A Little Enlightenment

Several weeks ago, I had the honor of copresenting a lecture called “The Future of Wireless in the Advertising Industry” with a coworker.

The setting was perfect: a fine institute of higher learning. The seminar was packed to the gills with 60 advertising majors. I was going to revisit the fire, the excitement, the thirst for knowledge I found when attending Boston University a few years ago. Or was it 1981? I forget.

I kept telling my copresenter, a hopeless techie, “Now you’re going to see why I love this business. Just wait for the witty repartee and intelligent questions.”

Can you see the disappointment just waiting to occur? They weren’t on the edge of their seats. Some strolled in, put their feet up on the chair in front of them, slunk down, and assumed the position.

We launched a spine-tingling presentation to almost zero interest on the part of the students. Some 20 minutes into this, I realized something had to be done. I summoned 10 of them and issued a creative “adult diaper” assignment, breaking them into teams and sending them out of the room for a few minutes to plan their presentations. After some good thinking and a lot of laughter, I asked the revived students the following:

  • Name two McCann-Erickson accounts.
  • Who is Hershel Gordon Lewis?
  • Who knows anything about Dreamweaver (not the Gary Wright song)?
  • Who spends 10 minutes online each day reading Adweek, Ad Age, or The ClickZ Network?
  • Name two big international accounts that are in play right now.

I got the deer-in-headlights look. These students are so focused on doing cool print ads, they don’t consider that someday soon they’ll be designing for personal digital assistants (PDAs) in addition to billboards. Here are some ideas I gave them to help them become Enlightened Ad People:

  • Scan Web sites and publications that reflect the general population. Hard to believe, but not everyone in the world waits breathlessly for the next issue of Communication Arts (CA) and HOW. Fire up your browser (or go to a bookstore) and take a look at Modern Maturity, Reader’s Digest, Cat Fancy, and Popular Mechanics. Find out what’s going on in Redbook and O, The Oprah Magazine. You’ll get a better idea of what your target audience is thinking about by scanning these magazines than by scanning industry publications.
  • Read industry magazines. Once you’ve scanned the general interest magazines, make sure you know what’s going on in the industry. AdWeek, AdAge, and ClickZ are great places to start. Find out what accounts are in play, what executives are moving from agency to agency, and what the general mood of the industry is. Knowing the lay of the land is critical if you want to talk intelligently about advertising and marketing.
  • Rewrite and rework bad ads. I’m certainly not advocating stealing ideas from CA or HOW (nobody would do that!), but this is a great creative exercise. Grab terrible ads from your email, the Web, newspapers, magazines — there’s no shortage of ’em. Rewrite the headline. Come up with a better graphic. Create a Wall of Fame in your office or dorm room. Think creatively all the time, and you’ll channel that creativity more easily when you need it.
  • Have some idea of how to use Dreamweaver. If you find it distasteful somehow to learn how to build a Web site, get off your high horse. Understanding the basics will show your colleagues you respect their talents and have taken the time to learn a new skill. It comes in handy when you’re writing or designing for the Web to know what the medium can, and can’t, do.
  • Wireless is the future. Get used to it. Japan and Europe are so far ahead of America in wireless applications and adoption, it’s embarrassing. If you don’t understand the basics of 802.11, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), local area networks (LANs), and Short Message Service (SMS), you’ll have to very soon. Some great resources are these sites on news and technology and ClickZ’s sister site dedicated to wireless advertising, WirelessAdWatch.com. I’m certainly no wireless expert, but I spend a little time trying to learn about what much of the world takes for granted.
  • Get involved in local ad clubs. Almost every city has an advertising club where you can network and share stories and resumes. Get involved. The way you learn about new jobs and opportunities is by being out there. I’m not suggesting you spend 10 hours every week pressing the flesh at meetings, but you should have an idea of who the ad leaders are in your area.
  • Donate your genius. Catch-22: You can’t put a book together without a job, and you can’t get a job without a book. OK, so donate your time to a charity that could use some great marketing. The down economy hit charities fast and hard. Offer to help rewrite ads and brainstorm ideas. You’ll build a book while doing some good.

If you’d like to know more about our wireless presentation or the Adult Diaper game, let me know.

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