What do advertising professionals really want? Preparing University graduates for careers in the Middle East

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1 Vol. 1, No. 1, pp What do advertising professionals really want? Love 27 What do advertising professionals really want? Preparing University graduates for careers in the Middle East By Don Love 1 American University of Sharjah Advertising and integrated marketing communication degree enrollments in the Middle East are projected to grow throughout the 2010 s with undergraduate numbers rising by over 7% and numerous graduate programs being established in the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) and other countries in the region (Husseini, 2009; UNESCO, 2010). Although harmonizing the objectives of advertising educators with those of advertising practitioners continues to be of great importance, few studies have addressed the educational requirements for successful careers in advertising and none have focused on the Persian Gulf/north Africa region. A survey of 302 top advertising executives by Fill (2007) found education had a significant effect on income, the extrinsic measure of success employed in the study. Majoring in advertising was found to be the strongest educational predictor of income. However, a study of 113 advertising agency recruiters suggested advertising education to be of more modest value (Low, 2000). While 62.3% of advertising agencies that recruit do so from among advertising majors. Respondents also mentioned recruiting from 16 other majors and rated business as a more valuable major than advertising or mass communication. Kliatchko (2005) similarly found that 26.3% of 259 top advertising practitioners felt the best advertising executives graduated with degrees in business, followed by 25.1% with degrees in advertising or mass communication. Research has uncovered specific courses and skills recommended by industry professionals. Kliatchko (2005) found that English, marketing, and public speaking were the most useful courses for graduates and, within an advertising program, Fill (2007) found marketing, advertising campaigns, copy and layout, and creative strategy to be the four most highly rated courses. Kerr, Patti, and Chien (2004) discovered that marketing alumni and recruiters preferred courses emphasizing planning, decision making, organizational skills, and working with others 1 Don Love is an assistant professor of mass communication at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, where he teaches courses in public speaking, research, theory and broadcasting. He holds a Ph.D from Ohio University.

2 Vol. 1, No. 1, pp What do advertising professionals really want? Love 28 over courses following a traditional lecture format. Former practitioners Sensbach and Adler (1996) concur, stating that students rarely are forced to develop the particular writing, verbal, and group interaction skills that would prepare them to compete effectively in the sometimes frantic and demanding world of advertising (p. 66). Less research has investigated the character traits of desirable job candidates with the only study looking specifically at the selection criteria used by agency recruiters conducted over 20 years ago (Ducoffe and Ducoffe, 1988). Researchers found that communications ability, intelligence, academic background, creativity and imagination, personality, and professional knowledge were each cited by over 15% of respondents (Ducoffe and Ducoffe, 1988). The authors noted that 70.3% of respondents acknowledged that a serious gap exists between the needs of advertising agencies and the expertise which students bring to initial jobs (p.57) with smaller agencies reporting this gap to be one of their most significant problems. Workstudy/apprenticeships, less theory with more application, and more utilization of agency people in the classroom were offered as approaches to bridging this gap. The need for real-world learning experiences in advertising education is generally recognized. This recognition is reinforced by a majority of recruiters who stress the need for practical experience and, in particular, the value of internships (Low, 2000). Several studies have documented the benefits of internships for students (see Mayo and Miciak, 1991). Rezaee, Lambert, and Harmon (2006) surveyed 98 advertising professors and found that 95% offered at least one experiential activity to their students, the most popular being campaign development for actual businesses. In addition Ramocki (1987) found that client-sponsored research projects had profound positive effects on student learning. Since the 1988 study by Ducoffe and Ducoffe, no research has sought to determine whether the traits desired in job candidates have changed. Furthermore, no study has looked specifically at factors to which advertising professionals in the Arab world attribute their own career success. This study was designed to answer two basic questions: (1) how do advertising agency executives and integrated marketing professionals in the Middle East feel they made it to the top and; (2) what advice would they give today s graduating seniors on how to appear desirable to potential advertising/marketing employers? Answers to these questions may help educators better prepare students for careers in these growing fields. Method An online survey was chosen as an efficient technique for collecting information from agency executives. The survey was promoted through an international online advertising newsletter and eight blog sites. Only the responses of individuals who self-reported working in the advertising field were included in the results. The data were collected over two four-month intervals as part of a larger research project investigating the relationship between the advertising industry and higher education.

3 Vol. 1, No. 1, pp What do advertising professionals really want? Love 29 A two-page questionnaire included rating scales for executives evaluations of factors thought to contribute to their success, demographic factors, and other questions not relevant to the present study. Respondents were also asked an open-ended question about additional advice for students. The instrument was kept brief to ensure a maximum response rate. Results Respondents: A total of 42 completed questionnaires were included in the study. The average age of respondents was 33.4 years old and 60% (N=25) were men. Participants resided in at least eight countries with 30% (N=13) from the United Arab Emirates, 21% (N=9) from Egypt, 14% (N=6) from Saudi Arabia, and 12% (N=5) living in the Lebanon. The remaining participants (N=9) lived in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, or did not report their residence. Almost 24% of participants did not have a college degree; 45% had a bachelor s degree, and 31% had completed at least some graduate courses. The degrees earned by respondents spanned 12 disciplines. Over 86% of all degrees reported, however, could be grouped into three degree types: liberal arts/humanities (41%), business administration and marketing (35%), and advertising and mass communication (10%). Keys to Success: Respondents rated the importance of nine factors used in previous advertising skills research (Becker and Vlad, 2006) that have contributed to their success. The mean responses for six factors were greater than 3.0, the mid-point of the scale, indicating that respondents felt they were at least somewhat important in explaining their achievements. Personal motivation and communication skills were considered the most important, followed by selling ability, leadership ability, educational background, and interpersonal skills. (See Table 1) Table 1. Keys to Success Personal motivation 3.92 Communication skills 3.72 Selling ability 3.48 Leadership ability 3.22 Educational background 3.20 Interpersonal skills 3.01 On-the-job training 2.44 Support from family 2.42 Networking contacts 2.16 Likert scale with 5 = very important and 1 = not very important Previous research has investigated the influence of education (Low, 2000) and age Kliatchko (2005) on various attitudinal factors. To measure the influence of these variables on respondents ranking of success factors, one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) were performed. When the mean responses to the nine factors were compared across the three education groups,

