Redressing the decline of youth achieving employment within Europe’s advertising trades

The European Institute for Commercial Commnucations Education (edcom) is currently conducting a research study that intends to be the starting point of a two year project aiming at redressing the decline of youth achieving employment within Europe’s advertising trades. The pan-European research focuses on the problems and needs of the students, graduates, young professionals, academics and agencies in the field of commercial communications, and consists of several in-depth interviews with representatives of each of the target groups. Hereby we introduce some of the reflections we have received from the interviewees, hoping that an open and sincere debate among different agents will lead to a common front to solve the problem.

Commercial communications students

All commercial communications students interviewed consider a job in the advertising industry because they would like to practice what they love doing, because they believe it is a big opportunity for both creative and analytic people, and because it offers an environment full of “amazing” people from whom they can learn things by stealing their craft. They felt encouraged to study commercial communications because they want to become like the people they know from the industry (competitive and skilled) and because it is a challenging field.

They believe graduates from commercial communications degrees are hired because of their persistence, bravery, skills, creativity, enthusiasm for the job (which comes out of passion) and their will to learn fast and be as efficient as they can. Creativity, they say, is not only useful in the creative department, but also in the process of making a business work at its full potential. Also, they state graduates have a better understanding of how agencies work because of their studies, but also by the academic internships they have done. Overall, the skills they think agencies value in a future employee for a graduate role are creativity, self-control, self-confidence, social intelligence, artistic intelligence, organisation, charisma, consistency, stubbornness and determination. All interviewees believe their own profiles are attractive to future employers in advertising.

Apart from that, interviewees state that there is a gap between the graduates’ expectations and what happens in real life. The advertising industry, they say, is one of the most attractive industries and everybody sees the best part of it (fun, creativity, awards, success, money, etc,) but not necessarily understand how much hard work is behind it, and how frustrating and difficult it can be to work in. Interviewees also mention that certain students think that internships are a waste of time and consider extra time at work to be a form of exploitation, and do not see the benefits it offers in the early years of their careers. Moreover, they believe that the reason why some graduates do not get hired is because they are not passionate enough about advertising, and because sometimes they are not willing to assume responsibilities. To work in advertising, one student says: “you need to be very passionate, ambitious and stay focused on your way.”

All the interviewees state that their current degree does not provide them with all the necessary skills to start working immediately in advertising. They say professors tend to offer theoretical knowledge only, and that practical workshops and certain digital tools are for beginners, forcing them to learn at home how to properly use these tools for professional purposes. One of the interviewees states that through her studies she has significantly improved her strategic thinking in advertising. When asked what would they like to see differently in their curriculum, degree, university or education programme, their answer is more practice, more updated content, more workshops, competitions, professional encouragement from advertising agencies, conferences with people and positive examples of advertising, summer and winter internships, more classes supported by industry people and practical courses in advertising agencies.

Regarding initiatives to be undertaken by universities to encourage employability in the advertising industry, students insist on having more workshops, internships, close collaboration with advertising industry, conferences, open doors sessions for students, and interactive workshops. They appreciate universities invite keynote speakers on a regular basis, which is interesting for both parties to boost collaboration and create a positive impact to students and professionals. One of the students expressed his dissatisfaction about the importance that is given to theoretical knowledge and the need to memorize concepts by heart, and states: “we are not really encouraged to express our own vision of a subject.” When inquired about initiatives, agencies should firmly grasp to encourage employability, for instance by recruiting students through competitions or by performing practical exams and keep monitoring their skills and performance. The  idea of a formal job interview is appalling to young people. “Some of my colleagues are not self-confident because of their own timidity to face a formal job interview,” one student adds.

The interviewees state that the creative hub should pay more attention to new generations and get to know them better. Unpaid internships, they say, can be very frustrating if they do not guarantee being hired after trial period is over. In their opinion, agencies should rethink internship programmes, which should be seen as a period of accommodation for the trainees prior to a selection carried out by agencies. These students believe that the best candidates should stay in the programme, even if it means being paid less than a standard salary, but which will encourage them to stay motivated. Also, they see the need of being aware of hiring possibilities and new platforms (such as IQads) that regularly announce jobs in agencies, creative events and festivals. They all manifest true interest in networking, and they believe it is good for students, but also for the agencies, as it gives them the opportunity to better understand the students’ expectations.

To sum up, the interviewees believe that a good university lecturer in commercial communications should have excellent oral and creative communication skills and emotional, artistic and social intelligence. A good lecturer should also embrace the differences between all students, not making them feel like they are not good enough, and encouraging them to overcome their fears and develop their horizons. Some teachers, they say, tend to only teach theoretical courses and do not pay attention to a student’s real needs. Students ask for more accurate and up-to-date facts, more case studies, new trends, and lectures that can help them develop their capabilities to analyse ads and campaigns from a business, strategic and creative point of view.

Commercial communications graduates, interns and young professionals

Commercial communications graduates, interns and young professionals interviewed have different opinions regarding the level of difficulty of getting a job in the advertising industry and have experienced different processes from being students, into graduating and finding a job. Some of them believe that the advertising industry is dynamic and that there are enough job opportunities, while others state that, even though it is easy to find an internship position, it is hard for young professionals to consolidate a job. All of them did an academic internship as part of their study programme, which gave them more confidence and knowledge. One of them was hired by the agency at the end of the internship period, and the two others were not. From those, one is currently looking for another internship, while the other is working for an agency, after having dedicated eight years to another profession.

