Is Advertising Stacking the Deck Against Itself?

Without a doubt, this is the most exciting time in the history of advertising. The digital age has greatly increased the potential for creative innovation, but the digital revolution has also brought a new complexity to what we do.

With consumers now in control of what communication they receive, and when and how they receive it, orchestrating an effective brand campaign is a game of three-dimensional chess. This matrix of communication channels must operate seamlessly, and the team assembling the campaign must work in synergy while coordinating a wide array of skills and processes.

recent article by Chris Messina, a developer formerly at Google, observed that employees having blended skills, the ability to play multiple roles on a team, is becoming a requirement in the digital space. Messina describes this prototypical employee as “full-stack.”

The same description can be made of people who work in today’s ad industry. For those beginning their careers, this is a heavy burden. In fact, the demands on young talent have dissuaded many from pursuing careers in our industry.

Advertising was once the career for those who wanted to create and be paid well for doing so. Today, we fail to compete with industries that reward innovative thinking as we once did.

Messina’s view of the digital space’s future, one filled with full-stack employees, is concerning for the industry. When it comes to quality, the adage that “a jack-of-all-trades is the master of none” holds true in any field. With few exceptions, the ad industry has embraced the full-stack mentality, and it has frayed our quality.

Both agencies and academia have a role to play in correcting the situation. Agencies need to replace internship programs with an apprenticeship model. Academia must reform its process of curriculum development to evolve at the same rate of change as the industry. Both of these things can be done. For our industry’s sake, they must be done.

A recent Pew Research Center study showed that the majority of students do not believe college is helping them prepare for a career, and that it is not worth the cost. This is particularly relevant in our industry. Another study by the AAAA shows that the ad industry is losing talent because it has done little to foster growth in employees.

If our industry does not attract the brightest creative talent, advertising agencies will further devolve into the role of vendor. If academia does not offer a relevant curriculum that prepares them to enter the industry, creative talent will seek more effective ways to be educated for an advertising career.

It’s time the advertising industry reclaimed its place as the industry of creativity. To do so, the industry and academia should become “full-stack” when it comes to attracting and developing the talent we need.

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