Offering a Creative Track in the Advertising Major:
A Case History
Most undergraduate advertising programs are concerned with turning out students
who are advertising generalists. The curricula of these programs offer courses
in the fundamentals of the major functional areas in advertising, generally
structured with an introductory class followed by one course in each area:
media, research, and creative. Such a curriculum may also include an
advertising management course and/or a course in advertising campaign
This approach may in part reflect the realities of the advertising job market.
Donnelley (1994) found that entry-level advertising jobs were concentrated in
account management (45% of all jobs) and media planning/buying (42%), career
areas for which generalist training is appropriate. However, a growing body of
academic research and industry commentary suggests that the student interested
in pursuing a career on the creative side of the advertising industry would
benefit from a very different curriculum (Simko, 1992; Otnes, Spooner, & Triese,
1993; Otnes, Oviatt, & Triese, 1995; Robbs, 1996).
This paper details the efforts of one of the top ten undergraduate advertising
programs in the country (Richards & Taylor, 1996) to introduce two tracks under
an advertising umbrella: a management track and a creative track. The
difficulties (and successes) encountered along the way speak to some of the
challenges facing all undergraduate advertising programs.
How the Tracks Were Developed
The department conducted a comprehensive review of its undergraduate curriculum
beginning in 1990. The department took this initiative for four specific
1. The advertising department faculty had been closely monitoring the many
changes in the marketplace, especially the increased interest in integrated
marketing communications, changes in technology, and budgetary shifts out of
traditional advertising media into other persuasive communications.
2. Informal exit interviews with graduating seniors, showed a growing number of
advertising majors wanting more copywriting courses.
3. A change in University administration resulted in a new mission statement
for the university which placed more emphasis on teaching, with all colleges and
schools being asked to become more "student-centered."
4. A new dean requested that all seven departments within the school undertake
The department's objective for this review was to identify a curriculum that
would meet both student interests and advertising/marketing communications
industry needs. To accomplish this goal, the department developed an intensive
four-part process that included: two focus groups conducted with professionals
from advertising agencies, direct marketing, public relations, sales promotion
and advertising sales organizations; in-depth interviews with advertising agency
media directors; in-depth interviews with Fallon McElligott personnel in
Minneapolis; and curriculum profiles developed for 49 institutions offering
undergraduate advertising course work.
The focus groups, depth interviews and curriculum profiles pointed to new
curricular needs. Prior to the review, the department had been offering
students a generalist program similar to that described above, with all majors
taking the same courses that provided instruction in media, research and
creative. The curriculum was revised to include two tracks of study: creative
and management. This resulted in some courses being dropped, others modified
and several new ones added.
Implementing the Two-Track Curriculum
To get the new curriculum up and running, the department had to abide by the
school's four-step approval process for curricular change. After this was
secured the department began to phase in the new curriculum beginning with the
incoming freshmen class in 1993. The curricular changes brought about changes
in the department faculty and classroom facilities. The department hired
professionals with major market experience in copywriting to teach the three
creative courses. The department also secured grants for a multi-media computer
laboratory to house the new courses.
Prior to the curriculum review, only one creative course, Introduction to
Copywriting, was offered on a regular basis. An advanced copywriting course was
scheduled only when an appropriate visiting professor could be secured. With
the new creative track, the department now offers students three creative
courses: Introduction to Copywriting, Advanced Copywriting and Campaigns
Writing. After taking an introductory advertising course and a class in writing
advertising strategies and executions, students wanting more creative
instruction enroll in Introduction to Copywriting. The purpose of this class is
to teach students how to approach an advertising problem, develop a creative
strategy, and then solve it with a well crafted advertisement. Students work on
designing print ads in the class.
Having completed Intro to Copywriting, students move on to Advanced
Copywriting. This class has been designed as a hands-on, intensive writing
course that builds on the fundamentals taught in the introductory copywriting
course. Students in this class develop one print advertising campaign per week.
Students normally take this class in the first semester of their senior year.
In their final semester, students pursuing the creative track enroll in
Campaigns Writing, a studio course that is designed to help students put their
final portfolios together. Students work individually and as part of teams in
In comparison, students in the management track also begin with the
introduction to advertising course and the class in writing advertising
strategies and executions. They then take either the introduction to
copywriting course or a basic public relations writing course (taught by the PR
department), followed by a media course and an advertising research course.
Students in both tracks come back together for the capstone course, advertising
campaigns. And, all advertising majors are required to take a communications
and society course, communications law for advertising and public relations, and
a critical perspectives course.
