The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published an eye-opening report earlier this month that has drastic (and perhaps dire) consequences for our industry. The report from the ANA Educational Foundation found “a looming marketing and advertising talent crisis” that is the result of “a lack of common vision, vocabulary and perceived relevance among marketers, young professionals and the schools that are expected to educate them.”  

In other words, college graduates aren’t getting stoked about working in our industry. At all. In fact, the digital disruption that has fundamentally transformed our industry is also fundamentally transforming their expectations of it. And, academia is not keeping up. 

As an adjunct professor of advertising at the University of Colorado in Boulder and as the CEO of an agency, I have seen the growing knowledge divide between academia and the industry into which we are graduating students. 

We are still teaching them that a path to purchase is a straight line bookended by awareness and advocacy when we know in practice the modern purchase path looks like the flight of a bumble bee. And, we still teach students that brands must have a single and consistent message that communicates an image that drives transaction, whereas the modern brand is composed of multiple coherent ideas that deliver experiences to foster community.   

Just consider the fundamentals of marketing that have been taught for decades: the four P’s. Students are being taught that product, price, place, and promotion are the bedrocks of creating marketing campaigns. But these tenets are being rewritten in front of students’ eyes in culture and professors are not ready or equipped to explain these transformations. 

For instance, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why has replaced the idea of what the product is (what marketers are selling) to why the brand or product exists in the first place. Uber’s price surging and eBay’s crowd pricing has changed the way we think of paying for things. Price is not fixed but fluid. Modern brands are also using technology to sell stuff practically anywhere, making “place” an undefined and always-on definition. 

As for promotion – the catalysts to getting us to buy more stuff – well, that notion went out the window when REI won the Titanium Grand Prix and the Promo & Activation Grand Prix at Cannes this year. It seems that getting people to not buy stuff is a great way to get them to buy stuff. And that will probably spin the heads of many professors into a dumbfounded “wha?!?!?!?” 

Let’s also consider how students are learning about advertising. Textbooks are bulky, old, and dry. They can’t compete with the snackable content students crave. Lessons are not translatable into quick, two-minute video bites and the case studies talk about campaigns that ran before they were born. It’s incredible to think that we as practitioners can buy an airport book on marketing, consume it on a three-hour flight, and almost instantly apply the learnings to a pitch or idea. On the other hand, students slog for months on a textbook that they can’t wait to sell back to the school – a book that inevitably will end up in the hands of another hapless student, bore them to bits, and prompt them to seek another major. 

Sounds dismal, I agree. But, fear not. There’s hope, but it requires a lot of effort from academia to step up. 

It’s time to add a fifth P to the old mix and that P stands for purpose. As the ANA report states, today’s generation of young talent is more likely to seek “purpose” in their work. And, as our industry invariably moves toward creating campaigns that do more good in the world beyond selling stuff, this generation will respond. But purpose needs to be taught first, and universities around the country need to teach it well. 

Professors also need to get students off the quad and into agencies or businesses. The ANA has a recommendation to facilitate 1,000 marketing and advertisings executive campus visits by 2020 and 1,000 professors to have on-site experiences with professionals at ANA conferences. While positive, agencies must step up and give more internships to students than they currently allot. 

My agency School is a small one. We are less than 30 people strong. Yet, every semester, we bring in at least 10 interns to come and learn with us. It’s one of the reasons we are called School. Imagine if the larger agencies were compelled to use the same ratio to give hundreds if not thousands of internships to students every year. Our “Schooligans” graduate our small agency seeded with purpose. They go on to join the ranks of Project Worldwide sister agencies like Motive, Argonaut, and George P. Johnson in addition to other top-notch shops like 180LA, Code & Theory, McCann, Fitzgerald & Co, and others. 

We give our interns three purpose-led and evergreen initiatives. First of all, they control the agency’s social footprint. Each day, they scour the ad news and marketing stories to find instances of purposeful campaigns, products, and services that are leading conversations in culture. They can take inspiration from these stories to create memes and videos that drive the purpose narrative for the agency.

Secondly, they are charged with creating simple, grassroots campaigns in Boulder to help us raise money for our friends at Pencils of Promise to build schools in developing countries like Guatemala, Laos, and Ghana. One of the more popular campaigns so far is our “clicker buy back” program at the University of Colorado. Each year, graduating seniors sell their test clickers to our interns, who then refurbish and resell them to the incoming class with all proceeds going to Pencils Of Promise.

Lastly, all of our interns are expected to participate – and often lead – our Night School sessions where we open the agency up to charities and non-profits like love.futbol, Real|Good, and the Chef Ann Foundation to provide pro-bono work and consultation. Our interns are learning the real-world craft of advertising on real-world issues. 

Here’s to making purpose the P that matters most. It might just be the key to the ad industry’s future.

 

This post originally appeared in MediaPost. Read it here