)

Unknown said...

Don't choose Southeast Missouri State University, at least until they remove their Computer & Multimeda Graphics program from the Industrial Technology degree.

I'm taking more courses learning about OSHA than design... It's terrible. And there's no marketing, no law, no creative courses.

I'm trying to transfer out, but it's the cheapest school around... decisions, decisions, decisions.