As of the 1996-1997 academic year, half of our 225 undergraduates are pursuing
the creative track.
Problems Implementing the Creative Track
In phasing in the new creative track, the department has faced some problems.
Administration problems. No restrictions were placed on enrollment in the
creative track or its classes. As a result, the department has had to offer
multiple sections of all three creative courses. (This is further complicated
because students in the management track also take the intro to copywriting
course.) Finding adjunct faculty to cover these courses in the relatively small
market where the program is located has been difficult at times. The large
numbers of creative track majors have burdened the full-time creative faculty
members with additional advising and frequent, intense consultation with
students in their classes.
Varied levels of student motivation in creative classes. Because students can
choose which track they want to pursue, instructors have found that there is a
wide range of talent, motivation, work ethic and initiative among students
enrolled in their classes. This makes teaching the upper-division creative
courses particularly challenging.
Faculty turnover. Copywriters, art directors and creative directors who took
part in focus groups and depth interviews during the curriculum review stressed
that the department hire seasoned professionals with a strong creative track
record to teach the creative track courses. Hiring professionals fresh out of
the field has brought a real-world vitality to our students and our creative
track. Yet, it has also resulted in a substantial amount of our senior
faculty's time being spent on mentoring these professionals to aid them in
making the transition from the work world to the academy. The department has
also found that these highly talented and seasoned professionals are actively
recruited by both the industry and competing universities, which results in
constant staffing problems.
Too few creative courses. The department has tried to stay within the 30-hour
rule that any accredited mass communications department must abide by to
maintain its accreditation. But, with our students competing against the
graduates of the trade schools that are not accredited, and thus can have
numerous creative courses to perfect student portfolios, the faculty fears that
three creative courses is too few to do the job.
Student Evaluation of the Two Tracks
The 1996-97 academic year marked the first time that all students in the
advertising major were on the new two-track curriculum. While advertising
faculty members felt they had a sense of how the tracks were working from
conversations with students during advising sessions and in classes, we wanted
to assess the effectiveness of the new system in a more formal manner.
Therefore, a questionnaire was developed and given to students enrolled in the
upper-level courses in both tracks: Advertising Media, Advertising Research,
Advanced Copywriting, Advertising Campaigns, and the Portfolio class.
(Questionnaires were completed during class time in the media, research, and
campaigns classes; students in the two creative classes received the
questionnaire in class but were instructed to complete it after class time and
return it to a faculty member's mailbox.) Forty-five management track students
(28 graduating seniors and 16 juniors) and 26 creative track students (18
graduating seniors and 6 juniors) returned completed questionnaires.
The questionnaire introduction noted that "The Advertising faculty would like
to know about your experiences in our major." Students were asked to think
about course content and the structure of the curriculum in answering the
questions, and not to focus on instructor-related issues. (All instructors are
required to conduct course evaluations for each class each semester.)
The questionnaire asked students which track they were in, whether that track
was the one they had originally planned to pursue, if they would choose the same
track if they were making the decision today, and how they selected their track.
The purpose of this series of questions was to determine satisfaction with the
two tracks, and to provide an indication as to whether the faculty were doing a
good job of helping students choose a track.
The next series of questions assessed satisfaction with the courses in the
curriculum, grouped into four areas: the foundation courses (principles and the
first writing course), the main track courses (intro to copy, media, and
research for management track students; intro to copy, advanced copy, and
portfolio for creative students); the capstone campaigns course; and the
required non-advertising courses in the curriculum (communications & society,
graphics, communications law, and critical perspectives). In each case,
students rated their level of satisfaction with the group of courses using a
five-point "very satisfied" to "very dissatisfied" scale. For the track courses
and the campaigns course, students were also asked whether they felt the
coursework was "helping you prepare for a career in advertising." The
five-point scale used for these questions had endpoints of "yes, definitely" and
"no, not at all."
Finally, students were asked what course(s) they would like added to their
track. They also indicated whether they had participated in an internship,
whether they had taken part in a study-abroad program, and whether they were a
member of the Ad Club. The final question asked if they would recommend the
advertising major to an incoming student.
The questionnaire was structured with many open-ended questions to give
students an opportunity to voice their opinions. In particular, respondents
were asked to provide an explanation if they indicated they were dissatisfied or
very dissatisfied with any group of courses.
