10 Things Students Need to Know to Become Ad Stars of the Future

AdForum has access to hundreds of educators who are training the ad industry luminaries of the future. We decided to compile the best of their advice.

by Theda Braddock , Freelance

Be passionate about advertising. It seems obvious, but in one recent survey, hiring managers listed it as the top trait they look for in candidates, even before relevant experience. Joep Peeters, a marketing lecturer in the Netherlands, echoes this sentiment. Agencies are more interested in “where a potential student wants to be rather than their entry level” and insists that the “foundation for a good marketer is mindset rather than skill”.

Show that you’re interested in other things. Not only does this demonstrate that you’re well-rounded, but having varied interests can help you as a marketer. Georgia Zozeta Miliopoulou of the American College of Greece emphasizes that students should be “keen movie and series viewers, music listeners and culture vultures so as to align with the trends and gain more profound insight on different kinds of consumer groups.” Joep stresses that a “good marketer is a connector” and encourages his students to learn as much as possible outside of the marketing curriculum. In essence, you should show that you’re an “active participant in life” as Matt Stefl, teacher at Loyola Marymount, puts it.

Go to school. The days of wowing creative directors with your portfolio and personality are nearing an end. Making it today means mastering a range of specific practical and vocational skills first, especially for creatives. While some aspects of the job can be learned on-site, you should have training on the technical side. Not only that, credible programs will help you get your foot in the door, give you real-life experience and, as Joep points out, see the bigger picture, by “helping you learn how to think on a strategic and conceptual level”.

Find a program that works for you. The selection process will most likely start with location, cost and reputation, but don’t overlook other factors that will undoubtedly play a significant role later on.  Consider the curriculum, what kind of network the program offers and how well the school helps its graduates get started. Georgia reinforces the importance of the school’s link to the trade: “Real-life projects should be a part of their assessment schemes, they should have activities that create links between the program and the industry, and staff should have industry experience.” Paul Springer, Director of Communication Design at Falmouth University, thinks students shouldn’t discount their gut instinct. They should look beyond a program’s prestige and get a feel for the type of environment and teaching that inspires them.

Have the right mindset. Thinking about the consumer, even when you’re not working on a project, will help you get into the right frame of mind when the time comes. Joep explains that students should “want to see the world through the eyes of a customer...to understand why a customer is behaving the way he or she behaves and have the desire to improve the lives of a customer. Only then can you truly connect on an emotional level with your customer.” 

Be willing to adapt, in order to work in teams, agencies and the industry. Georgia Zozeta Miliopoulou of the American College of Greece believes flexibility is key to ensuring a fruitful working environment. You’ll be a better team member and ready to take on new roles when they arise. Matt Stefl, a professor of marketing and strategy at Loyola Marymount University remarks that the ad business is dynamic and the agency structure typically requires people to work on multiple clients and/or wear multiple hats. The upside? You’ll never be bored.

Be prepared to challenge (and be challenged). Clifford Van Wyk of Bournemouth University cautions his students not to be deceived by misconceptions of glamour and reminds them that this is a tough and demanding sector. It’s important to be aware of the rigor of the daily life going in. Joep Peeters stresses that you need to feel comfortable in surroundings that change constantly, there is never enough time and you are pushed to your limits. But, he says, you shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the accepted as much as you possible can: “Advertisers want students to think for themselves and not blindly accept everything others tell you.”  Zozeta Miliopoulou views this as one of the more rewarding parts of the industry: “Creative challenges never cease, there is not a single boring day.”

Don’t forget to schmooze. It’s no secret that networking can help land jobs, but it’s also a great way to get to know the industry. Organizing informational interviews early on can help you figure out the direction you want to take. Matt Stefl underscores the importance of chatting with industry insiders: “It can help you figure out where your interests are, which, in turn, lead you to your skills.” According to Georgia Zozeta Miliopoulou, even relatively recent graduates can be useful. “They typically can remember what it’s like to start out and are the best positioned to spell out where students are in their learning journey.”

Cultivate your personal brand. You should always be working on how to best promote yourself. Matt Stefl advises starting the process sooner rather than later. “Keep a blog and make a portfolio of your work. More and more, employers want examples of thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and more.” Greg Hahn, CCO of BBDO NY agrees, explaining that when he hires creatives, it’s all about the book. School work, side projects, Hahn says, all help demonstrate “what you think and how you felt... Anything’s fair game”.

Know what works and what doesn’t. If you want to truly get the industry, you need to put in the effort. Matt Stefl of Loyola Marymount recommends students “follow trends, develop a point of view and learn about the people and agencies creating it", specifying that sources like AAAA SmartBrief, Agency Spy, Campaign, Creativity, JWT Intelligence and Media Post, among others, can help. Adforum is also a widely used resource and professors like Clifford Van Wyck encourage their classes to take advantage of the tool. Joep Peeters advocates using it regularly to keep up-to-date on industry trends, developments and the latest campaigns. To be a true game player you should hone your insight and, as Zozeta Miliopoulou puts it, read behind the ads.