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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Training Programs Don't Teach Advertising

There are two kinds of training programs prevalent at ad agencies.  There are senior management programs which deal with advanced training, relationships and management issues.   This post deals with the other programs which are intended to deal with molding and shaping young talent.

A mid-level account supervisor called me and asked if she could come over to talk to me.  She wanted twenty minutes of my time to explain something that she was afraid to ask at her agency.  When she came to my office she told me that she was going on her first “shoot” the following week and she had no idea what her role was. 

She is a fabulous account person, well paid for her level and moving ahead quickly. I questioned her at length about her training and why she came to me for this issue.  Among other things she told me was that her immediate supervisor always complained to her about how boring shoots were and how she didn’t like going on them.  My candidate told me that she was told by her management rep/account director that the only job of an account person on a shoot was to baby sit the client.  Her intuition was that there was a greater role. And, of course, she was right.  Then it occurred to me that most people learn by the example of the people they work for. Too bad, because that is how people get into bad habits and the ones who don't have fabulous mentors may top out prematurely.

After my discussion with this account supervisor, I started doing a survey of some of the account people I regularly talk to. I was not surprised at what I discovered. It is not unusual that an account manager should be in the business for eight or ten years and not have gone on a shoot or even supervised print production. Worse, I hear from creative people that account people don't know how to sell or even how to effectively deal with clients.  Training programs have been cut to the bare bones and one thing is for sure, most agencies are not training their people in the essentials of the business. 

No wonder there is enmity between agencies and their clients.

Yes, there are training programs, but they don’t teach advertising or even proper behavior with clients. Many are merely lectures about things like digital, direct, some even show creative, but rarely discuss what makes it effective.. Training programs for account people largely deal with marketing problems, not with advertising. From what I can determine, most training programs are essentially either lectures or case histories – account people are paired with creatives, given a client marketing situation and then are asked to develop a strategy and executions. I am not sure what this really teaches

The case history method doesn’t teach about advertising and how to be an effective and successful account or creative person.  Agency people need to be taught how to function in their jobs.  They have to be taught what their jobs are.  They have to be taught the essentials of effective advertising.  And they have to be taught the difference between effective advertising (based largely on test scores) and good advertising.

One of my favorite stories is one that illustrates the issue of training.  It was told to me by a copywriter at a mid-size shop.  An account supervisor gave an assignment for the creation of a coupon FSI for a cereal.  The writer did a simple ”25¢ off….”  The client bought it, but just before production, the account person told the writer that the client wanted to flag the improved taste in the headline.  So it was changed to “25¢ off great new taste…”  Then the account person said the client wished to add that there was a new size.  The writer refused, telling the AS that they were asking the ad to do too much, even for an FSI.  It was one of those issues that blew up out of proportion and ended up in the creative director’s office – every account and creative person has been through this.  When the account person was summoned, the creative director said to her, “Don’t you know that there is too much being asked?  A good ad has only one thought.”  The account person’s response was telling, “How am I supposed to know that?”

This was not an inexperienced account person – she was in her mid-thirties and had been in the business more than ten years.  She didn’t know anything about advertising and what makes an ad communicate and sell. The creative director made a fabulous decision and changed their training program to cover the principles of advertising.  This problem exists today throughout the industry - we are not training our people in advertising.  I don’t think it is any different with creative people than with account people.  I know senior creative directors who have a devil of a time dealing with their writers and art directors who do not understand tonality and brand essence.

I recently heard a story about an account person who, at the end of a creative presentation said to the client, "Is there anything here you didn't like or that made you uncomfortable?"  OMG, that is some way to sell and it certainly showed no understanding of the business.  Imagine an account person saying that in the presentation when Bill Bernbach presented the famous Volkswagen "Lemon?" ad!

This is a problem which the business must solve.

16 comments:

  1. Standing up and applauding.

    That is all.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post Paul. It's truly sad that training has been cut at agencies. It's understandable given the margin pressure but no less a problem.

    I started in Advertising in 1988 at the newly merged DMB&B. Given that there were deep cuts as a result of the merger, it impressive that they not only kept all their graduate recruits but maintained an excellent training program.

