As I mentioned in a previous post, I built a website with a few other BU students to help our peers find better on-campus housing. The experience was a great learning experience for us in how to build a product and how to acquire users.
More importantly, the project taught me that while conceptual work can be cool, it isn’t as satisfying as creating something real and tangible — something you can get results from and show to a potential employer.
I bring this point up, because I notice a lot of my friends – those who want to go into the ad industry – are building out portfolios of creative work they’ve done for brands – conceptual work that, to be honest, tends to stay in their binder and not go much further.
This problem is also encouraged through the academic model. Even in vocational-based programs like business or communication schools, classwork is very much theoretical and doesn’t leave the walls of the institution.
Business schools still for the most part, emphasize the business plan competition but don’t actually emphasize the more important part – the execution. At BU, students simulate building a fake product and company through a cross-functional curriculum. When the semester’s over, so is the fake company.
Communications programs in the advertising area provide students with an education built on theoretical work and producing campaigns that never end up being used by their theoretical clients.
Instead, what these programs should be doing is incorporating more real world assignments – things that can be measured with real results like page views, referral traffic, or if you’re in business school, pre-orders and/or sales.
(Although I love business, for the sake of keeping this post shorter, I’ll only be talking about what I think students in the advertising world should be doing. The truth, is it’s a bit harder to get the capital needed to make a business product a reality. However, media, for the most part, can be created for next to nothing. )
Web 2.0 has made it easy for those with amazing content to get recognized. Nowadays, those who create interesting Tumblr’s (like Texts from Hillary Clinton) or cool videos (like my friend Eric’s Mad Men/Facebook mashup) will be more in demand. If you’re content is great and you know how to get the right key people to see it initially, you can make magic happen.
Times have changed.
We don’t need to rely on creating stuff that only you and your professor see because we now have this much larger audience we can use to help us gauge our progress and talent.
From the educational perspective, imagine not being evaluated on a holistic scale by your teacher and instead being graded by something much grander and tangible. How cool would it be to be to receive a grade based on how many page views your work got? Or how many social referrals? Or the influencers who saw it and commended it? Or the press you were able to receive?
All of a sudden, that work matters a lot more. It’s made an impact past the class room.
From a career perspective, that work will mean more too. Now, instead of showing that theoretical Miracle Whip print ad you created, you can show a potential employer a meme series you made of Jersey Shore’s Pauly D hawking the mayo-product. And unlike the ad that you’re still unsure would be a real world hit, you have proof you’re talented through insane page view metrics, great referral traffic, and countless imitators on Reddit.
I’m not saying you still shouldn’t put you’re fake Miracle Whip print ad in your portfolio. By all means, go ahead. However, the superstar hires, the people every agency wants, will be those who have already achieved success in a measurable way.
Because at the end of the day, success isn’t about the theoretical. It’s about those who can create something and make results happen in the real world.
*Photo taken with permission from Eric Leist