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Ad Schools Are Failing the Industry and Their Students

4 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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(EDIT: Let me clarify: ideas are the most important thing for a creative to form. However, ideas are worthless without the ability to communicate through executions. Here, I'm talking about not knowing how to execute on the most relevant platforms, and instructors not being able to teach it.)

If I see another student portfolio full of nothing but spec print ads, billboards, and TV spots, I’ll punch Don Draper’s hepatitis-ridden ghost in his shriveled liver.

There are literally zero brands that advertise exclusively on print and TV anymore.

It’s not just about the medium. The industry changes pretty damn quickly. Problems arise when you, the incoming workforce, aren’t prepared for the present, much less taught to think about the future.

You know, I’ve written a lot about how to get started in the ad industry: like how to get hired, making the perfect portfolio, or the biases agencies have. But the truth is, if ad schools truly prepared you, I wouldn’t have to write any of that.

The students are unprepared.

Think about who is teaching the students. Now, think about how quickly the industry changes. See the problem?

If (emphasize if) your professors haven’t been involved in the industry in years, how do you expect them to prepare you for the present day? Spoiler: they don't.

As a student, you have a couple choices: you can either beg those who teach you to change their ways, or you can change yours.

First, figure out what’s lacking. Then, take it upon yourself to fill in the gaps.

Schools don't evolve.

Let’s look at how advertising schools are failing their students; specifically in the areas of campaign creation and industry education.

Campaign Creation

Students need to know that you can’t just make a print ad. Sure, it’s an efficient way of communicating an idea. But when was the last time any brand simply ran a campaign like that?

When we're looking at books, we can judge the ideation ability of a student. However, we can't spend years training you on how to extend that ideation to more relevant mediums. That's what school is for.

I know that print isn’t going to die completely. TV commercials aren’t going disappear. But those aren’t the growing areas of the industry. If you’re between 18 and 25, you've probably never picked up a magazine, nor do you watch live TV (and when you do, you’re on your phone during the commercials.)

Where do you spend your time? That’s where you should be creating campaigns.

It’s pretty simple. Look at your life: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram. That’s where you live. So, let that be where your ideas grow from. It may be easy to execute in print, but who cares if the idea doesn’t translate to an Instagram post. A beautifully written TV commercial is fun, but does it translate to a 10-second Snapchat ad that you wouldn’t skip. You’re supposed to be on the cutting edge of creativity, because you live on that edge.

Ad schools are there to teach you how to ideate. And they’re doing fine at that. But when it comes to execution of those ideas, they’re living in the dark ages.

Industry Education

Read anything I’ve written. Those are things that students don’t know, but agencies expect them to understand.

Entry level jobs are no longer entry level. You’re expected to hit the ground running. But students feel woefully unprepared. And not just about their craft.

I’m talking about the real world of the ad industry. How to navigate agency life. What people are looking for in your work. What’s important and unimportant to communicate to a client.

In some areas of academia, they're call "soft skills." These are the kinds of questions that no student asks, because they don’t know they’re supposed to ask them. Teachers need to realize that there’s no benefit to dropping these screaming babies in the deep end of the pool, hoping they’ll learn to swim before they sink.

So, then what?

We should do nothing to help.

That’s right. Do nothing.

We’re going to spend too much time trying to educate a dying-off generation of advertising leaders that, unless they already started themselves, have no desire to do so.

And that lack of a desire to educate themselves trickles down to their students.

Use it to your advantage.

This is your chance, as an incoming creative, to put yourself ahead of the competition.

You know that everyone is going to be coming out of school woefully unprepared, falling short of what agencies are looking for in creatives. Just let them fail. Watch them crash and burn.

Meanwhile, you’ll be working your ass off: doing independent research, reading up on my articles, and understanding what everyone else is missing.

While they’re figuring out how to run ads on Facebook, you’ve conquered data-driven creative. When they say you need to create a “viral video,” you’ve cracked branded content on

Their weakness is your strength. So make it work for you.

Thanks for reading!

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