Ludi Koekemoer. Picture: Freddy Mavunda/Financial Mail
Ludi Koekemoer. Picture: Freddy Mavunda/Financial Mail

The lockdown has forced two major advertising schools to rethink their approach to teaching and re-evaluate where the skills deficit is in the industry.

Ludi Koekemoer, acting CEO of AAA School of Advertising, says the institution was quickly able to introduce remote teaching protocols. "We did that in a very short time by equipping all staff and students with devices like tablets, laptops and iMacs, as well as data, to ensure Wi-Fi connection. We prepared tutorials, trained teaching staff and students and developed best practices to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and Facebook."

It also placed recorded teaching sessions on a learning platform called Moodle.

Koekemoer says other adaptations were necessary as well. "Our executive training division immediately liaised with the industry to understand the changing environment, and realised there was an immediate need to embrace soft skills. We switched our focus to online engagement and the building of relationships with clients and stakeholders, and focused on ways to use digital marketing."

Rob Stokes, chair of the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business, says the focus of education was changing even before the pandemic. "Since 2017 the school has evolved from an advertising college to a creative school of business. We realised our graduates were not going into ad agencies, but instead were being hired for corporate roles because of their ability to think creatively in a business context. We doubled down on this strength."

The Red & Yellow school has recently become part of the global Honoris United Universities network that Stokes says now provides the resources for the school to expand into Africa.

Rob Stokes. Picture: Supplied
Rob Stokes. Picture: Supplied

For over a decade the ad industry has been complaining about a lack of copywriting skills, and nothing seems to have changed. "There is a severe shortage of copywriters, especially of those writing for digital platforms, as well as digital marketers, who have to be at the forefront of a changing business landscape, including media planning," says Koekemoer.

"Marketers expect ad agencies to understand their business challenges. Ad agencies expect their staff to move out of silos and be proficient in client relationships as well as strategic planning and creative thinking."

Stokes agrees that there is a problematic digital deficit. "That hasn’t changed in the 21 years I’ve been doing this. This is because the landscape changes so fast. There are so many new opportunities appearing every day, it’s important to stay up to date."

Another criticism of the ad industry is its lack of cultural representivity, both in the workplace and in creative output. Says Stokes: "Our school has a social promise that 10% of students don’t have to pay for themselves, and we have exceeded this commitment by some margin. At the very least this ensures diversity, though there is always room for more. Diversity of thought is one of the most important ingredients for creative thinking as a team, so this is something the school works hard at improving every day."

Koekemoer says: "More than 60% of AAA’s students are black. The problems we encounter in our recruitment efforts are that the school system has failed creative talent; there is a severe lack of career guidance in matric and the ad industry is not successful in promoting itself as offering a serious career. There is also a lack of clarity about the skills needed for a successful career path in an ad agency."

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