Some of this year’s advertising graduates may be as interested in writing app code as they are ad copy. And that could be good news for digital shops and technology vendors looking for new talent.
Andrew Ferenci is director of product development at Buddy Media, which recently purchased his analytics company Spinback. He said grads who want to combine their passions for advertising and emerging technology should look to iPhone/iPad app startup companies to get their foot in the door. The 24-year-old exec ended up meeting three future business partners at the University of Wisconsin before launching Spinback last fall.
“There is a heavy focus on product now for students,” Ferenci explained. “You don’t have to be a hardcore programmer anymore to get a simple app up and running. It’s kind of easy to create advertising campaigns and partake in the app creation itself.”
Ashley Sommardahl is assistant director of student affairs for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter, the school’s graduate program for advertising and communications. When she joined VCU’s staff five years ago, students weren’t aspiring to land in cutting edge digital shops.
“When I first started, I feel like everyone wanted to go the well-known traditional agencies like BBDO, Wieden + Kennedy, and JWT,” she said. “And then they’d look at the AKQAs, R/GAs, and Razorfishes of the world. The thinking was, ‘If I cannot get into Wieden + Kennedy or BBDO, I’ll go to a digital agency.’ Now digital agencies are on their radar as much as, if not more than, the traditional agencies.”
Sommardahl said the new wave of talent is also more receptive to in-house positions with brands than in past years. In the last two months, she said, recruiters for Apple, Google, Urban Outfitters, and other large companies have visited her school’s Richmond, VA, campus.
“Those types of progressive companies are making our students think, ‘Maybe I will actually go work for the client,'” she said. “I am seeing that trend as well, whereas a half-decade ago I don’t know if anyone would have considered going to work for a client.”
Sunder Narayanan is a clinical associate professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Underscoring how marketing education is increasingly emphasizing digital, the veteran instructor this fall is introducing a course, “Digital Strategic Marketing,” which is designed to quickly get students up-to-speed on the technology and current practices in the marketing field.
“We know there is a big digital convergence taking place,” Narayanan said. “So anyone who wants to have anything to do with media, e-commerce, marketing… they have to, at some level, understand digital technologies.”
BYU Portfolios Feature a ‘Pencil’
With each passing year, more ad grads enter the marketplace armed with actual digital campaign experience.
Exemplifying this idea is Brigham Young University’s Ad Lab, which took home a Pencil award from The One Show in February, becoming the first student-run project to achieve the distinction. The achievement was the culmination of a program launched eight years ago by agency vet and BYU grad Jeff Sheets. Sheets and BYU instructor Doug McKinley created a curriculum driven by campaign assignments that agencies and brands would have to pay for.
“Winning the Pencil proved our concept. It proved that it’s not just about these companies giving our kids a chance to do something and saying, “Isn’t that nice?'” Sheets said. “It actually bore out that our work can be as professional as the work agencies do.”
Agencies typically come to Ad Lab with work they don’t have time for but want to get in the can, or “backburner projects,” as Sheets calls them. His students garnered the Pencil by running a campaign for Holiday Inn while working directly with the brand’s agency, McCann Erickson.
In 2010, Holiday Inn was creating a music label for artists it utilizes in the brand’s TV spots and online videos. During the same time, the Ad Lab had been working with BYU’s admission office to throw a massive water balloon fight as a way of promoting spring and summer enrollment at the Provo, UT-based school.
McCann Erickson wanted BYU’s help in putting together a music video for singer-songwriter Kyle Andrews; and then the Ad Lab pitched filming the music video during the water balloon fight. The students orchestrated the video production soup-to-nuts, while organizing a social media plan to encourage online viral. Four-thousand people participated in the water balloon fight video, which garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube while pushing Andrews’ “You Always Make Me Smile” tune.
Sheets said his program’s “student agency” often concentrates on digital, but participants also get integrated campaign experience involving TV, radio, print, etc. Some of the other notable names the Ad Lab has worked with in recent years: Wieden + Kennedy, Nike, EA Sports, Gatorade, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Burger King, Volkswagen, Black & Decker, and Verizon.
“Students are being mentored by senior-level thinkers, as well as the client marketers,” he said. “Such professionals give feedback so the students are learning from more than their teachers and peers; they are learning from some of the best in the business.”
Priscilla Natkins is EVP and director of client services for the AdCouncil, which has turned to BYU’s program six times since 2007 to get campaigns completed. “From TV to print to banner ads to animated work, they have developed everything we need,” she said. “We give BYU modest, modest budgets. And they bring back work that is surprisingly rich and robust. I think their students are getting extremely prepared for the marketplace.”
New Generation Brings Native Digital Feel
BYU’s undergraduate program is considered by many ad talent recruiters to be an emerging player, while VCU, the Miami Ad School, Academy of Art University, University of Texas, and Fashion Institute of Technology are some of the more traditionally respected advertising education brands.
Sommardahl of VCU said students in 2011 have a more native feel for digital than previous classes or generations. These are young adults who were likely born around 1989, about six or so years before the Internet started going mainstream.
“I think in general our students are just savvy,” she said. “For them, it’s natural to use social media tools. They don’t have to force it… They can not only see the idea, but they can program it and have it sold to a client.”
When it comes to campaigns, Sommardahl said, VCU’s grad students have recently helped put together integrated efforts for NBC, Martha Stewart, Audi, Ritz Carlton, and others. “Digital and social media is loaded into everything we do,” she said. “It’s not like there’s just one class. Our students use digital and social media on every single project they work on.”
For the grads who want to cultivate creative and technological expertise, Martin Tobias, CEO of daily deals marketer Tippr, advised they take an entrepreneurial jump into the field and get their hands dirty.
“I’d tell them to start their own company,” Tobias said. “I’d tell them to build an app.”