I spent the last two days being inspired about my profession by college students who would walk through fire to get a shot at a similar career.
The occasion was AdFed's District 10 National Student Advertising Competition in Shreveport, where I served as a judge. Students from 20 universities competed as full-fledged agency teams on a live case given to them by Nissan. Their assignment was to help the automaker increase its share among multicultural millennials, and they did so by conducting their own primary research, developing positioning strategies, creating fully integrated creative campaigns against a $100m media plan that they researched, priced and designed. The teams had been working on this assignment since last fall, and it showed.
I was in awe of their poise, their professionalism and their fearlessness. They rocked it.
During my two days I couldn't help but think that agency professionals – those who already have the careers these kids covet – could learn a lot from these students. This goes for me, too.
They did their homework. They knew their content and exuded confidence in their points of view. Too many times we see agency professionals "wing it" due to lack of prep time or sheer laziness. This is apparent in meetings where it's often easy to spot the person who read the executive summary versus the individual who took the time to probe, dig and validate.
They showed passion and enjoyment. They exuded the feeling that they had fun working on the assignment. Clients love this, but too many times are left wondering whether or not the agency team actually likes the client's product or company. (Think how that must feel.)
They behaved as an ego-free team. Although they had their account director, media director and creative director, these were merely titles, not dueling fiefdoms. They came across as one team with one dream.
They presented with confidence. Granted, they had a lot of rehearsal time. But it is often shocking how many times we see agency professionals unable to present. We are in the communications business, and one that sells at that. Presentation skills should be a given.
They took risks with their ideas. They behaved as if they had everything to gain and nothing to lose. This mindset liberated them to present ideas that were unexpected and bold. They weren't trying to play it safe or make people happy. They played to win big.
This summer will mark my 30th year in the business, from when I started as an Assistant Account Executive at Ogilvy in New York. Three decades later I am still passionate about what I do. I love the left brain/right brain nature of the job. I love that advertising sits at the intersection of business, art, pop culture, entertainment, anthropology, psychology and technology. I love the smart, passionate and rebellious people this industry attracts.
My hope is that these kids will say the same thing in the year 2042. Between now and then, I hope they never lose the traits they displayed this week, and that our industry embraces this next generation. We need them more than they need us. As I've written about before, the Millennial Generation has the skills to help save and reinvent Madison Avenue. Let's give them their shot on their terms.