    I am not sure that could happen these days.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great column! Broavo! (SFX: Hand Clapping). After reading through the first draft of my comments, I realized that in today's ADD world my message would probably have been lost. So here is the distillation of my thoughts (note: I began working in advertising as an AAE in 1984):
    -Where are the 'students' of advertising these days? And I mean AFTER they graduate from Communications/Art School!
    -Training programs cannot make up for the education provided by the day-to-day involvement of well-rounded, seasoned account directors hired for the Agency (and most were cut, or left as a result of becoming burnt out due to staff cuts below them, long ago)
    - In the US beginning in the late '90s, Account Planners carved out a place for themselves at the expense of Account management ($alary justification had to come from somehwere and HR/Research departments had already been decimated). Today, account managers are really considered business managers or project managers. They have little strategic skin in the game so why should they be expected to perform like they do?
    -Clients: Don't complain if your not getting the quality of account management you want. You get what you pay for. 10 years ago you got Digital on the cheap. Now people realize it is much more complicated (technologically/production expense) AND - gasp! - expensive (TV + CRM measurement all rolled into one). Further, as wee've seen the 'classically' trained advertising professional is still needed. Did TV die? Print?Radio? OOH? Nope. The media vehicles may expand, but but the knowledge of how to translate great ideas across ALL media must be retained.
    Clients: Remember the Triad -- Great. Cheap. Fast. But you can only choose two for any given project meaning you will sacrifice the other.
    -Agencies: Consider if there are areas within your account management corps that can/should be improved by lunch-and-learn seminars taught by agency/client freelance vets. It is a low-out-of-pocket means to improve the quality of your front-line people.
    -Agencies: ask your department group heads the folliwing question: "How can account management make your work day easier? What do our account managers NEED to know on a to work with your team on a day-to-day basis?
    -Agencies: Generate BETTER interaction among your employees. Include an 'internet free' day - it's amazing the relationships that can occur
    Lastly, I recommend everyone read David Ogilvy's "UNPUBLISHED" works and "Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons From The Great Antarctic Explorer" by Stephanie Capparrell. Thanks Paul. Now I have to get back to work. Best, Charlie MacLachlan

    ReplyDelete
  4. Paul, I admit my typing needs improvement. Off to training. LOL. Charlie Mac.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am currently working as an intern for, what I am sure, is one of the largest branding and design firms in the world. I've been here for 5 months. My direct supervisor is often gone to meetings or press checks or recently, on vacation.

    I'm losing the tenuous grasp on things I learned in school. I spend most of my time acting as her office assistant and arranging her files. I spend more time pretending I have things to do and surfing the internet.

    I'm terrified to say anything. I'm afraid they'll think I don't have enough to do (which I don't) and end my internship - and for an internship it's particularly well paid and I need the money.

    When she is here, she maybe spends about 15 minutes a week a explaining what she wants me to do - the rest is up to me to guess. I've been able to please her but it's been blind luck so far.

    I'm thinking about asking my school to find me another internship but with the economy the way it is, it took them a year to find me this one and I'm due to graduate this June. But I'm afraid, terribly afraid, that with this place on my resume, people will think I'm this great candidate when honestly, I haven't been able to develop my skills (design, advertising, pre-press) in any real-work situations at all.

    Training? That's a word here that doesn't exist! What should I do?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dear "Blind Luck",
    Here is my 2 cents on your plight having been an intern, as well later having interviewed, hired, mentored, waved good-bye-to-after-a six/eight week-tour, heard they graduated, then hired a few to be my full time AAE.
    1) You would really have to screw something up to lose your internship and the $... and guess what, chances are they won't let you close enough to anything that important for it to happen. So, stop worrying! Take a breath. OK, Relaxed? Good, now here's what you ought to consider doing next...
    2) Don't wait for someone (e.g., your supervisor) to tell you what to do, or expect a syllabus of assignments be handed out, even the best internship programs don't do that. YOU have to take the initiative! Use the seat you're in as a spring board to meet with everyone ELSE in the agency. If you perceive yourself as a SPONGE, then soak up as much information as you can. Expose yourself (not literally please) to every facet, department, designer, copywriter, production head, etc. of this top design/brand agency. There is NO excuse not to. If you can handle the minimal amount of work you currently get that leaves the 38 remaining hours of the week to learn from others. Don't wait. Go out there and do it!
    3) ASK questions. Tons of them. What YOU put in is what YOU will get out of it.
    4) Network. Make connections NOW for when you graduate. If you think getting this internship took a long time to secure, then you should realize landing a full time job these days ain't that easy either. Make those connections. You're 12 weeks away from needing a full time gig. Work it.
    5) If you are resourceful enough you can find me (*cough* LinkedIn*cough*). I'd be happy to speak with more about this subject in confidence and offline. Either way. Good luck! Thanks again Paul for allowing me to play in your blogbox. Best, Charlie MacLachlan

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear Intern: The Anonymous comment posted at 4:18pm said it perfectly. You have to figure out how to make your internship work. Grab work from people. Don't wait for them to give it to you. If your supervisor isn't around, all the better. Also, maybe you can go to human resources. They might be able to help you. However, do not be afraid. Fear is paralyzing. The one thing I know about internships is that the more you take the better and more productive it will be.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am both loving and hating all of the agency training debate that's happening right now. Love it because it's clearly a subject that needs to be addressed and hating it because I'm so frustrated that the assumption is that there simply is no good training out there for agencies AND that agencies don't need it!!

    I left my role as an agency CD 5 years ago because my personal frustration with lack of time, skills, bandwidth for mentoring my teams and having to watch them flounder and stress. In response, I started a company devoted to the training void I had experienced. Today, I train agencies all over North America on what I recognized as being the critical (read: fundamental) skills necessary to a) survive and b) thrive in our industry.

