Jan 16, 2007

Ad Schools and the Eternal Whiteness of Creative Departments

Those of us who entered the business in the last 15 years might be surprised to learn that agencies used to have creative training programs, where they took bright young college and high school graduates and paid them while they learned to be copywriters and art directors.

Today’s model, where college graduates pay upwards of $30,000 for a two-year post-graduate portfolio program, is troubling for so many reasons.

First and foremost is the incredible lack of diversity it promotes. We’re pretty much limiting our creative departments to affluent white kids whose parents are generous enough to spot them the $30K for grad school. This creates a homogenization of experience and viewpoint that virtually ensures that all the ads we see look and sound the same. (Want to see this principle at work? Take a look at Crispin’s campaign for Haggar. The print, in particular, with its forced attempt at working class vernacular, sounds like some Grosse Pointe preppy’s bad imitation of the guys he worked with during a summer job spent at his father’s factory. "There ain't a lick of difference..." Ouch.)

Second problem Toads have with portfolio schools is the way certain agencies use them as their own personal source of free labor. Now granted, it’s not always free—sometimes they pay them $100/day. But putting 30 “interns” on a pitch isn’t really playing fair. I mean can you imagine if say, Goldman Sachs hired a hundred business students from NYU, put them to work crunching numbers on a pending deal and told them all it was an “internship.”

Final problem: What are we going to do with all these juniors? Portfolio Center, VCU, Creative Circus, Miami Ad School, Wieden’s little raccoon-wearing videomakers… how do we absorb several hundred kids a year into a business that’s already none too fond of juniors and has a limited number of big agencies left with the bandwidth to soak up more than one or two of them a year?

Many of them no doubt wind up at places like Agency dot com or similar web shops. Where they quickly become disillusioned when they figure out that even the CDs at those shops only make around $125K/year. And that the CDs are all basically ex-designers or ex-journalists who wound up in the right place at the right time, and know next to nothing about the business the little darlings have spent the past two years studying. ("Lee Clown? Is he an animé character?")

So I’d imagine the ad schools have a lot of unhappy graduates. I mean if I graduated from a good college and watched my dad pay $30K for a grad school that promised to get me a job in advertising, where I could make a six-figure salary with my English degree and not have to wear a suit to work-- I’d be pretty furious if they didn’t deliver. Even more so if I actually had to take out a loan to afford it. I mean heck, for a few more shekels, I could have gone to law school…

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