Interviewees state that there are many graduates with a different degree rather than commercial communications working in advertising industry (graphic and web designers, computer engineers, economists, business administration graduates, marketing graduates, etc.). In their opinion, the reason behind this is that a degree in commercial communication is too generic and theory-based, and that certain topics are not covered enough, such as digital communications. They also mention that some agencies may have the wrong preconceptions regarding the true potential of commercial communication graduates, believing that graphic and web designers are better for creative positions, and marketing and business management graduates are better at numbers. However, the interviewees believe these preconceptions are not accurate, and they revindicate the global perspective they bring to the agencies, and the quality they bring to their contents.

Interviewees believe that universities that educate commercial communications should update their curricula and use a more practical approach. They say that some of their professors at university lacked training and were outdated, and they appreciate the performance of certain associated professors who worked in the industry and brought relevant and updated contents into the class. The interviewees noted that their curricula were focused a lot on creativity, but not too much on other aspects such as media, digital communications, business management or marketing. They also expressed that in their education, they lacked some knowledge about the everyday reality of agencies: different job positions and tasks, general strategies, how to prepare budgets, how to use Excel, how to select the mediums and media, metrics, etc.  Overall, most of the interviewees state that the contents provided by their universities were not sufficient, and that at the beginning they felt quite incompetent in their professional roles because of their degree. Finally, they believe that universities should include more and more diversified internship opportunities in their curricula, that those internship periods should start from the first academic year and that they should be with agencies who are committed to train and hire young professionals.

According to their beliefs, the interviewees feared that some agencies are not using the internships to seek and train talent, but to get cheap or free labor. Apart from that, they state that some of the internship positions are abusive in terms of hours and responsibility, and therefore some changes in the legislation would be required in certain countries. In their opinion, agencies should stop taking advantage of the situation and become more socially conscious by giving a chance to those who performed well during their internship. They believe agencies should see the trainees as possible future employees, appreciate their potential and train them the best possible way so they can be hired at the end of the internship. However, interviewees believe that when agencies need to hire someone, they normally go for someone with a more experienced profile, creating a vicious circle for young professionals, whose lack of experience blocks them from being hired and get the experience they need. In general, interviewees believed that agencies tend to give a lot of value to the experience of the candidate, and do not appreciate as much any of the other aspects that young professionals can bring to the table, such us openess for change, commitment and the capability to adapt.

As for the initiatives the interviewees took or could have taken to encourage their own employability, they mention the importance of staying up to date through training on a frequent basis, being proactive in the search of agencies who are hiring young professionals, and never stop creating contents and participating in contests which could enlarge your portfolio and curriculum.

Winning the edcom Thesis Competition

In this month’s blog, we would like to draw your attention to two theses that excelled at the edcom Thesis Competition 2017-2018.

The edcom Thesis Competition rewards the best Bachelor and Master theses on advertising or commercial communications among edcom member schools. This year, the competition welcomed 21 entries from 10 European countries in both categories. The bar was set high and judges appreciated the level of the entries.

The winning entries passed through three rounds of judging with flying colours. In the first round, entries were judged upon their relevance to the field of commercial communications. In the subsequent round, the papers were judged upon the following criteria: Strong objectives (10%); Clearly developed methodology (20%); Results fitting to the proposed objectives (30%); Conclusions based on the objectives and suggestions for further research (20%); Consistency & coherence (20%). The final three theses in each category where then evaluated according to their novelty (does the thesis offer a new and original insight) and scale (what is the magnitude of the achievement).

The winning Bachelor Thesis

In this category, the thesis of Caitlin Brands, student at Avans Hogeschool, Netherlands, stood out. The thesis entitled: “Mobile interactivity meets the Out of Home industry ‘A mediating instrument to fill in the market gap’” aims to close the bridge between media agencies, advertisers and consumers.

The main question that arose in the beginning of the paper is: “how can an interactive scanning application be used as a mediating instrument to fill in the gap between these three key players on the Out-of-Home media industry?”. Caitlin explains how she carried out an exploratory and qualitative research in order to assess the current situation. The research was designed by using established models, such as the Business Model Canvas, the Value Proposition Canvas and Porter’s Five Forces as a first step.

The second part of her research consisted of exploratory interviews. The interviews were held by roaming the streets to gain as many insights on the needs of the target group as possible. The last step was to hold brainstorming sessions. Ideas that had been gathered and tested based on technical applicability, practical applicability, feasibility and suitability by conducting semi-structured interviews with experts in all relevant fields were presented to all key players.

The findings of the paper were:

  • Media agencies need to shift their focus from B2B to B2C and preferably from a consumer’s perspective.
  • End users need to be targeted very specifically in order to convince them to engage with a brand.
  • All three key players  (media agencies, advertisers and consumers) share different interests and want to gain a personal advantage before committing to an interactive application: media agencies want to use the application as a tool to gather data they could not gather before, consumers want to get discounts or specific information on a brand, and advertisers want to increase brand engagement and customer loyalty.

Caitlin concludes that all those findings make the interactive scanning application (called ‘Capture’) a mediating instrument which generates real-time data when consumers use the application, including a loyalty program for consumers that increases brand engagement at the same time.

The judges commented that her research stood out to them because of the relevance of this topic and hypothesis in today’s industry. In addition, Caitlin had a good approach with a different touch point (CANVAS) and had smart recommendation for the “Capture” model.

More information about her research can be found here, or click on the image to enlarge the poster.

 

Click on the image for full resolution. 

The winning Master Thesis

In the Master category, the thesis that impressed the judges the most was: “Hospitality living LAB- A communications device to control satisfaction with tourism and quality of life in the city”, by Patricia Oliveira, student at IADE University, Portugal.

