In late September, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) sent out a press release highlighting a study done by its academic arm, the ANA Educational Foundation (AEF). The study, assisted by research firm Gfk, asserts that there is a glaring disconnect between academic institutions, marketing professionals, and the marketing students who are being groomed to leap from academia to industry.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

Yes, from the time I was a student at university, I experienced first-hand how academia and industry were unaligned. The material I was charged to learn in the classroom was nearly irrelevant in my internships.

Previous Attempts to Fix the “Disconnect”

And professional organizations have been posturing to close the gap for years. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) launched an initiative years ago that would bring diverse and intelligent students to different agencies to get a taste of what real-life marketing looks like. The American Academy of Advertising (AAA, I know, not the best acronym for branding), has annual conferences bringing academic professors and professionals together to hash out issues and establish common beliefs and practices. But to what end?

This sentiment has been brewing in our marketing environment for decades, and it seems like our industry is quickly reaching a flashpoint.

The Looming “Crisis”

The study done by the ANA/AEF brings this disconnect up for two reasons. First, the disconnect is creating marketing pre-professionals who ‘seem’ to be ill-equipped for the current marketing environment. Secondly, with the rise of technology and analytics, the talent that the marketing and advertising industry would like to recruit, are going off to the startup and technology industries, where salaries are higher and workplaces are a little less stuffy.

Therefore, a ‘talent crisis’ in the ad world is looming.

Everyone’s to Blame

The ANA/AEF in the press release and on the AEF site highlights the ways it believes the organization can start addressing this disconnect, and therefore slow down the coming crisis. Below are the three calls to action the article highlights:

  • Getting 1,000 marketing and advertising executives to visit college campuses by 2020
  • Getting 1,000 marketing professors to have on-site industry experiences by 2020
  • Recruiting 1,000 students to the ANA/AEF Immersion Program and go through its internship program by 2020.

All of that is well and good, but it sounds to me that the ANA is saying that if academia and college students understand the industry better, than they’ll be better equipped to go into industry. And true, that’s part of it. But there’s again, a glaring piece missing here.

Where does it say for the industry to itself to change in a manner that makes it more attractive to the newer generations? The marketing industry has some skin in the game too.

Believing that simply showing college professors and students real-life marketing experiences will cull their expectations and get them excited to jump into an industry that refuses to change itself, is foolish and insulting.

What Can the Marketing and Advertising Industry Do?

If the marketing and advertising industry is competing for talent against the tech and consulting industries, wouldn’t it make sense to investigate what those companies are doing that marketing agencies aren’t? Why not look at the culture of the marketing and advertising world, and see how it stands against others? Students can learn about digital media strategy and predictive modeling all they want, but if your agency has a number of bad reviews on GlassDoor, you better believe that candidate is looking somewhere else.

I know that there are a few high-profile marketing thought leaders who know that the most valuable capital an agency or marketing department can have is its people. And those agencies and companies are doing well.

The marketing industry does itself a major injustice when advocacy groups like the ANA croon this ‘disconnect’ study, and then proves its own point by refusing to look internally. There’s a reason why the average CMO tenure is two years. There’s a reason why marketing professionals have the lowest morale when it comes to advocating their own profession.

Majority of CMOs been in job less than 2 years
Harvard Business Review ‘ CMO Impact Study’, 2017


HubSpot, “The Scary State of Agency Morale” 2016, Data from Campaign US Morale Survey


It is clear that the academic world needs to revamp how it teaches marketing and advertising. It requires a lean-model of marketing education, where trends and thoughts in the current landscape can be adjusted to teaching real-time. What does that look like? I’m not sure. It is also true that students of marketing advertising need to look for opportunities to see what industry professionals do in reality, and seek ways to adopt those practices so they can be ready for the real world. And finally, the marketing industry needs to realize that there are other ways these young professionals can use their talents. They are searching for brands and agencies that will fit their value system. Complain if you must, but figuring out a way to recruit and retain them can no longer be a rhetorical exercise.