Choice of Track. Of the forty-five management students who completed the
questionnaire, 73% indicated they had intended to pursue this track at the time
they were admitted to the advertising major. Creative track students were even
more strongly committed to their track, with 88% of the twenty-six respondents
saying this was the track they had planned on from the start. (A number of the
management students who had not initially planned on this track said they
changed because of an experience in the introductory copy class. Sample
comments: "I found that I just don't have the knack for copywriting." "I took
a copywriting course and realized that I was much better at the selling
A difference in level of satisfaction with the two tracks became clear in the
answers to the question that asked if the student would select the same track
today. While 91% of the management track students said they would choose the
same track, 27% of the creative track students would not make the same choice
again. In explaining their answer, several noted that their decision would be
different not because they were no longer interested in being a copywriter
(though that was true in some cases), but because of dissatisfaction with the
creative curriculum. One said, "I feel the advertising creative faculty is in a
transition period, leaving the students with transition teaching. I don't feel
I gained enough knowledge/experience to be competitive." Another worried that,
"I'm passionate about creative but I guess I just don't feel prepared enough and
confident enough that I could go out with a portfolio and find a job." And a
third complained that "The instruction, creatively, has been weak, and too late
in the major; I don't think I've learned enough to get a job."
Beyond the curriculum, another source of dissatisfaction may be the haphazard
manner in which many students in both tracks indicated they selected their
focus. Many of the management students described themselves as "not creative,"
or primarily business/management oriented, while creative track students were
likely to characterize themselves as "not business oriented" or "creatively
driven." However, most students admitted their choice was arbitrary. A
creative track student confessed, "I was apathetic with respect to majors; it
seemed like it would be fun." Another said, "I'm not really sure; I was just
drawn to it." Management students were no more focused. One claimed to have
chosen the track by "Default." Another said, "...it's a result of trial and
error." Not all students were so unfocused; several mentioned discussions with
advertising faculty members or experiences in particular classes as factors.
Course Satisfaction. Eighty percent of the management students said they were
either very satisfied or satisfied with the foundation courses in the major
compared with sixty-five percent of the creative students. Based on the
open-ended comments, it appears that creative students were frustrated that
these courses did not include more hands-on creative work. One respondent
complained that the courses did not "prepare creatives in ways to think about
advertising; it's all terminology which adds to strengthen understanding of
advertising, but does not enhance creatives in needed degree."
When reflecting on the primary track courses, ninety-six percent of the
management students were either very satisfied or satisfied compared to
sixty-two percent of the creative students. Even more telling is the comparison
between those indicating they were very satisfied: forty-nine percent of
management students versus fifteen percent of creative students. Those creative
track students who were dissatisfied with their courses (19% of the total)
commented that they were upset by changes in faculty and teaching formats, and
that they would have liked even more creative classes.
Students in both tracks felt that their primary track courses were helping to
prepare them for careers, although the management students were again more
positive than the creative students. Sixty-seven percent of the management
students answered "yes, definitely" that the courses were useful for career
preparation compared to thirty-one percent of the creative students. An
additional twenty-nine percent of management students and forty-six percent of
creative students felt these courses were "somewhat" useful.
Only seniors answered the question about the capstone campaigns course. Of the
twenty-eight management track students who had taken or were taking campaigns,
sixty-four percent were very satisfied with the course, twenty-nine percent were
satisfied, and seven percent were neutral. Of the twenty creative track
students who answered the question, forty percent were very satisfied, another
forty percent were satisfied, ten percent were neutral, and ten percent were
very dissatisfied. The reasons for dissatisfaction were very specific. One
student complained "I'm stuck with people on management side who expect
creatives to care about the class as much as they do." The other stated,
"Creative is a minute part of it."
The breakdown of responses on the usefulness of the campaigns course in career
preparation was similar. Seventy-nine percent of the management students
answered "yes, definitely" to this question, compared with forty-five percent of
the creative students. The remaining management students answered "yes,
somewhat." Among the creative students, thirty-five percent answered "yes,
somewhat," ten percent were "not really sure," and another ten percent answered
"no, not really."
As far as the required non-advertising courses in the curriculum were
concerned, seventy-six percent of all the management students (juniors and
seniors) and seventy-three percent of the creative students reported being very
satisfied or satisfied. Students in both tracks who were dissatisfied indicated
they were most upset with either the communications and society course they took
as freshmen or the critical perspectives course they took as upperclassmen. The
complaints about the latter centered on a desire for an advertising-themed
course in this area.
Course Wish List. In addition to a critical perspectives in advertising
course, which was mentioned by students in both tracks, creative track students
asked for more graphics courses, design courses, and production courses. "More"
was definitely a theme with this group: "More creative classes. Three is not
enough." "More intense, in-depth, graphics/illustration classes. How else will
we learn how to put a good looking portfolio together?" "Another course that is
similar to [the portfolio class]. We're doing in one semester what Ad Centers
do in two years."