    I've encountered the agencies who think they do it all perfectly and may grudgingly throw me a workshop and when I start working with their people its clear they don't know it all and they're so freakin' grateful for someone finally taking the time and having the right info and context to help them. Then there are others who espouse the need for training from the rooftops, put elaborate programs into place and then don't enforce attendance. What a waste of money!!

    I could write reams on what makes agency training good, why its necessary, and on and on but there's a bottom line here; working in an agency is a sink or swim business. You're hired because you have creative talent, or you are willing to go through the hell required to become a great Strategist / Account person. But NEVER are you taught the hard skills necessary to thrive. You learn or you die. And cult of personality usually reigns so everyone walks around trying to act like the big gun in their agency and rarely cultivate their own approaches. Its endemic. It's heartless, and agency staffers, with their impossible commitment and passion for the work, and the industry deserve better.

    To end the rant, here's my advice. Try the RIGHT training who becomes a partner of sorts. Listen to feedback. Enforce attendance. Expect change. Reward it when you see it. Lather, rinse repeat. And watch what happens. It's a beautiful thing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am in San Francisco right now and would really like to be in a training program (like the idealized one you described). Does it exist? Would an informational interview (in which you meet a professional in the business and ask them specific questions about their work) be beneficial in exchange?

    Thanks!
    Kate

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Kate:

      I am not sure I understand your question. Once upon a time, I knew the San Francisco market pretty well, but not so much today. For instance, I do not know what training programs exist there.

      However, there is no reason why you cannot ask people you are interviewing with to explain their training programs. You can and should ask specific questions to insure that you are informed prior to deciding if you want to work there or not.

      Delete
  10. As I’ve understood it, this is a case wherein a person was hired but wasn’t properly oriented as to the exact job that he’s going to do. Am I right? If it is the case, I think businesses must take control of this situation, since the function and performance of their employees will also affect their overall business operations. The job must be explained to employees properly so that they can be efficient and effective in performing their tasks and responsibilities.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Do you need Top Advertising Agency in San Francisco? We are HotStoneCommunications.Com, a unique marketing and PR agency located in the San Francisco Bay Area.We are in here to help you.You can just contact with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please do not use this website to promote your agency.

      Delete
  12. Paul, really great post. Bottom line is that
    its a totally different world today.

    The concept of start at the bottom and work your way up has, for all intents and purposes, been lost.

    As such, most AE's back in the day were better advertising people than most of the Account Supervisors of today.

    Training and "supervised experience" was important to clients and agency management and many top agencies had the resources to do it.

    When I first started, agency manpower was roughly 10 staff per million in billing. Today its usually less than 1 per million.

    I'm a prehistoric creature of the 60's who went through the pain and agony of night school at NYU for a BS in Marketing and three intensive training programs to start my advertising career in NYC.

    The 1st was a 1 year Media & Merchandising Training program at K&E.

    The 2nd a 1 year Marketing Research training program at BBD&O.

    The 3rd was a 3 year Consumer Products Marketing and Account Management program at the Richard K. Manoff Agency under the tutelage of Spence Plavoukos who went on to run SSC&B.

    Three agencies and my own thirst for training and knowledge gave me the foundation I needed to successfully grow from an AAE to an Exec VP in charge of Acct. Mgt. and Media Services at a NYC agency over a 30 year career.

    John H. Harris
    Ijamsville, MD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @John Harris: First, sadly, I have to agree with you completely. And I cannot believe we don't know each other - I worked at K&E and Richard Manoff and am still in touch with many fellow alums. I hope we have a chance to meet someday.

      Delete
  13. Paul, really great post. Bottom line is that
    its a totally different world today.

    The concept of start at the bottom and work your way up has, for all intents and purposes, been lost.

    As such, most AE's back in the day were better advertising people than most of the Account Supervisors of today.

    Training and "supervised experience" was important to clients and agency management and many top agencies had the resources to do it.

    When I first started, agency manpower was roughly 10 staff per million in billing. Today its usually less than 1 per million.

    I'm a prehistoric creature of the 60's who went through the pain and agony of night school at NYU for a BS in Marketing and three intensive training programs to start my advertising career in NYC.

    The 1st was a 1 year Media & Merchandising Training program at K&E.

    The 2nd a 1 year Marketing Research training program at BBD&O.

    The 3rd was a 3 year Consumer Products Marketing and Account Management program at the Richard K. Manoff Agency under the tutelage of Spence Plavoukos who went on to run SSC&B.

    Three agencies and my own thirst for training and knowledge gave me the foundation I needed to successfully grow from an AAE to an Exec VP in charge of Acct. Mgt. and Media Services at a NYC agency over a 30 year career.

    John H. Harris
    Ijamsville, MD

    ReplyDelete

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