The basic idea of Patricia’s thesis is that City Tourism has known some of the fastest growth in the world and its changing nature becomes increasingly apparent in many cities, including Lisbon. In her summary, Patricia states that access to information through mobile devices is constant and tourists seek to find and consume local experiences where interaction with residents becomes an important aspect. Although the impact of ICT (information and communication technologies) in the tourism industry as well as in the behaviour of tourists and travel experiences has been recognised, Patricia argues that the implication of this new type of urban tourism needs more attention from managers of cities.

The judges were very impressed with the level of her research, which she folded out in an interesting, practical and relevant way. Another aspect that grabbed the attention of the judges was that the insight of the research started from a very rational and objective need, namely the time management of tourists, even during short trips.

More information about her research can be found here, or click on the image to enlarge the poster.

Click on the image for full resolution.

Awarding the winners

To recognise their success, Caitlin and Patricia will be awarded with a €400 cash prize and both of their universities will receive a €400 voucher to be used on Educational EACA and edcom initiatives. In addition, all finalists will receive a merit certificate to recognise their great work and efforts.

The next edition of the edcom Thesis Competition will be launched on 3 September 2018. For more details please visit our website.

Helping universities developing their Teaching and Learning Strategies

In today’s fast-paced world, universities not only need to keep up with the development of knowledge but they also need to be the ones leading the process. This is the message that EUA (European University Association) wants to send out with their released document: Ten Principles for Enhancing Learning & Teaching at the European Level.

The EUA designed this set of principles with the aim to enhance and support existing initiatives in learning and teaching, and to ensure higher education remains attractive in Europe. Furthermore, this set of principles arose as a need to bridge differences and communication issues between the academic institutes of different countries, as well as the need to give guidance on different issues that were concerning academia from the European area. Its mission to support institutions with learning and teaching is a shared task which does not only concern students and teachers, but also other stakeholders within the institution.

The ten principles can be listed as follows:

  1. The higher education learning experience nurtures and enables the development of learners as active and responsible citizens, critical thinkers, problem solvers, equipped for life-long learning.
  2. Learning and teaching is learner-centred.
  3. Commitment to learning and teaching is integral to the purpose, mission and strategy of the university.
  4. Institutional leadership actively promotes and enables the advancement of learning and teaching.
  5. Learning and teaching is a collaborative and collegial process involving collaboration across the university and with the wider community.
  6. Learning, teaching and research are interconnected and mutually enriching.
  7. Teaching is core to academic practice and is respected as scholarly and professional.
  8. The university community actively explores and cherishes a variety of approaches to learning and teaching that respect a diversity of learners, stakeholders, and disciplines.
  9. Sustainable resources and structures are required to support and enable learning and teaching enhancement.
  10. Institutional QA for learning and teaching aims at enhancement, and is a shared responsibility of staff and students.

In a recent webinar on the topic, Dr. Oliver Vettori, Dean Accreditation & Quality Management Director from the WU Vienna, presented a case study on how his university tried to create an effective Teaching and Learning strategy based on these ten principles. Their TLS (Teaching and Learning Strategy) dates about four years back and was developed in the context of international accreditations. When developing it, they tried to make sure that it is externally resonant.

The TLS that they built was expected to be grounded upon the following values:

  1. Foster enthusiasm
  2. Value diversity
  3. Advocate an open mind
  4. Assume responsibility
  5. Work together
  6. Act reflectively

 

The main idea of this TLS was that the teachers would foster enthusiasm that they could pass on to the learners. Furthermore, they also wanted to value diversity on all levels with regard to different learners, different expectations, different needs, but also to different approaches. In addition, teachers and learners needed to work together, and act reflectively while working together, in order to be successful. Dr. Oliver Vettori concludes that: “These six values were kind of the cornerstone but they didn’t tell us where we want to invest our efforts.”

As a result, Dr. Oliver Vettori decided to construct four key orientations to define the areas in which their strategy would develop. The strategy was built so that it would be responsive to the external expectations and suit everyone within their institution. This strategy would ultimately work as a framework. However, the strategy started to show weaknesses when they tried to implement it and induce the internal changes that were required. In order to detect this weakness, WU Vienna conducted a comparative research project in which they examined various Teaching and Learning Strategies from all across the world, mostly from Europe.

The conclusion of their research surprised Dr. Vettori and his team. As opposed to present features such as frequent mentioning of graduate attributes and mindsets, focus on conditions for teaching and learning and attention to frequent issues, such as equity, sustainability and employability, the majority of Teaching and Learning Strategies showed a significant absence of teaching as an active actor. In these TLSs, there was no mention of teaching methodologies, pedagogic and didactic concepts, no explicit definition of teaching and learning, and perhaps most importantly, no reference to teachers as actors. What’s more, neither teachers or students appear in active roles in these strategies, but as passive recipients of the action. Dr. Vettori concludes that, even though these strategies were portraying a legitimate framework in correspondence with other strategies, they rarely give any indication of concrete action or measures to drive teaching forward.

To sum things up: universities should focus their strategies on the implementation process from the very beginning, as well as paying attention to revising these strategies internally. Dr. Vettori adds: “We need to ask ourselves what exactly our understanding is of student-centered learning. We can have a political ideology and understanding, but we can also try to pin down what it actually means in the classroom and beyond”. Furthermore, strategies should include measurable targets in order to be successful, rather than just following its intentions.

What everybody should learn from this experience is that thinking about the implementation from the very start when developing a strategy can make a substantial difference. Documents, such as  “The 10 European Principles for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching “ are therefore designed to help universities create these strategies.

For more information about the ten principles, click  here. A video with the recording of the webinar can be found here.

