Advertising School for Clients

The December 2005 issue of Fast Company had a great little tidbit I just read about Virginia Commonwealth University’s Adcenter. A post-graduate school for those wanting to go into the ad business (run by Rick Boyko, a former chief creative officer from Ogilvy) that has placed an interesting twist on their curriculum. They are pairing coursework on the creative side of advertising with coursework on the marketing side of business. So in the same classroom you have people that want to be a future copywriter or art director sharing ideas and learning the same concepts as people that are going for their MBA.

As the article states, “the goal is to produce ad clients who regard creativity as more than an afterthought.” A noble goal, especially from someone in the ad business who is a huge advocate of putting creativity first. I applaud this effort, but I wanted to point out from almost 10 years of working with “creatives” that this approach may have another compelling side-effect: creatives that understand business strategy and can use this understanding to improve their work and better communicate their world to their clients.

In my world, I am best when I work with a creative that actually understands the business world. I don’t mean to offend my artist friends, be they art directors, designers, writers or anyone else with a “creative” role, but there are definitely two (or more) types of “creatives” in the professional world. On the flip side, I think I am successful because of my creative side and my ability to help my creative counterparts understand the clients business challenges, the audience’s experience with the client’s brand (or service or product) and how to package our ideas so that the client will feel comfortable moving forward. Some of it may be a talent that I possess, but some of it comes from understanding both sides of this coin.

I have had quite a few clients in my career that didn’t really understand my business, especially the creative process itself. These clients tend to focus on things such as the price of the estimate you placed in front of them, rather than the work it represents. They focus on how long it’s going to take before they have what they need, rather than how much effort you’re going to put into doing a good job for them. These clients can be in the marketing department, human resources, or even senior management. Spending some time in a class that talked about “Creative Thinking” or “Cultural Exploration” or being forced to collaborate (rather than direct) with writers and designers would really benefit these people.

Too often, the decision to work with a team of creative professionals (advertising agency, design firm, ideation firm) is made based on their existing body of work, or a promise of when a particular task can be completed (or worse, how much it will cost) rather than if their approach is appropriate for your needs.

I’d love to find out long-term if this experimental curriculum really does produce better clients? Or better creatives for that matter. At the end of the day, it’s always good to get people with different viewpoints in the same room and make them learn about each other. People that understand one another and respect one another make better families, better businesses, better partners and better clients…. and ultimately produce better results.

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