4 Vol. 1, No. 1, pp What do advertising professionals really want? Love 30 communication skills was the only significant factor uncovered (F=2.89, df=2, p <.05). Individuals with more education tended to consider communication skills as playing a greater role in their success. Age had a significant impact on only one factor as well, educational background (F=3.49, df=5, p <.01). A t-test indicated that younger respondents evaluated education as a more important factor (t=3.41, p <.01) than older participants. Advice to Students: An open-ended question asked respondents whether they had any advice for students wishing to pursue a career in advertising. Advice appeared to fall into four distinct categories, as shown in Table 2: (1) personality traits, such as being aggressive and innovative; (2) educational tips, including taking advertising and liberal arts courses; (3) important skills, such as understanding consumers; and (4) approaching the job search by getting internships and accepting any job offered. (See Table 2) Table 2. Advice to Students Percentage* Personality traits Be persistent/aggressive/self-motivated/hard working 28 Be innovative/creative/inquisitive 10 Education tips Get a well-rounded education 18 Take advertising courses 12 Take liberal arts courses 12 Important skills Develop good communication skills 15 Understand consumer behavior 6 Approaching the job search Learn from internships 14 Take any job you can get at the start 9 * Respondents could give more than one piece of advice. Discussion The current study clearly points to personal motivation as the most important contributor to the success of Middle Eastern advertising/marketing professionals and the most often quoted advice to students. University advertising programs would be well served to focus on teaching techniques that emphasis and evaluate this characteristic. For example, faculty members could design a student competition component into their courses, where feasible. Advertising campaigns courses could be designed to pit student agency teams against one another for actual clients. The combination of a team competition and evaluation by professionals outside of the classroom would encourage students to excel beyond the normal academic performance that characterizes traditional, inclass, group assignments. This technique could certainly be extended to many other courses including media planning, creative advertising, and integrated marketing communication. Similar

5 Vol. 1, No. 1, pp What do advertising professionals really want? Love 31 experiences could be offered through participation in contests sponsored by industry associations such as the International Student Advertising Competition (InterAd). Marra (1988) reviews several such competitions. Another approach to the student motivational issue is re-examining selection criteria used to admit students to advertising programs. Higher standards could be set in key skills courses like media writing, public speaking, or business communication to ensure that those admitted possess the attributes found to be critical to success in the field. Advertising courses should also stress the development of the interpersonal skills since effective written and oral communications, leadership, and selling ability were also rated as important in the study. Hartley and Pickton (1999) argue that the three most important components for an effective advertising course include: (1) written assignments, (2) oral presentations, and (3) group projects. Kerr, Patti, and Chien (2004) concur saying that these skills are critical for developing students into effective advertising practitioners but warn that an applied education approach to developing student abilities must also adhere to high, traditional academic standards. Advertising educators in the Middle East must not only inform their students about the world of advertising and marketing but they must also bring the necessary skills of the advertising/marketing world into the classroom. This can only occur through greater interaction between education and industry. Motivating students through creative, practical assignments, as well as greater participation by industry officials through mentoring and internship opportunities can be important steps to accomplishing this end. The result of greater attention to this issue will ultimately be of significant benefit to all the parties involved, educators, industry professionals, and advertising/marketing students. References Becker L. and Tudor, V. (2006) enrollment report: Enrollments level off. Journal of Mass Communication Education 7(3): Ducoffe, R., and Ducoffe, S. (1988). Tips from top executives: Implications for advertising education. Journal of Management Education 12(2): Fill, C. (2007) Simply Marketing Communications. London: Pearson Education. Hartley, B. and Pickton, D. (1999). Integrated marketing communications requires a new way of thinking. Journal of Marketing Communications 5(2): Husseini, D. (2009, October 17) Laggards trying to catch up; Education in the Arab world. The Economist. Retrieved from Kerr, G., Patti, C. and Chien, M. (2004). Integrated marketing communication: New discipline with an old learning approach. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Marketing Academy, May in Auckland, New Zealand. Kliatchko, J. (2005). Towards a new definition of integrated marketing communications. International Journal of Advertising 24(1): 7-34.

6 Vol. 1, No. 1, pp What do advertising professionals really want? Love 32 Low, G. (2000). Correlates of integrated marketing communications. Journal of Advertising Research 40(3): 27. Marra, J. (1988). The why, where, when and how of ad competitions. Educato (Summer): Ramocki, S. (1987). Measured effectiveness of client-sponsored consulting projects in the marketing research course. Journal of Marketing Education (Spring): Rezaee, Z., Lambert, K. and Harmon, W. (2006). Electronic commerce education: Analysis of existing courses. Business Education 15(1): 73. Sensbach, P. and Adler, R. (1986). Advertising courses should simulate real life. Journal of Marketing Education (Spring): UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2010). Culture and communication data center [Data file]. Retrieved from Folders/ReportFolders.aspx? IF_ActivePath=P,1&IF_Language=eng.

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