Management students' requests were more broadly based. Several suggested
particular courses in marketing. Others recommended an advertising ethics
course, public relations courses, and presentation courses. One student asked
for an advanced course in either media or research.
Internships and Extra-curricular Activities. Sixty-five percent of creative
track students and seventy-six percent of management track students have
participated in internships. Thirty-one percent of creative students and
forty-two percent of management students spent at least one semester in a
study-abroad program. The newly reactivated Ad Club has attracted more
management students than creative; thirty-one percent of the former group and
fifteen percent of the latter are Club members.
Would You Recommend the Major? Not surprisingly, management students were far
more likely to recommend the advertising major to an incoming student than were
creative students. Only one of the forty-five management track students said
they would not recommend the major, because "much of what is taught is taught in
other majors (marketing) more in-depth." More representative were comments like
these: "Yes, definitely. The ADV major provides us with a very solid
background in almost all aspects of advertising and gives us many projects to
add to our portfolio. Compared to majors from other schools going into the ad
industry, we're much more prepared." "Yes, definitely. I feel that the
advertising department contains some of the best and most knowledgeable and
experienced professors in this school! They are very down-to-earth and teach
the way an agency is run. I feel like I have a pretty good idea on what to
expect and what is expected from me when I get into the 'Real World.' I feel I
have a pretty strong foundation for advertising." "Yes, because I think the
courses show you, as much as is possible in an academic setting, what the 'real
world' will be like. Also, you see sides of both tracks, regardless of the one
Interestingly but not surprisingly, management track students are aware of the
problems in the other track. One commented that they would recommend the major,
but, "It depends what he/she really wants to do. The creative track is lacking;
there aren't ad design courses. The management track seems very good and
comprehensive." Another noted, "Although I love the management track, I hear
that other students have a lot of problems with the creative track. They say it
isn't very well-rounded (needs more structure, yet is too narrow), and they
don't really like the faculty."
The creative track students were split on whether they would recommend their
major. Sixty-two percent would, nineteen percent would not, and eleven percent
were undecided. Sample comments from the negative group: "No, the creative
staff is too traditional." "Not the creative track (too little learned too
late)." "No, I feel that it is on a downward spiral because of a lack of
experienced teaching staff and creative experts."
Those who would recommend the major offered a variety of opinions. Several
singled out the creative faculty: "Yes, great experience and wonderful
professors." "Yes, although I have expressed weaknesses in the creative track
for my personal purposes, I think the program in general prepares its students
well. I have also been impressed by the attention the faculty pays to students
and the knowledge they have of the industry." "Yes. It works. It's real, the
teachers are professionals, and they care! Others talked about their enjoyment
of the courses: "Yes, because it is an excellent academic experience and it's
fun." "Yes, I have had a lot of FUN in the creative track of advertising. I
would definitely recommend it."
Next Steps: Curriculum Revision
Based on the survey results and on-going discussions among advertising faculty
and school administrators, a revised creative track is scheduled for
implementation beginning with the Class of 2002. The courses themselves will
stay the same, but the character of the creative track is being altered
First, enrollment in the creative track will be limited to a total of forty
students per year, twenty each at the junior and senior levels. Admission to
the track will be based on a portfolio review at the end of the student's
sophomore year, after completion of the introduction to copywriting class;
students will go through a portfolio review after the advanced copywriting class
as well to continue in the track. This change is due to two concerns: the
limited number of jobs available in the creative area (Donnelley, 1994) and the
previously-mentioned sense among the faculty that some of the students currently
in the creative track lack the passion and commitment necessary for success in
this aspect of the advertising field.
Reflecting the same point, students in the advertising master's degree program
will no longer be permitted to take the advanced copywriting and portfolio
classes beginning in the fall of 1998. Due to the nature of the master's
program, most students come in with little or no background in advertising, and
their presence in these classes has tended to take attention away from the
serious creative student.
A third change is that students who know they wish to pursue the management
track will no longer take the introduction to copywriting class. Instead, they
will take a new writing class, Promotional Writing, which will be taught in a
series of modules. Modules will focus on writing for sales promotion, direct
marketing, public relations, and general business writing. While undecided
students will still be permitted to take the introduction to copy class, the
make-up of that class should become more focused on die-hard creatives, allowing
the instructors to push harder sooner than is now possible.
