Unfair Advantage

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April 2015 Article:


Alumni Advantage is a newsletter for current students written by members of the National Professional Advisory Board and their colleagues. It provides insider advice, insight and inspiration so that when our graduates enter the real world, they are ready to rock it.


Thought you'd be done with homework after college? Not so fast.
Alex Wells

Alex Wells

I hate to admit it, but the truth is that I was never all that studious in college. I just didn’t enjoy sitting at home or in a coffee shop and reading a textbook for hours on end, feverishly highlighting assorted sentences and trying to memorize factoids that I knew would be cheerfully jettisoned from my brain the moment my test was over.

I loved learning, but I didn’t love studying. My enthusiasm for homework was equal to that of my crappy part-time retail job. And while I somehow retained most of the important principles of my chosen field of study, it sure wasn’t for a love of required reading.

But now things have changed. In fact, these days I actually wish for little more than just a few free hours to dig into some reading material about the marketing communications business. Almost as if karma is mocking me, now that I actually want to study up, I have a stockpile of about a million articles, books, websites, webinars and whitepapers that I’m dying to dive into, and yet I have barely a free moment to even index and prioritize them.

I have a hunch that you’ll soon find yourself in this same position.

Every Day Is Test Day Out Here
There’s simply so much going on in this industry…new technologies, new ways to communicate, new practices and techniques to employ, new everything. That should come as no surprise to you. But I’d like to prepare you for the fact that no matter what you do in the marketing communications, advertising and/or public relations industry, your days of required reading and studying are far from over. Constant learning and professional development is no longer a way to get ahead; it’s the only way to survive.

So…What To Study?
The good news is that if you love this business, as I do, then you won’t mind the study requirements. In fact, they’ll be self-imposed, and you may even have to make sure that you actually get some work done amidst all that learning. Your challenge will be to find the most relevant, the most insightful, and the most current sources of industry news. And while these change from time to time as new ones come about, I’m going to spare you some discovery time and share with you a few of the sources that I have found to be the best of the best:

  1. 4A’s SmartBrief:
    The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's) is the national trade association representing the advertising agency business in the United States. Their SmartBrief compiles lists of top news stories that affect a wide variety of industries and publishes them in a nice, tidy daily email. The 4A’s SmartBrief is excellent and is usually the first thing I read every morning. Follow this link to sign up for it free of charge: https://www2.smartbrief.com/signupSystem/subscribe.action?pageSequence=1&briefName=aaaa&utm_source=brief
  2. Direct Marketing News
    This is a printed publication that is well worth the cost of a subscription (about $148 per year). I used to think of direct marketing as being a nicer way to say ‘direct mail.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. You’ll be blown away at what people are doing in the direct marketing field.
  3. How Magazine
    I’m not a designer, but I am absolutely passionate about design. Being on the account services side, it’s my job to help our clients understand the value of great design, and the subtleties that may not always be immediately apparent, but that can separate a work of art from just another piece of direct mail. I mean, direct marketing. How will get you giddy about designing, even if you can’t do it yourself. Subscriptions less than $30 per year.
  4. Communication Arts
    If you haven’t heard of CA, just ask one of your professors where the college stores its probably 10,000 previous issues. Start with the most current issue and work backward. Spend a weekend doing this and you’ll basically give yourself a Ph.D. in the modern history of advertising, design, photography and illustration. Subscriptions start at $30 for the digital version. https://store.commarts.com/NewSubscription

Whitepapers – hidden gems of knowledge…
The 4A’s SmartBrief that I mentioned above has an added bonus. There are tons of companies that advertise within the Brief with links to fascinating content marketing pieces. I’ve probably downloaded more than 200 whitepapers about a wide array of topics, such as how to measure the value of social media, how to create an integrated marketing strategy, how to design for the mobile screen, and much, much more.

…and career opportunities.
You’ll have to enter your contact information to get the whitepaper download (these are also sometimes called e-books). Don’t be afraid to submit your real contact info. The material is well worth it, and when the advertiser follows up with you because they see that you downloaded their material, you could just tell them you’re an eager student looking for a job…might just help you get a foot in the door with an innovative company. Some of the leading companies in the communications technology business are posting content this way, and they talk to agencies all across the country every day.

So get ready to hit the books!
So in summary, if you want to work in this business, you’re going to need to make studying a habit. But the good news is that in the real world, developing consistent study habits will pay big dividends. I sincerely hope that you’ll enjoy the pursuit of knowledge as much as I do now.

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