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Education in Advertising

November 9, 2012

Education in Advertising

As I was writing this, 360i was named the best Search practice in the country by Forrester Research:

“360i receives top scores… due to its strong paid search and social media capabilities and for its unwavering strategic focus on employee and client education.”

Education matters.

I usually start writing these posts with a song in mind. I find that the internal soundtrack helps me find connections that I might otherwise miss.

The song that volunteered today was “Homework” by Al Perkins… I found a great live recording by Otis Rush… “Oh baby, I may be a fool, wasting my time by going to school… the way you got me loving you so – I can’t do my homework anymore.”

So – first, it’s great music and you should listen to the song. I also found a Wikipedia page listing songs about school that’s worth exploring.

Second – the lyrics speak to a challenge we face in agencies regarding education:

It’s not just love that’s a distraction from homework – all of our students have jobs.

Everyone wants to learn.

We’ve all had the wistful dream of heading back to school once there’s time. And one of the amazing opportunities at 360i for employees is an institutional focus on education and training – literally thousands of hours of training are available for employees. 360i takes it seriously enough that a year and half ago, I was brought in from VCU Brandcenter where I headed the Creative Technology track, to join as Dean of 360iU, our Education and Thought Leadership group, to make sure we not only expanded on useful training but also provide academic rigor to what we do.

And our employees and our clients love the idea! No surprise, because, as I said, everyone wants to learn.

So I came in, created a great curriculum. One of the assets we have is our world-class subject matter experts who are literally walking the halls, so we can credibly teach just about anything.

People signed up for classes, workshops, seminars. And a lot of them came, and got a lot out of them.

But…

But with the inevitable last minute client deadlines, combined with the reality of a full work day plus another hour or two of classes (plus trying to have a semblance of life outside work)… it’s too easy to justify putting it off, hoping there’ll be another time to do it.

The classroom model doesn’t work in the agency world, at least most of the time.

Reality. What a drag.

So how to optimize the time that people do have available?

Same way we optimize marketing programs – understand where people are, what they’re doing and why, and go there and provide something useful to them in that context.

One thing that’s worked is bringing education and training into working teams focused on a client assignment. There’s no question about applicability – what’s being learning is being applied as it’s learned. Ideation sessions become learning opportunities that don’t feel like school, and we’re finding they lead to better, bigger, and more fully realized ideas.

A corollary is to focus on what can be done once you’ve learned something – learn this so you can do that. And most of the time that has to be more than “think differently.”

We’ve also made some sessions available at multiple times – 360i’s Friday morning fixture “Bagels with Berky” (led by David Berkowitz, our VP of Emerging Media and well-known pundit – blog, twitter) has added a “Beer with Berky” section to accommodate those who are morning-averse (and btw it’s not only the creatives).

We’ve added a timesheet category for training to make it easier for managers to plan and justify time allocations. The timesheet part was easy – the hard part for most agencies is that this requires real support at the top for investing time in education.

And sometimes a big class is the right thing to do. We’ve done a few trainings where we had the entire agency “in class” for 90 minutes every day for a week (with videos and presentation material available on our intranet for people who missed a session for client work or who joined the company after we ran those sessions). Programs like this are great for getting the agency up to the same marker, and for showing how important certain topics are to the agency.

And they’d better be important if you’re going to do that – it’s a serious financial investment by the agency, and a serious time investment by the people involved. Pulling hundreds of people out of their normal schedule is a major disruption.

Disrupt and reframe

Disruption only serves us if there’s something different on the other end – not chaos, but reframing. I’ll have another post soon on the disrupt-reframe change model, but for now let this suffice – disruption creates an opportunity for a new structure to take hold. So you need to think through what you want people to know AND DO differently at the other side, and provide ongoing support.

The reframe for us was not just being told that the subject is important to the agency, but that everyone has an individual responsibility to learn and apply what they’ve learned. Not a nice-to-have – it has to be a different world for everyone after that initial training, so ongoing reinforcement is key. Framing things as “learn this so you can do that” and then holding people accountable makes the result of the disruption actionable.

Speaking of accountability…

It’s not always easy to find a good metric for education – different ways of thinking aren’t really demonstrable except by output. So find proxies to measure instead. How many of your ideas, whether or not the client bought them, represent the incorporation of the “that” compared to ideas prior to the training? How has language within the agency changed to represent different ways of thinking compared to before? Have your clients noticed a change? Identify the appropriate measures for what you’re doing.

So – what’s the takeaway here?

As you think about how to roll out training and educational opportunities within your agency, you need to do more than just hire someone to come in and do a full-day training on “Digital” or “Mobile” or whatever the subject is. You have to do more than just offer resources like Lynda.com or other self-managed training. You have to do more than have a guest speaker on an interesting topic…

Have someone coordinate teaching – they don’t have to be expert in the subjects being taught, but they have to be experts in putting syllabi and curricula together (yes, those are the plurals). They need to guide the subject matter experts in your agencies to create programs with actionable outcomes, with a narrative flow, informed by knowledge of how people actually learn, and with flexibility enough to accommodate the realities of “client comes first.” Build the curriculum to the realities of the agency.

This requires making an investment – even if you’re using your own people to teach, you have to commit to investing in the opportunity cost of making employees available for the training. You have to make it important to everyone that they participate (carrots are better than sticks for that), and that there’s accountability for using what they’ve learned.

When you do this, your employees benefit, the quality of the work benefits, your reputation in the industry benefits, your clients benefit, and our industry is better able to be a credible and respectable force.

One more song to say goodbye

Besides, as James Brown sang with the Famous Flames, “Got to, got to, got to listen now… What do you say? Without an education, might as well be dead” – Don’t Be a Drop-Out!

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