Finally, preliminary discussions are underway with the administrators of the
university's advertising design program, housed in the arts school. If
negotiations are successful, our advertising majors in the creative track will
be able to minor in design. As a quid pro quo, a limited number of design
majors will be admitted to our advanced copy and portfolio classes, allowing the
students to work in copywriter/art director teams.
What have we learned from this experience? Curriculum redesign, particularly
radical redesign, is easier conceived than implemented. We believe that the
changes outlined above will greatly strengthen the creative track. However, we
will have to go through another period of implementation, one that will require
pedagogical creativity on our part and careful monitoring. We anticipate two
potential problem areas. First, we will need to make sure that students in the
management track do not feel slighted. The advertising faculty does not view
management as the fall-back track, and we do not want the students to feel this
way either. Management students will also have a portfolio requirement. And,
all students in the major will be required to attend a departmental symposium
during their sophomore year where the two tracks will be discussed in detail.
The second possible problem area involves the faculty itself. Not everyone
agrees on the need for a creative track; not everyone agrees on how the track is
structured. And, just as creative-oriented and management-oriented students are
different, so are the faculty who teach in the two tracks. In particular,
careful coordination will be needed to insure that students receive a
comprehensive introduction to the field in the foundation courses to help them
in choosing a track. Similarly, it is essential that the campaigns capstone
course be structured to educate both groups of students on the particular
contribution of their track to the overall effort. We plan to repeat the
student survey each year as a way to assess satisfaction and identify problems.
Finally, the experiences of the past several years have shown that faculty
matter tremendously to the success of any curriculum. Of course, personalities
are important, but, more than that, continuity is essential. We believe that
part of the reason for the greater satisfaction among management track students
is that the faculty teaching those courses are known entities. Two of the three
management track faculty members have been at the university for over ten years;
the third, while new to this program, has also been an advertising educator for
more than ten years. All three receive consistently strong course evaluations.
Conversely, the creative track faculty members are all relatively new to the
school and to teaching. The creative track seniors who responded to the
questionnaire have witnessed upheaval in that program; two faculty members who
taught creative courses left either during or after the 1995-96 academic year.
(There was also little faculty stability in the creative area prior to this
time; two previous creative hires with extensive agency experience stayed for
only two years each.) The two people teaching the advanced and portfolio
courses during 1996-97 both had considerable agency experience, but were unknown
commodities in the students' eyes. This is especially problematic on the
creative side, where so much of the evaluation is subjective (at least as
compared to media planning and advertising research).
That is not to say that we would advocate sacrificing teaching excellence for
continuity. Current plans call for both of the people who taught in the
creative track during 1995-96 to remain in the classroom; however, we have hired
an additional person to head up the track. As our past experience has shown,
recruitment and retention of creative faculty is difficult. We feel fortunate
to have found a person with extensive agency experience (on both the creative
and management sides) and a commitment to teaching. We are hopeful that this
cadre of creative faculty, supported by a revised, improved creative track
curriculum, will get us to our goal of providing students in the advertising
major with two equally strong curricular options.
Donnelly, William J. (1994). How to get entry-level
employment at the top 100 advertising agencies. Journalism & Mass
Communication Educator, 49(3), 51-55.
Otnes, Cele, Spooner, Erin, & Triese, Deborah (1993).
Advertising curriculum ideas from the 'new creatives.' Journalism
& Mass Communication Educator, 48(3), 9-17.
Otnes, Cele, Oviatt, Arlo A., & Triese, Deborah (1995).
Views on advertising curricula from experienced 'creatives.'
Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 49(4), 21-30.
Richards, Jef I. & Taylor, Elizabeth Gigi (1996). Rankings
of advertising programs by advertising educators. Journal of
Advertising Education, 1(1), 13-21.
Robbs, Brett (1996). The advertising curriculum and the
needs of creative students. Journalism & Mass Communication
Educator, 50(4), 25-34.
Simko, Alison (1992, June 1). School's in. Creativity,
Offering a Creative Track in the Advertising Major:
A Case History
Submitted for consideration for
1997 Annual Conference
Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication
Beth E. Barnes, Ph.D.
Carla V. Lloyd, Ph.D.
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
215 University Place
Syracuse, NY 13244
Offering a Creative Track in the Advertising Major:
A Case History
Many undergraduate advertising programs struggle with the question of how best
to deal with students interested in a career on the creative side of the
advertising industry, particularly since these students may have different
curricular needs than students preparing for managerial careers. This paper
describes an accredited undergraduate advertising program's experience in
phasing in a two-track major, with different course requirements for creative
and management students.