CAMPAIGN FOR BEGINNERS: OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

"Education is an admirable thing," Oscar Wilde said, "but nothing that is worth knowing can be taught." Please don't tell that to the tens of thousands of young Americans who spend billions of dollars annually on training to become advertising creatives.

There are two primary paths pursued in the United States by would-be copywriters and art directors. They can attend one of the estimated 300 colleges or universities granting undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in specialties such as advertising, mass communications or integrated marketing. Among those widely acknowledged as leaders in the field: Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Southern Methodist University, Syracuse University, the University of Florida-Gainesville, the University of Georgia-Athens, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Virginia Commonwealth University. (Department of full disclosure: I am a Northwestern alumnus, in journalism; the one advertising course I took was fascinating, I seem to recall.)

Is anyone smart out there on the first path? Well, when Nokia tested a "New U" programme to find creative minds at the university level, two spots created by students in the pilot effort at the University of Missouri-Columbia became national commercials produced by the Nokia agency, the Richards Group. And the winners of the top honours at the 2001/2002 Richmond (Virginia) Show were two first-year students from Virginia Commonwealth's Adcenter.

However, the first path requires the potential Bernbach, Burnett, Clow or Krone to be fairly certain, fairly early in life of a career course.

If you're creative, can you really decide anything of consequence so soon?

Thus there's the second path, going on as a post-graduate after getting a liberal arts degree to take courses at what are known as portfolio centres from industry pros who teach there part-time.

"They're what I call finishing schools," Mary Warlick, the executive director of the prestigious One Club for Art and Copy in New York, the proprietor of the One Show, says. "Through them, the students meet people, learn to network, learn how to look for jobs and tune up their books."

Among the more esteemed portfolio schools are: the Academy of Art College, the Art Center College of Design (aka Pasadena Art Center), Creative Circus, the Miami Ad School, the Portfolio Center and the School of Visual Arts.

"It's inspiring, what all these kids do," Gerry Rubin, the chief executive of Rubin Postaer & Associates, the American Honda Motor agency, says.

He and his partner, Larry Postaer, the executive vice-president, started a four-year, $225,000 scholarship for minority students at the Pasadena Art Center. $225,000? That would buy a lot of Hondas.

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