Winning a Golden Euro Effie with a €23 media budget

In the face of the growing social mood related to the migration crisis, we were asked by the local Amnesty International branch to prepare a social campaign for refugees. This is how the movie “Look Beyond Borders” was made. Moving, thought-provoking, important. The film, which has been seen by over 41 million people around the world, and the total reach of the campaign has built up to 930 million people, making it the most reachable in the history of global Amnesty International. That’s all with the media budget of only 23 €. Do you think that’s impossible? Well, I invite you to read further.

Let’s start from the beginning…

It is no secret that now the world, and in particular the old continent, is facing a huge humanitarian crisis. The number of refugees exceeds of those after the Second World War. According to UN data, 1 out of 122 inhabitants of the globe is forced to leave their home. Yes, nearly 1% of us have no place to live for ourselves and their loved ones! In 2015 alone, 1 million people reached Europe. For obvious reasons, this is a topic for discussion in countries facing this problem and having to take responsibility for solving the crisis.

In all this, the drama of the human aspect is increasingly forgotten, and the only effect is a sharpened public discourse, giving political fuel to populists and a polarizing society.

 

 

 

 

How did we approach this?

We did not want to directly encourage the admission of refugees, thus adding their five cents to the barren discussion in the media and political salons that had been going on for months. Everything has already been said about this subject. What is particularly important – it is so conflicting that the campaign encouraging the admission of refugees could be mainly rebounded, thus contributing to even larger divisions. What we wanted was to take care of the extreme dehumanization of refugees and that caught our attention particularly.

In the face of the growing migration crisis, the human aspect has gone to the background. Refugees are not talked about as people fleeing persecution, but about the amounts to be adopted and the threatening economic and social problem.The opponent in our campaign were stereotypes and prejudices against what is different and foreign. They lead to unjustified hatred, taken from the fear and ignorance of refugees. This comes from polarization of politics and misleading media coverage, in which we rarely have access to individual stories and do not let refugees speak up for themselves.

Who was our target group?

We knew that we would not reach everyone efficiently, and persuading the declared opponents is pointless. We wanted to reach out and strengthen the support of people accepting refugees or those undecided, who on the one hand were afraid of their image from the media, on the other conscience teld them to help another person in need. For us, they were the most important – constituting nearly half of European societies (334 million people) were open to arguments and the possibility of changing their minds.

Starting from basics, meaning insight …

Increasing aversion to refugees for cultural, social and economic reasons, as well as prejudices resulting from misunderstanding of more and more noticeable cultural and religious differences. A widespread fear, compounded by more and more frequent terrorist attacks, which are mistakenly identified directly with refugees. All this meant that we decided to base our campaign on how universal insight, referring to the fear of the unknown rooted in people – “Every otherness causes anxiety. In refugees, we see a threat without trying to see another, valuable person “

… then the strategy …

Starting from this insight, we wanted to show that fear and hostility come from unjust stereotypes and sometimes it is enough to refute them when confronted with those they concern. We did not want to convince rationally that refugees are same as us, but to give everyone a chance to actually feel it.

For this reason, we used a psychological mechanism, for which mirror neurons are responsible, thanks to which we can feel the emotions of others. In a nutshell, it means that empathy awakens in us when seen in other person. Using this mechanism, we wanted to infect Europeans with it.

… and a great creative idea …

We used the psychological experiment of Arthur Aron, described by him as a “study of closeness.” Acording to his theory, a 4-minute eye contact is enough to strengthen the relationship with another human being.

Through the campaign’s movie we wanted to enable the audience to experience the experiment themselves, showing how little it takes to overcome foreignness and stereotypes towards refugees. We wanted to prove that in the migration crisis, first of all, it is important to recognize the other person who needs help in each refugee, through raising interest and moving people’s hearts.

… which we implemented.

In order to influence the largest number of people from our target group, we had to achieve the widest reach. With a negligible media and production budget, the creative execution was predetermined and focused on the viral effect.

We focused on emotional and qualitative creation, which could interest the media and move the hearts of Internet users, helping to carry out campaigns across Europe. The experiment was carried out in Berlin, which is an ideal place for that purpose. Germany is one of the countries that have received the largest number of refugees, and the city itself is a symbol of overcoming divisions.

We invited Europeans and refugees, mainly from Syria, to participate. We shot the film in the hall, where the mixed-pair couples were seated opposite with their eyes closed, opened with the sign of a moderator. Participants did not know each other until that very moment, and their reactions were not arranged. Their spontaneous behavior had a gigantic emotional charge, being key to the success of the campaign. We created a moving movie from the filmed footage, showing how little it takes to look at the world through the eyes of another human being.

Despite the trend of short social videos, ours lasted as long as 5 minutes. It was a conscious undertaking to cause the greatest impact on the viewers. Such length requires concentration, allowing you to empathize with the experiment and almost experience it yourself. We put the created movie on YouTube and Amnesty social channels. We supported the campaign with media and PR, getting support from influencers and media.

What about the results?

The film dispersed through various channels on social media was watched by 41.3 million people, with the total number of 405 100 shares! “Look Beyond Borders” was mentioned by the largest media in Europe (including Die Welt, El País, Euronews) and in the world (including CNN, India Today, The Huffington Post) providing 826 publications in 46 countries. This way, we managed to generate nearly 481.8 million total reach in Europe alone, and the record of 930 million in the world! That’s all within a budget of just € 23!

Thanks to this numbers the international secretariat of Amnesty International recognized it as the most effective in almost 60 years of the entire organization. For us, the most important thing is that we may have changed perspective of many people toward refugees.

What does it mean to be a Communications Student?

In addition to our monthly blogs, we present to you our very first Vlog for the December Inspire! by EACA blog.

