Let two worlds collide | DMA

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Let two worlds collide


The past month has seen the fourth season of Big Book Crit and judging of the 2017 DMA Breakthrough Award.

Both initiatives come from the GRT Creative Network, the charity created in honour of creative pioneer Graeme Robertson and now part of the DMA Group.

What have we learnt during these weeks? Well, many things as you’d expect, but one over-riding observation. The link between education and industry simply must get stronger.

The education and inspiration of the next generation of talent, particularly the advertising and marketing sector, is no mean task. Set against a backdrop of continual change, creating a syllabus that takes students of varying degrees of ability through all aspects of creative thinking, idea generation, execution, platforms and media must be daunting. So, getting the basics right is crucial.

Creativity for the real world

While we see some strong ground-rules being laid in many institutions, the picture is patchy. Too many students attend Big Book Crit or enter the Breakthrough Award unable to express what their creative idea is; why they have chosen one execution over another or critically, evidence through any of these how their work might impact the life of another human being.

The work often seems divorced from reality, inhabiting a parallel world of wishful-thinking – advertising-world, where everything has a ring of familiarity but not the real world where real people live. The real world, where students will be employed by real world agencies.

There are of course examples of great work – witty, sharply observed and original thinking, executed in a surprising way with insight and panache - it’s not all doom and gloom. But after reviewing Book after Book, one Award entry after another, patterns emerge.

Don’t get me wrong – university and college are places to experiment and explore (there should be room to experiment in agencies too, another article I think), but when you meet a student just months away from final submission and job hunting unable to explain why chest-shaving will sell expensive gin, you know there’s a problem.

Write the wrongs

And it doesn’t stop there unfortunately. There is a crisis in the ability to write. You might say this article is an example of it (fair point), but spelling mistakes in headlines in final submissions, impenetrable rationales, body copy shot-through with grammar and punctuation errors? It simply isn’t good enough. Even great ideas fall flat in the face of such carelessness.

This problem might start at schools or in the home, but it has to be resolved by this stage particularly when the eager student sat in front of you says ‘I want to be a copywriter’ and your first response has to be ‘Have you spell-checked your headline?’

Lecturers may not get the time to see everything but they must instil this basic in their students and ensure their Book doesn’t have any of it. Particularly in their final work.

The DMA has put significant resources behind promoting and supporting the copywriting discipline as the crisis is industry-wide for various reasons. But there is huge opportunity for students to move into this area and CDs would be delighted to work with a glimmer of talent – so long as what they see is spelt correctly.

Art for art’s sake

Another observation is the lack of commerciality in the work of students expressing a desire to specialise in illustration. They seem to be on a path of self-exploration akin to fine art.

Again, nothing wrong with experimentation with techniques, both digital and traditional (rarely animation interestingly), but where are the real-world briefs powering this? Student after student has stood in front of me with various ways of drawing a chair that express their inner-feelings about, I dunno, sitting down, but no sign of how they might express a commercial proposition through illustration. Unless multiple creative directors, myself included, have only met an unrepresentative selection of students and there is a wealth of more commercially driven work out there, it feels like a problem waiting to be solved and a relatively easy one at that.

The Social generation

Perhaps the greatest shock (and I use the word deliberately) is the low quality of work we see using social media platforms. For a generation brought up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al, virtually every execution I’ve seen from students has been an add-on, no real understanding of how, or more specifically why, an audience would engage in an idea. The real-time potential of the media never exploited, the feedback loop seldom considered and any sense of targeting rarely demonstrated.

The greatest creative work in social should seek to exploit the formats, or at least push the limits and boundaries of what is possible, not just play nicely with what is available.

What I’ve seen is social platforms used as just another space to put the picture that was the poster. Another place to advertise in advertising-world. The challenge to improve from this relatively low base should be laid at the student’s door to start with – but they’ll need help. What is the latest advice from Facebook about video viewing? How does engagement differ on the various social platforms and differ again from TV, posters and email? They’ll learn a lot when they move into the industry (we all are, continually) but they need to demonstrate it now, in their thinking and their Books, whether they present digitally or traditionally.

So, GRT would like to make an offer. We have a network of senior creatives willing to engage their partners in education for the benefit of both. We will learn from you and you might get a clearer picture of what the industry needs from the new blood hoping to join it. There’s so much we can do that will enrich us both but ultimately the future of the young people who have made the first step into a career of creativity, and racked up a considerable debt in doing so.

Before they decide to defect to the dark side and become Hedge Fund Managers or Estate Agents, let’s give them the best start possible. Together.

Inform, inspire, interrogate.

The GRT Trustees

Written by Ian Bates, Prophecy Unlimited.

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