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Miami Ad School Prepares the Next Generation for Ad Careers

  |  July 28, 2009   |  Comments

School president Pippa Seichrist discusses the School of Pop Culture Engineering's approach to careers in advertising and marketing.

In an industry that is changing and evolving faster than most agencies and brands can keep up with, the Miami Ad School has been able to stay ahead of the curve, in many ways shaping the space.

I was honored to get to teach some of the school's students last week. The school trains some of the industry's most award-winning creative talent, but what really struck me during my short stay was how progressive the teaching model is.

I also got the chance to talk with Pippa Seichrist, co-founder and president, to discuss the school's unique perspective and how it deals with an industry in flux.

Christine Beardsell: I've heard Miami Ad School described as a portfolio school in the past. But my initial impression is that you are quite different from most schools out there. Describe your program's unique format.

Pippa Seichrist: We're not a portfolio school. We're "The School of Pop Culture Engineering." Our graduates leave as digital creatives and strategists who move easily between words [and] still and moving images. They break the old boundaries of titles and media forms.

We're also different because we are not just one school; we're a network of educational options and cultural experiences in just about every major ad and design capital in the world. We give each student the chance to study advertising in up to five different cities, learning the trends and styles in each culture.

We have training programs for our students inside agencies, including CP+B, R/GA, Lowe, Dieste, Iris, PIC, Bureau Pindakaas, and Ogilvy. In addition to great training, our students graduate with real-world experience and a network of industry contacts.

CB: Since you started the school in 1993, what have been the biggest changes you have seen in the advertising, content, and media spaces, and how does your school adopt to those changes and prepare students for the real world?

PS: In the past, brands talked at consumers who could only look at TV commercials, ads, and billboards. The brand/consumer relationship was very one-sided. Everyone in the ad industry was trying to create the wittiest, most beautiful, star-studded, and special-effects-filled ad in an effort to get the consumer's attention. It was like a boy showing off...to get a girl's attention.

These days the advertising industry has so many more tools to help us build real relationships with people because of all the new forms of media and how they can be used together. Consumers are now participants that can interact with brands and even help shape them. It's an exciting time.

CB: I recently wrote about converging roles in advertising. How do you see roles changing in the space and in what way?

PS: Today there is an even greater need for art directors, copywriters, designers, planners, and media folks to be renaissance people. There is so much discipline crossover needed to create great work. The soul of an idea may be in the media or in the strategy and not in the creative execution. And everyone needs to be facile with the technology.

CB: How does Miami Ad School react and shape its program based on these evolving roles?

PS: The lines are really blurred between the disciplines now. All of our students take a digital core of classes geared to prepare them for the new realities of the business. Some of these classes include Ideas First, Thinking Strategically, Digital Photography, Interactive Concepting, Video Storytelling, Flash: Design and Sound, Everything Is Interaction, and Social Media. Students also take concentrations in their particular fetishes. For example, copywriters take Standup Comedy, while art directors take Visual Impact and designers take Vector Imaging.

CB: In your opinion, how has the explosion of online video content and user-generated participation affected the way students need to think about marketing and creating experiences?

PS: You can't one-stop-shop and find a brand's target audience. They're not all watching "The Waltons" at 8 on Tuesdays. Instead they are everywhere but no one place at the same time. Brands now have to cover a lot of territory but usually without a bigger budget. Our students know that people have so many media and entertainment choices, the messages they create have to engage the consumer; and if we're lucky they'll share the brand message with their friends.

There are a lot of places a brand can be: mobile, YouTube, Twitter, video games, viewer-created content, Facebook, apps, traditional media...but there usually isn't one quick way to reach the majority of people who might be interested in a brand. Our students concept for any medium that makes sense for the brand and the brand's message (because a phone app for Metamucil might not make sense).

CB: What hasn't changed over the last 15 years? Any fundamentals and basic philosophies you feel will always be at the core of your program?

PS: It's as important as ever to brainstorm a good idea, tell a good story, and package these in a way that looks good and is easy for people to understand. These skills can be applied to anything: print, TV, Web sites, video games, online videos, products...In some ways, the business is fundamentally the same. For example, branded content is what everyone is talking about now, but it really isn't a new idea. The soap companies created radio soap operas 70 years ago, before most of us were even born. But in other ways, the business has totally changed. There are so many more things we as marketers need to know and understand, like media options, applications, real-time analytics, and the way brands and people can interact.

CB: What's the one thing you hope students get out of attending your school that they can't get anywhere else?

PS: We want our graduates to have a solution-based mindset, not a portfolio mindset. In other words, they can solve problems with whatever discipline, channel, skill, or craft deemed necessary rather than trying to just fill a book with beautiful print ads. They can dig out the latest trends that influence what people all over the world are buying, using, wearing, eating, drinking, singing, playing, dancing, driving, saying, telling, viewing, and making.

They've learned to bring solutions to the table because they have a global view and understand how to shape culture.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christine Beardsell

As vice president, group creative director of Digitas's brand content group, The Third Act, Christine works across all brand teams to lead the creative innovation of motion media content. She has a unique and varied set of skills that weaves media, tech, and channel smarts to inform deep interactive experiences for clients such as American Express, Samsung, and IHG. At the advent of the digital revolution, she established Digitas' Final Cut Pro media lab and has since scaled it across offices.

Christine has a BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, where she focused her studies on motion media, interactive design, and photography. Her work in the industry has contributed to top honors including silver and bronze Cyber Lions, a Caples Award, an OMMA Award, New York Festivals Awards, ECHO Awards, and The One Show Awards.

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