This month’s vlog is an engaging and fun video, presenting a day in the life of communications student Brecht Machiels. With this vlog, we hope you will have a better understanding of what inspires and motivates communications students to become exceptional in our industry.

 

Will Artificial Intelligence take over your job?

Honestly, nobody knows for sure. Some believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take the communications sector by storm. Others think that is just nonsense and that people are overreacting. Whether you like it or not, you will probably have to deal with AI. On the job or at home, AI will find its way into your life. Like myself, every professional who spoke at Evolution Lab 2017 had a rather positive outlook on AI. Except for one man. Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland made sure to keep our feet on the ground at the end of the conference.

AI spices up your job

AI as we know it, is not what you see in the Terminator movies. In communications, we currently use the term AI to describe self-learning algorithms. These codes notice patterns and adapt to them. As you can imagine, these algorithms thrive in a data rich environment. You might not like what I’m about to tell you. Your job is going to change. A lot!

At the Evolution Lab Conference, ‘Advertising in the Age of Artificial Intelligence’, there were many examples of how AI will impact the job market in the advertising industry, but the following ones stood out to me.

Liam Brennan, Global Digital Director at Mediacom, gave us a simple example. Analysts would normally require 72 hours to compile a bunch of data – AI could do it in 30 minutes. Does this mean those analysts are out of a job? No! They will now have more time to analyse the data instead of wasting all their time compiling it.  Don’t see AI as a threat. See it as a potential ally. You no longer need to go through all those boring Excel files and compile the data yourself. Let AI handle the boring bit, while you focus on making an actual analysis of what it is generating for you.

In my opinion, this is a good thing. In times like these, you have to be fast and agile. Things are constantly changing and we cannot afford to waste time. Besides, it makes the job a lot more engaging and fun. This might be what the industry needed to attract more young people to enter this job market.

However, data isn’t the only field where AI will bring about a massive change. If you’re a creative person, you might’ve been thinking that you’re safe from all of this. I mean, AI being creative? Your jobs should be safe, right? Wrong!

Samuel Ellis, former Innovation Director and Consultant for M&C Saatchi, told us about their experiment with creative AI together with the Japanese office of McCann. The latter made an algorithm that functioned as a creative director in order to produce a creative ad campaign. The algorithm actually won the competition, beating a human creative director! Don’t believe me? Check out their ads here.

“Hold up. AI as a creative director? I thought you said AI was not a threat to us!” I hear you think. That’s because it isn’t. AI can’t generate original ideas. All those small ads can be handled by the AI, while we focus our attention on the big jobs. AI can be that little digital sidekick you’ve always wanted. Or is that just me? Radoslaw Brzuska, Chief Innovation Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network Polska, summarised it well: “AI augments our reality, it doesn’t change it”.

Rory, the killjoy

Who could not help being excited after hearing those professionals talk about the endless possibilities of AI all day? They had me convinced. AI is the future and we will have to deal with it. Enter Rory Sutherland, who proceeded to give everyone a much needed reality check. According to him, AI on its own is just like economics: borderline useless.

I can almost imagine your faces right now, disbelief written all over them. However, Rory made a good argument. Both AI and economics assume that the human being is rational. That they will always make a decision because it’s the best option. But let’s face it, we are far from rational. This is where he referred to his almost legendary TED talk about perceived value, which you can watch here. A human will always make decisions based on what they feel is right. Perception and emotion are two things that AI simply cannot take into account. Humanity is just too fickle and unpredictable for AI to be accurate enough to operate on its own.  This is why, at least according to Rory, AI will never endanger our jobs.

This is where I will have to respectfully disagree. For now, he is right. AI is unable to fully predict a human’s whims. What we have to keep in mind though, is that AI is still in its infancy. I predict that there will be rapid advances in the field of AI in the coming decade. In a few years, we might laugh at what we call AI today. You simply cannot afford to ignore AI now. If you ignore it now, you won’t be able to catch up when it breaks through. This is when you will be left behind by the competition. The ones that thought ahead.

What about the students?

Our industry is changing. Some even call this the fourth industrial revolution. AI will partially take over your job. However, this doesn’t mean you will have to look for a new job. On the contrary. Your current job will be freed of the little inconveniences and be more enjoyable than before.

“When times change, change along with them.” That’s my message and my goal. Two friends and I will be starting our own agency called “guapa” once we graduate. We plan to integrate AI right from the get-go. This is why I’ve already picked up some classes in Python. A good coding knowledge is going to be an incredibly valuable skill in the future, which is why I am trying to acquire it as soon as I can.

Even if you don’t have to write it yourself, you’ll still have to be able to work with it. If you have a basic knowledge of coding, you’ll be able to do so much more with it. In these competitive times, you have to make sure to use every opportunity. Knowing how to code might just be what gives you the edge over the competition.

That’s my advice to my fellow students. Don’t stop learning where your classes stop teaching. Look for trends such as AI and try to own them. You don’t have to be afraid that it will be a waste of time if the trend doesn’t break through. Place yourself in the shoes of a future employer. Who would you rather hire: someone who stays in their lane and does nothing or someone who shows initiative and is eager to learn new things?

As you might’ve noticed I am very enthusiastic about AI and the possibilities it will bring along with it. Whatever you decide to do, take this last bit with a grain of salt. I might be a little bit too positive or value AI too highly. What can I say?

I’m just a dreamer. Let’s just hope that I’m not the only one.

Preparing advertising graduates for the job market of tomorrow

In today’s advertising industry, a will to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and a keen eagerness to learn seem more important than ever before. How does the industry ensure that the next generation of advertising professionals has the ability to easily adapt to a new spectrum of future-proof skills and how does higher education prepare their graduates for this job market? More particularly, does the current education system answer the needs of the industry in the rapidly changing world of Artificial Intelligence? These were some of the key questions asked during EACA’s Evolution Lab panel on the mismatch between a graduate’s skills and the needs of the labour market.

