What Do We Do With Out-Of-Date Advertising Professors?

What Do We Do With Out-of-Date Advertising Professors?” was a recent article in the trade journal Advertising Age by small advertising agency owner Marc Browstein. He made a lot of good points making the case that colleges need to find ways to offer a more state-of-the-art experience for undergraduates. Graduates tell him, “they learned more in a single summer internship in an agency than in four years in college.” Students also tell him, “classes promise integrated marketing while delivering insights about only traditional tactics.” Still more students complain, “subjects like mobile marketing aren’t even offered at their schools.” Professors have grown out of touch so agencies are left to spend valuable resources teaching new hires what they should’ve learned in college.

As a professor who only just recently left the professional field I can see both sides of this issue. I am not too far from professional practice to forget, yet I’ve been teaching long enough to know the issues and environment of universities and academia. Mark really plays up the importance of Internships and his connection to the C0-op program at Drexel University (looks like an excellent program – one of the first founded in 1919).

I am personally grateful for internship opportunities and Mark because he gave me my first copywriting internship at Brownstein Group almost 20 years ago (ouch that hurt to say). I was an enthusiastic, yet naive undergrad at Temple University in the advertising program. They took the time to give me that valuable hands on experience. After 17 years in the business as a copywriter and creative director and teaching part-time in the Temple Advertising Department and the graduate IMC program at West Virginia University I now teach full-time in the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University.

My plan is to remain current and since joining the university I have launched courses such as Social Media Marketing and Blogging, Online Copywriting that cover among other things mobile marketing. This spring I am publishing an Ad Age White Paper on Social Media Integration. I follow trade journals and ad leaders on Twitter and write a blog (this blog) about new developments in marketing and advertising.

Our center has a vibrant internship program and an upper level class that creates integrated campaigns for real clients as our students compete with other universities in a new business pitch situation. Our intersession class gives students an intense week of professional guest speakers followed by tours of top New York Advertising, PR and Media firms. We focus on hiring professors with significant professional experience, but also supplement with part-time professors who are current working professionals.

My hope is to stay current through research, lifelong learning and continuing to freelance and consult. I will also always teach from a case study method, giving “real life” project based assignments. I also teach graduate classes where 90% of my students are working professionals – this keeps me learning as I teach them. But like anything in life different programs and professors will have different strengths and weaknesses.

A big issue to consider is that most professors on the tenure track must conduct research and publish in peer review academic journals. This can take a lot of time and effort. Most professionals don’t read these journals (for one reason we speak different languages) and professors looking to get promoted don’t get credit for trade publications or continuing to gain practical experience.

Another issue is that many PhDs don’t have the practical experience because they choose academic careers at a young age instead of professional. This is not a bad thing, we need these types of people as well – many of the principles and strategies we take for granted were developed by academics, who have the time and perspective to think about issues the way professionals don’t. On the other hand, for a professional to give up a high paying career, take an average of over 8 years to get a PhD and then get a teaching job that pays a lot less doesn’t make sense or isn’t even possible.

These may sound like a lot of excuses, but that is the reality of the system. Fortunately it is starting to change, but (here comes another excuse) academia moves much slower than the corporate world. But this isn’t just a problem in the marketing field. In a recent survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education half of employers said they had trouble finding graduates qualified to fill positions and criticized bachelor’s-degree holders for lacking basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems.

I hope to work hard to stay current, teach the latest things, keep working freelance and strive to make the education system better. But who knows, maybe I should get on the AEF Visiting Professor Program waiting list now. Oh, and thanks to every agency that takes the time to give undergrads internships and mentor juniors. Industry veteran Sally Hogshead said in another Advertising Age article, “Sadly, there are not enough mentors in the business. Our business squeezes people out at the age of 50 or so. Then we look around and scratch our heads and say, ‘Huh, gosh, why don’t we have any mentors?'” So I am grateful for Mark Brownstein for giving me an internship and taking the time to mentor.