The fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line. The most common path to an advertising career currently includes four years of higher education, two years of post-graduate study, at least six months of internship (after receiving a master’s degree) and more than a bit of good luck.
This describes anything but a straight line and it raises the question, “Why is the ad industry so difficult to get into?”
Here are the most pertinent reasons:
1. Most advertising undergraduate programs are inadequate.The number one reason is they have not caught up to the current way our industry operates. Second, the integration model of our industry is not being addressed in the curriculum. Third, instructors are not able to effectively teach the new skills needed.
Carolyn Hadlock, Principle and Executive Creative Director of Young and Larmore, states that even major colleges and universities with advertising programs are falling dismally short. “They don't have a good path for students to study advertising. The lack of preparation, exposure and opportunities these students are being given is antiquated. They're just not keeping pace with the marketplace.”
2.Post-graduate programs help but are not a cure.Many post-graduate degrees have been developed to meet the need of better preparing advertising students. They are beneficial to some extent. But expense makes this option impossible for many. And a majority of the programs are not vastly better than undergraduate for preparing students.
Perry Essig, Global Creative Director, TBWA/Chiat/Day sees ad graduate programs as a mixed bag. “Some schools, like VCU, do a pretty good job. However, others are just terrible. I did a portfolio review at one recently and felt awful for the students.”
David Baldwin, founder of Baldwin&, agrees with Essig’s assessment. “It’s almost an unfair comparison because most schools aren’t focused like Brandcenter or The Circus.” He also related that he hated breaking the bad news to the graduates of these unfocused programs. “The looks that come over their faces when I tell them they might have to go back to school is hard to watch,” said Baldwin.
This situation causes many that earn post-graduate degrees to discover that after six years of school and a debt well into six figures, they are still ill-qualified for the best jobs.
3. The ad industry takes unfair advantage of those starting a career.Over the last few decades, advertising has found it increasingly difficult to make the profits it once enjoyed. Our industry is not alone in this, but that’s not relevant. What is relevant is how it has affected those getting into the industry. Most new entry-level jobs are internships. Short-term, for low or no pay, these jobs further strain a person’s ability to start an ad career. There’s a lot of debate within the industry about the effectiveness of this model, both from an ethical and professional standpoint. The industry may be turning away from it, but it will be a slow, long turn.
Carolyn Hadlock believes its not a matter of taking advantage of people that is the problem. “We don't have the luxury of training young employees. Budgets are lean. Staffing is lean. It shouldn’t take six years to become qualified for this industry. Unfortunately, because education is inadequate and on-the-job training is virtually non-existent, it does.”
4. The ad industry isn’t investing in training. This is something the AAAAs brought to light in a 2011 study about losing great talent to other industries.
Kevin Lynch, Executive Creative Director of BBDO South China, says that what’s worse is that even informal mentoring has been reduced. “People who could act as informal mentors to younger people in their organization are stretched so thin, they don't have time to play that role,” Lynch said. “It’s short-sighted.”
5. Many students are not committed enough to make it in advertising. About 10 percent of the people who go to school to be in advertising actually do it for a career. This is a guess, but it’s based on 30 years of observation. This is not an industry for the faint of heart. It is not for those who want an easy gig either. You can never stop learning and growing. It’s fiercely competitive. And it has a healthy share of politics.
This lack of commitment hit a nerve with David Baldwin. “The thing that drives me crazy is when a student comes in and has no knowledge of the industry. No favorite piece of work or agency. There’s a ton of self-education that can happen if a student has a bit of moxie. When they walk in and know nothing, it shows me that maybe they’re not really into it.”
There are those entering the industries that avoid these obstacles. They do so by becoming the most desired candidate for a position. Because they are better prepared, they are in greater demand and, subsequently, they get full-time offers versus internships.
They accomplish this by approaching their education and their career with dead seriousness. They choose their educators carefully, learning from those who have succeeded in the industry. They develop a career plan and put in the extra time needed to implement it. These reasons are why I founded my company, Job Propulsion Lab. Because those who want to succeed in advertising deserve a path that isn’t a quagmire.
Originally published Feb 24, 2014 2:58:00 AM, updated June 28 2019