Cybersecurity, big data and quantum

First up to address this challenging question was Lucilla Sioli, Head of Unit of Digital Economy & Skills at the European Commission. What is the European Commission doing to make sure today’s generation posseses the right skills for the jobs of tomorrow? Generally speaking, Sioli explained that the European Commission can only strongly advise member states to stay up to date with their curricula, since education is a regional competency and not a European one. However, as part of DG Connect –Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology – the Commission is keen to support developments in Artificial Intelligence. They recently launched a new scheme, called the Digital Opportunity Scheme, which aims to give students of all disciplines experience in fields that are demanded by companies,  such as cybersecurity, big data, quantum or Artificial Intelligence, as well as as web design, digital marketing, software development, coding or graphic design.

In addition, the Commission also mobilises funding to spread messages to foster more on-the-job training, funded by the industry, to learn about digital skills. The aim is to encourage stakeholders in certain industries (e.g. the tech industry) to support new developments, such as Artificial Intelligence, by stimulating them to offer internships and by encouraging them to co-operate with universities that support such change. Sioli concludes: More often, we see that young professionals change jobs every two to three years. On-the-job learning helps people apply skills to specific activities which proves that transferable (digital) skills are more important than ever before.

Work experience = university degree?

So if the European Union is only entitled to strongly advise member states to reflect technological advancements in education on a national level, what are universities currently doing to provide students with the right skills and knowledge?

Paul Springer, Director of School of Communications at Falmouth University, recognises that the academic world is facing a double edged sword: never before have students been so digitally skilled whilst universities struggle to keep up with a most rapidly changing industry. Springer agrees with Sioli that work experience and on-the-job learning on a students’ CV have become more pronounced and increased in value since recent years. With brands and the industry pushing universities to teach students certain skills, there is a tremendous pressure to deliver perfect graduates who are ready to enter the job market. An additional pressure are national and international rankings, which may obstruct universities to take risks, such as launching innovative courses or introducing new initiatives. Springer ends his plea by giving an example of how his university recently introduced a new concept of ‘Flipped Classrooms’, whereby students can learn at their own pace. However, the danger of skimming a wide spectrum of skills and topics through such introductory classes is that students may have had an introduction to these, but are left with a lack of in-depth knowledge and insecurities of how to apply their skills at work.

Starting from scratch

Wouter Vandenameele, Digital Strategy Director at PHD Belgium agrees that the bridge between academia and the industry is far too wide. Although certain key skills, such as problem-solving skills or coding, are much appreciated by employers, he admits that graduates who start in entry-level positions at his agency need to be taught from scratch. Vandenameele adds that, when going through a recruitment process, a graduate’s common sense and interpersonal competences, such as pro-activity and how well they fit into a team are of  higher value than those skills they have acquired during their studies. After all, if a student graduated with a certain diploma, for instance in commercial communications, it’s only taken for granted that they can apply these skills on the job, Vandenameele reasons.

Do we still need universities?

If we want to stay on top on technological advancements in society, we need to rethink how the education system actually works and find a way that users can benefit from it, comments fourth panelist Ivona Skultetyova, PhD candidate at Tilburg University. Skultetyova continues: millennials need to be challenged every minute of every day. These days, their concentration span is much shorter and distractions are much bigger. We need to find incentives for them to apply their energy and motivation in the work space rather than in the classroom.

To sum up, education is a combination of informing people whilst also providing them with the correct skills, so how can we weave education into the transformation of society? Perhaps the big elephant in the room is a question no one dares to ask: do we still need universities? The answer is yes, we do. In a time where technology defines societal transformation, where jobs are replaced by machines and humans by Artificial Intelligence, continuous training and education at university and on the job are more important than ever. Universities need to recognise that there may no longer be a need to teach knowledge and skills that were taught a decade, a year or even a month ago, but that in today’s world, a stimulus to develop interpersonal and transferable skills that can be applied inside and outside university are key to a successful career and future for today’s generation of graduates and young professionals.

My journey into education

Monday, 18 September. The start of a new academic year at University College PXL. In my opinion, THE best college in Limburg (Belgium). And probably also beyond. Where students are named junior-colleagues. The place where they try on the X-factor suit. Starting from day 1.

What does that mean? Passion, international collaboration and networking, multi- and disciplined work and innovative business. Quite a lot. Empty buzzwords? Slang? Not at all. Definitely not in communication management.

Yep, you’ve probably already figured it out by now, I teach within the communication management programme. If this was a deliberate choice? Err, not really. Rather an assembly of several incidental coincidences. As it often happens.

Throwback to my beginnings

A few years ago, I worked as a (digital) marketer for a company named Ardennes-Etape. As a former student of PXL, I stayed in contact with the university through the alumni network which resulted in Herve Vandeweyer, Head of the course, contacting me for a mission. He examined the possibilities to set up an authentic learning assignment for graduate students. An assignment he wanted to be conducted in French. I accepted his offer. It was my first acquaintance with a classroom from the other side. This collaboration is now in its 5th year.

“Coincidence doesn’t exist”

I no longer work for Ardennes-Etape. I’ve had a change of plans 3 years ago.  Herve wanted to continue the mission but needed a lecturer to coach the students. No need for me to think that over! He introduced me to PXL Research where they asked me to do research in the leisure sector, considering my background. To resume, one small year later I was 100% into education! Something I could never have imagined before!

