Centenntial launches entry-level ad skills program

Toronto’s Centennial College is launching an advertising account management program that will fast track university graduates through a one year essential skills course.

Ad agencies want more university graduates to go into

account management, but they recognize most of them have no practical experience of advertising, said Dean Cowell, co-ordinator of the program and an 18-year veteran of the ad industry himself.

The program, to start this September at Centennial’s Centre for Creative Communications, is unique in Canada, Cowell continued, and takes a nuts and bolts approach. Students will work on marketing problems and develop strategic communications solutions through projects and case studies. They will also study integrated marketing plans, media selection, financial planning for ad agencies and campaign planning.

Students will spend two semesters (30 weeks) in a Centennial classroom and a third summer semester (15 weeks) working – unpaid – for an agency. Cowell said since the college already has a close relationship with some of the best known agencies in Canada — including J.Walter Thompson, MacLaren McCann and FCB Toronto — thanks to Centennial’s three year advertising diploma program, he will build on that to secure internships for his fast track students.

“”We have a very good placement record,”” Cowell said, adding that student interest in the new program has been keen. “”We’ve had a very good response so far. We’ve had applications from across Canada and even international applicants.””

Ideally, the new program would attract 40 to 45 students, Cowell said, but he expects numbers to be in the 30 to 40 range. A degree in any discipline is acceptable, as are some college diplomas, although Cowell noted that about 95 per cent of the applicants so far are university graduates.

Agency response to the new program has been positive. Lynn Chow, business director at FCB Toronto, is familiar with Centennial’s interns and likens the one year program to “”a sort of advertising MBA.””

She said graduates must have a passion for advertising and need to learn the hard skills of the business. As would-be account managers they need to be strong on presentation, writing, analysis and have strong grasp of what the business is actually about.

Caralyne Donnet is vice-president, group account director at Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG. That agency has held the Dell Canada account ever since the computer maker has been here and also holds the Intel Canada and Xerox Canada accounts.

Donnet didn’t make much distinction between the management of high-tech accounts and those of packaged goods, financial services and other sectors. She said what students need to learn at Centennial is “”metrics and math skills.””

“”That means understanding regression based modelling, forecasting, revenue per product and so on,”” said Donnet. “”Accountable advertising is the wave of the future and Dell is leading the way.””

More generally, Donnet welcomed the program. She suggested that in addition to teaching the nuts and bolts of advertising it would also allow students to see if they actually wanted to work in the advertising industry.

Mark Weisbarth, president of Due North Communications, said learning organizational skills were crucial to anyone joining the advertising industry, although he thought presentation and analytical savvy were not as important for entry-level account managers.

Weisbarth, who’s familiar with agency interns and with the needs of high-tech clients, said the new graduates will need a “”tough exterior, street smarts and a sense of humour.”” They also need to be dependable and know how to work in a group.

“”The advertising world will benefit from better trained people,”” said Weisbarth, who wants advertising to be considered among the professions such as architecture, law and accounting.

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