Where is the best place for the next generation of media leaders to learn about media planning and strategy?
If students want to study media specifically, they should go to a college, says media expert Virginia Hollis. Compared to universities, colleges such as AAA, Vega and Red & Yellow offer more practical, applied learning with a stronger focus on media, she advises.
This is why John Beale, the managing director of the MEC Group’s Cape Town office, decided to do his Honours in advertising and communications at Red & Yellow after completing his BComm Marketing degree at Stellenbosch.
“I didn’t feel equipped with enough practical knowledge to find a job at an agency without my textbooks in tow,” says Beale. “Red & Yellow was very focused and offered more practical, hands-on learning.”
For students who are itching to get into media management and who have decided to go the college route, what do each of these tertiary institutions offer?
AAA has a BA in Marketing Communication with the option to specialise in media management in third year. The course offers prospective media planners numerical and computer skills, as well as an appreciation of the creative process. With this, they can understand the target audience’s media consumptions and the media options. The college also offers the same combination of subjects as a diploma, as well as a part-time option, which runs for about 20 weeks.
As a voluntary body that focuses on media education, the Advertising Media Association of South Africa (Amasa) offers a media management course at AAA for full-time and part-time students. The course is run by practising media professionals, which allows students to benefit from hands-on training, education and trends in advertising media.
Outgoing Amasa chairperson Lyn Jones says that while universities offer media management as a course, the focus is more on editorial media management as opposed to advertising media management.
“Advertising media management is a very specialised discipline within the marketing environment and requires specialist lecturers and content. University lecturers generally do not have hands-on experience and knowledge of the required content,” says Jones.
In addition to their post-graduate diploma in marketing and communications, Red & Yellow recently partnered with marketing agency Quirk to bring 13 online digital marketing distance-learning courses to the college. Learning materials, case studies, video lectures, tutorials and practical assignments are used to help potential marketers excel in the digital world.
Amasa is undertaking a similar venture as it plans to implement an e-learning system, run through its website. This will open the course content up to a larger pool of students both in South Africa and internationally.
Says Jones, “The benefit of e-learning content is that it can be updated continuously and makes it a dynamic environment and an interactive way to study.”
At Vega, some of the courses offered include a Bachelor of Business Administration in Brand Building and Marketing as a full-time course, as well as a short learning programme in Brand and Marketing Management.
Vega also has a professional diploma in digital marketing, a short course which, in addition to covering planning and strategy, also looks at search engine optimisation, search engine marketing, email marketing, display advertising, social media, mobile marketing and web analytics.
But while colleges like AAA, Vega and Red & Yellow may have one up on universities in terms of imparting practical skills and knowledge to students, media agencies still struggle to recruit top talent to their ranks.
A large part of the problem is that media is not profiled very well at tertiary institutions.
This has left the industry with a very small pool of potential for the future, says Jones. “The lack of promoting media management as a career over the past 10 years has impacted the industry negatively, and many graduates with the relevant acumen are choosing careers outside of media due to the lack of promotion of it as a very exciting and rewarding career option,” she says.
Beale says courses that tend to focus predominantly on media planning and buying are also problematic because they neglect strategy. “Strategy is the crux of what is done in media agencies. It is not just media planning and buying. The result is definitely detrimental. There is a layer of top-heavy old horses at the top with little understanding of how digital works. What we need is a younger generation to come in and change this,” says Beale.
Tertiary institutions are also faced with the challenge of adapting their curriculum to reflect how digital media has changed the way the industry works.
Beale thinks that colleges and universities are not adjusting fast enough, as the same textbooks are being used to teach students about an out-dated way of working. “The industry is now being shaped more by things like social media, for which there is no textbook,” he says.
Hollis agrees, saying learning about how digital works happens on-the-job. This is because, for example, strategists need access to data and buyers need to pick up the phone and do calculations, all of which are hands-on skills.
She says that agencies need to help improve media education because it’s crucial for students to have mentors within the industry. Hollis acknowledges that this is difficult, though, as it is time-consuming and agencies work on incredibly tight margins.
She does, however, offer possible solutions. “Agencies need to earn an income from taking students on. Either that or agencies must partner with the tertiary institutions so that they students can be exposed to both the theoretical and the practical side of learning,” says Hollis.
Jones says that Amasa is in the process of communicating with a number of universities and tertiary institutions in an effort to promote media management as a career.
She says media agencies often address this skills shortage with their own internship programmes. The Amasa Learnership Programme (ALP), for example, is designed to attract graduates from the engineering, marketing, mathematical field to apply for bursaries and internships to encourage new blood and sharp young minds into the industry.
Beale believes that a collective effort needs to be made to make media more “sexy”. And to do this, he says, “sexy” people from the industry need to go and do presentations at tertiary institutions. He says that this isn’t done nearly enough, and as a result, people often confuse what media marketers do with the creative side of advertising.
Says Beale, “The industry can become sexy if the right people are there to make it sexy.”
This story was first published in the June 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
IMAGE: Red & Yellow School
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