Moonfish

It did not stop there. A little later I was asked by Herve to be the beacon for Moonfish, an advertising agency run by students studying Communications and overseen by myself. That withholds that I prospect, coach, manage revenue and guard the quality standards. Some people ask me if I am the CEO but in my opinion this is an outdated term. I prefer the idea of shared responsibilities and low hierarchy. I absolutely love to be an inspiration and a mentor to my junior colleagues (or at least, I hope to be). Seeing how they gain confidence, gives me a tremendous thrill and pride when I see them finish a project! And as far as I believe, a perfect example of that X-factor I mentioned earlier. Moonfish should cover its own costs, and we perfectly manage that!  After 4 years, I am happy to say we have quite a portfolio. So, the mission for this year is: keep the motor running!

Tutoring, research and project management

The academic season starts with a new programme and a lot of new faces. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I work on Research, trying to find an answer to questions such as: “(i) what is the wine tourism worth in Belgium; (ii) how can we professionalise this sector; (iii) can you measure hospitality through mystery visits?; (iv) how can you bring tourism for all into practice?”

In addition, I start preparing the content for my lecture in Advertising for Master students. They have the possibility to choose their field of interest in their final year.

I feel lucky to be teaching Advertising this year”.

So, what have I planned? A deep dive into one of the, if not the fastest changing areas in the world: Advertising. With a lot of workshops, guest colleagues, external visits, and last but not least, an introduction to edcom and the world of Artificial Intelligence in the Age of Advertising during Evolution Lab 2017 in Brussels on 17 October 2017. Next to these exciting activities, students will also need to work on a briefing and assignment for Ardennes-Etape.

Looking back and forward

And so, this is how I found my way into education. I, who thought that this environment was a slow and rather boring machine. Silly me! If I consider all the activities I am lucky to be in charge of and all the opportunities still out there, I think it is safe to say I don’t regret my choice.

Working together with people that share the same passion creates an energy bubble that rises and rises. If you have found that match, then you are never bored, always with the foresight of new possibilities in your region, nationwide and on an international level. Because, indeed, a school is embedded in society.

My tip for junior colleagues and other students out there today? Seize as many opportunities as you can as there is plenty out there! Develop your talents! And if that is within marketing & communications, I consider it a privilege to be able to share as much of my passion with you as possible.

Where are you from? Looking for a job in Europe

In 2016, I graduated from Bournemouth University and got a BA in advertising. Since then, I’ve been looking for a job which I can truly enjoy and where I could put all of my positive energy into rather than jumping at the first opportunity that I got. I have worked across several European countries such as Italy, the UK, Belgium and through a wide array of industries, all of which strongly connected to advertising or communications in general. Having been through these experiences myself, I felt there was an obvious struggle for European graduates and young professionals to find a place of work where their nationality or background did not affect their chances of getting the job they were applying for. I wanted to see if others like me were experiencing the same struggles and how they were dealing with it, and for those who succeeded at securing a job abroad, I wondered about how they were living, if their expectations had been met, and if the communication industry had provided them with enough opportunities to build a path to success. I ended up wondering about something much bigger than I anticipated.

The hidden obstacle

Juliet Velicangil is a young professional with a British-Turkish nationality and a recent advertising graduate at Bournemouth University. Juliet’s previous experiences include an internship at Saatchi and Saatchi Istanbul, a famous and successful agency. Despite her valuable work experience, she had future employers raising questions about her acquired skills at the agency, even asking if she had access to programmes like PowerPoint and Excel in Turkey. Juliet believes this is strongly connected to the assumption that the success of a company or an agency is reflective of the economic and political welfare of the country. Juliet comments: “A lot of candidates are unprofessionally scrutinised for not having experience in the country they apply for, or simply not being a local. This is especially an issue when stereotypes of nationalities come into play… for example the candidate may be ruled unqualified simply because the interviewer has false impressions of the professional climate of the other countries the candidate has experience in”. As I interviewed Juliet, I realised she was not the only one having experienced this.

Maria Milenkova, a 24 year old Bulgarian millennial who moved to the UK to study Communications & Media, echoes this sentiment: “people thinking they are superior to others because of their nationality is the primary barrier to achieve a truly globalized environment in Europe for young professionals”. Consequently, it seems like what should be an added value – the ability of speaking more than one European language, the knowledge of diverse markets, and the capability to work with a varied group of individuals of different backgrounds- becomes instead the applicant’s biggest flaw. That is unless you come from or have experience from a country which is perceived as more modern or more capable.

I personally also had once the experience of being called for an assessment center at one of the biggest entertainment companies worldwide, when I was in my third year at university. Me, as well as four other non-locals, were cut off at the first stage despite having the same university degrees and acquired skills as the other, local, candidates. This was a placement which was advertised as being particularly focused on other European markets, therefore the knowledge of more than one of these, along with the respective language skills, was going to be highly valued. When I asked for feedback, the manager confirmed they liked me a lot and shook off any explanation with the usual “it’s a competitive job” one-liner. Perhaps these employers are lacking to see what we see: especially in the communications industry, it’s all about finding the next fresh idea and being different, so having a diverse workforce is what could really drive that. People from different countries have different mentalities, which means they can have different viewpoints that might provide that one unexpected insight, so that’s why it’s quite surprising that a lot of agencies seem to employ the same kind of people.

Proving my right to live here

When asked their opinions in regards to unity among European countries, the interviewees drew a distinctive line between young people and the older generation. They have noticed a more negative attitude towards the EU by the latter. However I believe the situation is a little more complicated than that. Most of the agencies we apply to are young, vibrant environments, where multiculturalism is, at least on the surface, highly valued.

