Story by Nikki Kesaris

Deborah MorrisonTake a moment to think of your favorite commercial during the Super Bowl. What about it draws you to it? What made you remember it? A lot of thought and creativity — not to mention money — went into producing that 30-second spot.

Like all communications fields, the ad industry has gone through major changes since the “Mad Men” days of the 1960s. What used to be an advertisement on a billboard or a milk carton is now a notification popping up on your smartphone. And with this shift, creative thinking is more important than ever.

The UO School of Journalism and Communication’s (SOJC) advertising program focuses on teaching bright minds how to go beyond the surface level and dig deeper into new and innovative ways of thinking about brands and what it means to be an advertising professional in the digital age. In addition to its award-winning major, the SOJC offers multiple experiential learning opportunities — from its national champion Ad Team to the student-run Allen Hall Advertising agency to the Science and Memory program — to give students the opportunity to explore the industry more in depth while expanding their experience and their portfolios.

To learn more about the advertising program, we spoke with its area director, Carolyn Silva Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising Deb Morrison.

How does the SOJC’s advertising major differ from what you would find at other schools?

Studying advertising now is a different endeavor than it has been in the past.

Our courses explore different ways to solve problems for people and brands, new ways to help brands communicate with honesty and transparency, and innovative channels for engaging with customers. This means our students and faculty are creative and strategic in approaching how brands live in culture.

Our faculty worked together to build the Creative Strategist model for advertising education. We want all students to have hybrid creative skills to help them generate new ideas, plus strategic skills to understand they “why” of problems they encounter. We know these skills turn them into confident professionals, ready to enter the industry with a range of career possibilities.

What can a student expect to gain from an advertising degree?

While they are in our program, students can expect to take classes that build creativity, curiosity and critical thinking. They will develop a portfolio beginning with work in our introductory course, and they will edit and refine work in each class and with each project. Every student who graduates from our program can offer evidence of his or her time here through this portfolio.

Students who graduate with a degree in advertising can expect to use their creative strategic skills in multiple ways. They might land at an agency or studio working with multiple brands. They might use their skills in publishing, in a nonprofit organization or as part of a team on the client side. They might find the perfect career start as a designer, a writer, a media analyst, a brand or project manager, a producer or as a brand strategist. Or maybe they’ll invent their job description as they work in all types of media entrepreneurial opportunities.

We find that our students leave with skills that ready them for entering traditional roles or for those opportunities where they fashion their own career description. This degree prepares them with creative, conceptual and critical thinking skills that help them work to solve problems with confidence. Those skills are demanded in so many areas of media.

We believe in working hard and finding innovative ways to approach brands and culture. Our program underscores a sense of brand responsibility; that is, we consider how brands provide value for people as they are successful in society.

Our program readies our graduates to work in top agencies and media outlets in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, San Francisco and other major markets. Our placement rate at these places is a point of pride.

What other programs does the SOJC offer to advertising students outside of classes?

Our advertising program offers many opportunities to learn beyond the classroom. Including:

  • Allen Hall Advertising. Our student-run agency works for multiple clients to produce relevant and innovative campaigns.
  • Ad Team. Our advanced campaigns experience is part of the American Advertising Federation’s National Student Advertising Competition. In 2015, our program won the coveted national First Place in a field of hundreds of schools from across the country.
  • New York Experience. Our annual May trip to Creative Week in New York City establishes our program as a leader among university and portfolio programs. We visit agencies, meet with alumni, enter competitions and pitches, and come home with internships and career starts.
  • Workshops and guest lectures. Each term, our program brings in industry leaders from agencies and clients. With these visits, we capture industry trends, discover career-path opportunities and network.
  • Science and Memory. Advertising students have the opportunity to work on climate issues by applying for classes and experiential learning in Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii.
  • Ad Society. This is our community hub. We provide projects, guest speakers, career hacks and pizza during a regular, open membership meeting for students who want to be involved.

Our students also consistently work on projects in the space between classes. They work in teams to make short documentaries, call attention to social issues, make art and installations, and hone their collaborative and creative skills.

What kind of classes can students expect to take in the advertising major?

We start with J-342: The Creative Strategist, our introductory course, and bookend the major with our capstone, J-448: Advertising Campaigns.

In between, we offer courses that help build strong thinking and creating skills, including:

  • J-443: Advertising Media Planning
  • J444: Agency Account Management
  • J-457: Curiosity for Strategists
  • J-458: Writing Design Concepts
  • J-460: Topics in Brand Strategy
    • Green Brand Strategy
    • Interactive Media
    • Client-Side Management
    • Advertising & Culture
    • Brand Analytics
    • Ideasmithing
    • Sports Brand Strategy
    • Design for Media

Workshops add to skills and understanding. Those include:

  • Confidence
  • Writing for Brands
  • Typography
  • Producers Bootcamp

We urge our students to find minors in a range of areas: digital arts, multimedia, languages, mathematics, political science, ethnic studies and environmental studies, as examples. Minors give an interesting perspective to work in the major.

How do you know if the advertising major is right for you?

We believe that creativity is the skill that belongs to everyone. Creative ideas happen when people generate, develop and transform those ideas into value. Sometimes that means specifically through design and language, sometimes through management and analytical approaches.

If a student is looking for a career that pushes them to be curious, to solve problems and to create work the world will see, then advertising could indeed be the place for them or other options like Rush Medical College is available to enroll also.

Nikki Kesaris is a junior studying public relations at the SOJC. This is her second year writing for the SOJC Communication Office. She also previously held an internship at a San Diego advertising agency before she realized that PR is her true calling.