Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Up the Ante

I care about the up and comers. Not in a motherly type of way. I care in an honestly concerned, somewhat obsessive kind of way. Every one of us should be that concerned. The next generation of talent is who will transform advertising. It’s imperative we do everything possible to teach them, push them and guide them along the way (we may think we’re doing that already but I assure you, we aren’t).

This quote hangs in my office, “The core responsibility of management is the next generation.” We must be overly and obsessively concerned with those entering our beloved business. Otherwise any transformation this industry sees will be slow going and far less revolutionary.

As a creative recruiter, I’m drawn to entry-level talent. They have a freshness about them that’s contagious. I spend a lot of time meeting with students, speaking at schools, basically finding any way I can to help shepherd their careers. If I can affect one student‘s passion for advertising and help cultivate their talent along the way, my job is done. Being exposed to so many students, recent graduates and entry-level talent is starting raise my eyebrow in more than a few ways.

First, anyone can get an advertising degree with relative ease. Diploma in hand proves nothing about your talent. Diploma + portfolio certainly helps a creative’s cause, but what about the thousands of others who aren’t entering through a creative portal?

Now, imagine this.

Imagine if they had to pass an exam. Lawyers have to. Doctors have to. Lawyers and doctors have to prove they are worthy of the profession they are about to enter. They prove it by knowing what’s most critical about their industry. Those tests establish a minimum entry into the field. Advertising, not so much.

Heck, there are even the most basic careers you can get certified in: massage therapy, career coaching, personal training, nurse assisting. Quite the opposite: you can be in advertising and not know a click about the industry (well, I guess you could watch Art & Copy and call it a day); or not know what your production/broadcast/media departments do (trust me, the majority don’t); or not understand how agency work impacts clients’ business (frightful, yet wholly possible).

Let’s change that.

In order to transform advertising, we must change that. Let’s mandate every senior pass the “Ad Exam”. We come up with select questions about the industry: history, media and technology advances, the science and art of advertising, the finances and operations of an agency, the best and worst work, and so on. Fail? Well, study up and try again in 3 months. Students currently have no skin in the game (unless you count an upwards of 6 figure tuition bill). The Ad Exam solves for that.

Second, part of what is holding us back is a general lack of understanding, at a junior level, of how an agency operates. How can we transform advertising when a chunk of those working in it haven’t a clue how the gears work? We are so eager to make those new hires and get jobs filled, we don’t take even a minute to train them in the most basic things.

Imagine if they had to complete a residency. Again, like doctors who, after 12-16 years of school must work another 4 years completing on-the-job training. They aren’t real doctors until their residency is done. Even hairdressers have to do their fair share of shadowing, stuck in the shampoo sink for a few months before they can actually cut someone’s hair.

What if new hires spent weeks working in other departments before they were even allowed to start the job for which they were hired? Pessimists will say there’s no money for training, no time to commit, no resources to wrangle it. I say we’re raising a generation of talent that knows little about what they are doing (or worse, why they are doing it).

Let’s change that.

Let’s mandate every entry-level new hire must complete an agency residency. They aren’t promotable until they do. I know a traffic person who became an account supervisor within 3 years of starting in this business. How is this possible? A year in traffic is an excellent primer on how an agency works I agree, but getting to be an account supervisor takes years and years of experience. Someone may be good at what they do, but promoting them before they’ve had enough real-time experience is a disservice. Through residencies, we at least assure that entry-level talent has the basic tenets to use as a foundation for their career.

There is no doubt that innovations in media and technology will further transform advertising. Just look at the past 5 years and you’d agree. But, those changes cannot happen without the properly trained minds to put them to use. By upping the ante to get into the advertising game, we’d transform a whole lot more than the level of talent and creativity. We’d transform history by investing in our future.


Tom C. said...

What great ideas! Imagine how advertising professionals would be viewed by those that hire them...

Advertising agencies could land new talent that has earned every bit of trust the client places in the agency.

nik said...

Great points. As an advertising student graduating this year looking to go into account management, I completely agree. Coming from a Commerce/Management program, I had to take complete initiative in learning about this industry, by joining competitions and doing internships.

If ad school gave a certification, I think it would also attract more people to the industry. A lot of my classmates are going into accounting because of the supposed stability and prestige that the designation provides, not because they enjoy accounting.

The advertising not only needs to find a way of adapting to changing technologies, but it also needs to learn how to nurture (and keep) great talent.

jobs guide uk said...

Great post.

I think that it's fairly obvious that with the internet we are still in the 'wild west' phase, where no one quite knows what is going on. And it is 'cooler' to say things like 'ditch the resume' than to give solid advice like you give here. Especially because it can be easier and more fun to add some fancy graphics to your resume rather than do the harder, and more useful, work of tailoring your resume to the specific situation (which I think means not only industry, but company and position).