So why is it so difficult getting hired then? It can’t be solely a matter of high competition, which is the typical response one gets. We indeed live in a very economical and political globalized environment, yet how is it possible that those who have lived and worked in several European countries and have knowledge of so many market dynamics and speak a wide range of languages, can’t find a proper job in one of these, where we should be considered a competitive candidate?

The only exception seems to be when employment is found out of graduation, from internships previously worked on. That’s what happened to Kasey Kharkinia, a fellow University colleague, who was hired back by the company where she worked for during her placement year at university. However, she admits, “I don’t know how well off I would be if my course didn’t have that placement option”. Kasey tells me how the political climate in Europe “becomes especially important if you’re someone that does not even belong to the EU to start with… it’s just sad when your visa becomes the only reason for a company not to hire you, given you have exactly the same qualifications as others on your course”.

Mark Freese, another talented Australian colleague explains how, despite the fact that companies are posting employment ads in English and are presenting themselves as internationally oriented, they are more inclined to hire a local, even if not as qualified. He understands Kasey’s struggle to secure the next employment opportunity as he adds that: “as a non-European I must constantly prove my right to live here”.

Another interesting general responses of my survey, was that the Northern countries such as Germany, UK and Denmark are considered to be of high value by prospective employers, whereas for young professionals coming from other outside Europe, southern countries or those belonging to Eastern Europe, there is a much deeper struggle, despite their many qualifications and talents.

It is interesting then to acknowledge that the only person I have interviewed which didn’t experience any issue with employment practices and unity in Europe, is Rosa Groot, a Dutch graduate, currently located in Berlin, working at a communications agency. Her experience with finding both an internship and a job across the Dutch border was “super easy”. Rosa adds: if we ignore the national borders within the European Union, in theory, we could be wherever we want. We could all become “digital nomads” and living and working from different locations across Europe”.

Pursuing your dreams

Surely everyone can understand and appreciate the benefits that a common market has brought us, but is globalization in Europe only meant to facilitate journeys amongst its countries? Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the modern European unification aimed to create a continent which was not only united through markets, political institutions and bureaucracy, but by a common sense of cultural belonging. And this was exactly where a European identity should had won against feelings of nationalism that had left Europe with two world wars behind. It is because of our European status that we are able to do everything that we do, and therefore, it is because of that that we should feel European to begin with; we consider ourselves and our own countries to be globalized, welcoming and open, yet we should recognise there is still a high level of individuality within the workplace and within our own reasoning too.

Despite our talks of openness and our sense of identifying ourselves as a European citizen, we do believe that some countries are better than others. This is particularly dangerous because it makes us automatically transfer these beliefs into people as well; who they are, what they know, what they can achieve. By doing so, we automatically limit one’s potential and employers fail to find a someone which can make a real difference in the company he/she may want to work for.

Perhaps in the end it is all about pursuing your dreams and finding those people who are willing to listen. If we don’t give up after being rejected, if we share our thoughts on the things that we see as being unjust, then maybe our idea of fair chances for all will reach the right people. By showing a good and positive example when given the chance, you can break barriers and shake stereotypes.

 

PITCHES & PILSNERS AT THE EACA INTERNATIONAL ADVERTISING SUMMER SCHOOL

Leaving Prague airport on a Saturday night last month, speeding past beer billboard after beer billboard as I made my way towards the city centre, I felt that mix of apprehension and excitement that comes with facing into the unknown. I was there to attend the EACA International Advertising Summer School 2017 (run by the European Association of Communications Agencies every year), not knowing anyone and not really sure what to expect from it all. One week later however, as I made the same journey in the opposite direction my feelings had changed considerably – while I was sad to be leaving the beautiful city of Prague and the great people I’d met, I was also feeling inspired and motivated to go back to Ireland and apply all the things I’d learned to my day to day work.

The week kicked off with an introduction and briefing session with McDonald’s Czech Republic, the client who we would be pitching our ideas to at the end of the week. We then launched into the first of many great sessions with this year’s trainers, looking at the future of advertising and topics such as the creative battle between AI and humans (we’re still winning for now!). Other sessions from the week made us think about how even something as ordinary as toothpaste can change the world through great advertising, or had us putting on improv poetry performances to better understand how to really connect your content with your audience.

Once classes were over, our evenings were left to us to explore Prague and work on our pitches. At the beginning of the week we were put in groups, with each group having a mix of people from different countries and different disciplines to ensure all bases were covered. It was strange going from complete strangers on Day 1, to a fully functional pitch team 4 days later but without a doubt the tight deadline brought us all together far quicker than expected and it was such a satisfying feeling when we finally cracked our idea and everyone got behind it 100% (give or take a couple of sleep deprived outbursts along the way!). While a lot of our time was spent working in classrooms or in hotel lobbies late into the night, we tried to get out and see Prague as much as we could, having ‘brainstorming sessions’ at the riverside bars and doing ‘market research’ at the main sights. One of the great draws of the course for me was the added benefit of getting to visit a city that’s been on my list forever, and Prague certainly didn’t disappoint!

On Friday, all 60+ of us gathered together again to present our ideas in front of a panel made up of the client, the creative agency and other industry experts. All week the sessions had been designed to help us think about this final presentation and while it was a great experience getting up and pitching our group’s idea to the judges, it was just as interesting listening to the other teams and seeing how they had applied what we’d learned that week and also the influence of everyone’s individual backgrounds on their pitches. The course was an amazing learning experience, both reaffirming things that I already knew from my own experience in the industry and opening my eyes to elements of advertising I’d never even really thought about. I’m super grateful that I got the opportunity to participate in the 2017 course, and for anyone considering applying for next year I’d say 100% go for it!