World: Chuck Porter in America

When I was a student, the University of Minnesota was considered to have a pretty good journalism school and an even better advertising curriculum. I spent my last two years of college there and here's what I remember: the students who were smart and talented when we started the course got very, very good at their crafts. Those who were not naturally gifted at the outset never got a whole lot better, no matter how hard they worked. As a result, I started out believing that you can't really teach writing or art direction or creativity. And, as much as I hate to say it, nothing I've seen since then has changed my mind.

I think that means two things for any school trying to prepare students to work in our business. First, they need to be perhaps a bit more brutally honest in their assessment of candidates, especially in the creative disciplines.

It is unfair, unrealistic and a waste of everyone's time to put a student through a creative course when there's no natural flair for the job. It would be like me having gone to voice school to learn to be an opera singer, except not as funny. The second lesson is maybe even more important. Talented students who want to get into the business are gems and they are our future.

So we have to stop teaching them how to be our past.

I guess every profession does this. Aspiring architects study 12th-century cathedrals; young law students read cases involving whaling disputes in 1808.

Of course, people studying those subjects have to learn rules, real rules, otherwise all the buildings would fall down and we'd have anarchy. But building brands seems to me to be just the opposite. The people who have been most successful have been the ones who broke the rules.

Some of the best people I've known in this business have their degrees in things such as music, theoretical physics and the geo-politics of religion.

The British system of liberal arts education seems to me to be much more suited to turning out well-rounded thinkers than the US system. You teach Greek and philosophy. We teach orthopaedic surgery and air-conditioner repair.

So the overall problem with advertising studies, at least in the US, is that it has always been a bit narrow. And in my view, that problem is becoming more apparent because the business of building brands is changing a lot faster than most people want to admit.

It's no secret - the old formulas don't work as well as they used to.

Whether it's media fragmentation, a savvy and marketing-resistant audience, TiVo and other technology or whatever, it really doesn't matter. Marketers following the old rules are not getting the results the book says they should. And the classically trained creatives ("I love TV, I tolerate print and I spit on direct response") have never been taught to take a few steps back and look at the whole world as media.

Of course, people aren't sitting still. Wieden & Kennedy started its own university in Portland. Virginia Commonwealth University has put together a faculty of superstars. Our agency has affiliated with the Miami Ad School (now the Crispin Porter & Bogusky Miami Ad School) to create a curriculum on non-traditional media.

Still, the idea of "teaching" advertising is problematic at best. And the next star is just as likely to have a degree in Medieval French poetry as a PhD in Communications.

- Stuart Elliott is away.