Degrees of Separation: The Dangerous Gap Between Industry and Academia

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According to UCAS, 17,000 fewer students were applying for creative degrees in 2017. Paul Caplan, the course leader of MA Advertising at London College of Communication, states this perhaps quite unsettling fact, to a panel of industry professionals, advertising academics and the soon to be future employees of the industry. The relationship between the advertising profession and academia seems to have consisted of “academia asking industry for favours” explains Caplan. “Please, please, please can we have a visiting speaker, and do we have to pay for her?”, or “Wouldn’t it be nice if you offered an internship to one our students?”, are some of the common questions that are shyly asked by the academics to their industry peers. And in turn, the industry has often proposed that academia prepare their students for jobs that already exist within the business, instead of what potential careers could exist in the future.

“In a world where industry is having to change seemingly on a weekly basis, and academia is being pushed and pulled in different directions as never before…what should the relationship look like?”, Caplan puts forward to the panel. “You can’t keep up with the rate of change,” answers Charlotte Cramer, a former LCC Advertising student and now works as a Strategy Consultant and social entrepreneur. “You have to look at it at a higher level… and at a higher level, we’re all doing the same thing – solving problems creatively.” Cramer also explains how the course offered students to build relationships within the industry, which leads to the point of issue – what exactly does the industry want from future graduates or trainees, and more importantly, are they obtaining the kind of individuals they desire and require?

Tom Curtis, head of the biggest media company in the UK “MediaCom”, admits that that they aren’t receiving the kind of creatives they need. “We’re seeing quite a lot of people that don’t seem to have the work ethic that we would expect,” comments Curtis. There appears to be a lack of “self-starting entrepreneurialism”, and that certainly proses a problem when it comes to employing new future advertisers. Curtis also emphasises the point that MediaCom doesn’t pride itself on only hiring those who have certain qualifications, and that the personality and ideas of the creative at hand are far more important to the company than a CV. Paul Brazier, the chief creative officer and chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers, agrees with Curtis’ statement. Brazier reflects on a time when he was on a similar panel, and when the question “what makes a good creative?” was put forward. “Someone got in there with a much better answer than I was going to give”, chuckles Brazier. “They said: ‘someone who can handle rejection.’ And I thought my God actually, that’s what we do every day.” The capability to “bounce-back” from rejection and sometimes creative failure and errors, is a quality that is of the upmost importance and if anything, an absolutely essential quality to have in a future advertising creative.

This insight into what professionals in the industry want from potential employees, seems to contradict with what second year Advertising student at London College of Communication, Valentin-Traian Crisan believes advertising academia promotes. “At the moment with the way universities are set up, we’re trained to become employable. We spend three years of our lives trying to become the people you want to hire,” Crisan states to Curtis. However, this poses an issue as the industry is constantly changing, therefore can anyone be taught to be employable if no week, let alone day is the same in the advertising world? Crisan believes that “unless the expectations of employers don’t change, I feel like we’ll keep churning out the same people”. Curtis, however disagrees and believes that academic institutions don’t comprehend or recognise what the industry is looking for.

“I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve lost our way,” Amber Burton, who is the senior lecturer and course leader for the ‘MA Advertising Strategy & Planning’ course at Falmouth University, says in regard Curtis’ comments. Burton believes that are “too many advertising courses” and that those courses are simply recruiting people who aren’t truly passionate about advertising, but more that the industry appeals to them. Burton asks the panel and the audience: “has the industry become cynical or has advertising education become complacent?” Perhaps it’s the fault of both.

Paul Drake, the foundation director of D&AD believes that university does provide good discipline and teaches craft skills, but still maintains that less time is spent on honing the crafts of students and more on their mind-set. Drake expresses the fact that “students can forget the bigger picture” when it comes to the industry, but also allows a little leeway. How can a degree, which Drake describes operates on a “single-disciplinary system”, be integrated into a business such as advertising, that has multi-disciplinary base?

Ultimately, Curtis explains that the industry simply wants young creatives who “give a sh*t”, but this doesn’t mean that the industry isn’t partly to blame for this divide between the academic world and the advertising world. “Our industry wants creative thinkers – but tries to fit them into a creative thinking box”, confesses Drake. With the honesty of both sides of the profession, perhaps this could allow for a future where academia and industry could finally intertwine comfortably.

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