Friday, April 09, 2010
7609: BrandLab Rats.
From The New York Times…
Selling Minority Students on a Career in Marketing
By Stuart Elliott
MADISON AVENUE likes to talk about reaching consumers when they are young, the better to woo them into becoming brand-loyal buyers. An initiative in Minneapolis and St. Paul seeks to do the same in trying to interest members of minority groups in advertising or marketing as a potential career.
The initiative, called the BrandLab, is aimed at students in area high schools and includes classroom curricula, internships, scholarships and even office-tour field trips. It was incubated in 2007 at a Minneapolis agency named Olson and has since become a 501(c)3, meaning that it is a nonprofit organization to which contributions are tax-deductible.
There is some other outreach to high school students, like Advertising Futures, a contest during the annual Advertising Week in New York in which agencies and the Advertising Council participate. Most efforts by industry associations, agencies or others to diversify the ranks of the advertising and marketing business, however, are focused on students in colleges or universities.
For instance, a $5,000 scholarship for minority students, announced this week by the P.R.S.A. Foundation of the Public Relations Society of America, is being aimed at those who will be entering their senior year in a college or university in the fall.
Despite recent attempts to intensify diversity recruitment, minority hiring continues to lag — raising red flags among organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and drawing the attention of governmental units like the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
“We need to attack the challenge at its root cause, lack of knowledge,” said John Olson, chief executive at Olson, rather than “responding with the usual bag of tricks like ‘Let’s have an awards show.’”
Although the young are familiar with advertising, “they just don’t know about it” as an occupation, Mr. Olson said, and “they don’t think people get paid to do this kind of work.”
By aiming the BrandLab at high school juniors and seniors, he added, the students can be reached before they determine their majors when they pursue higher education.
Among the tasks handled by Jim Cousins, the executive director of the BrandLab, is to encourage companies to participate and donate. The major area marketers that are taking part include General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Target and 3M.
“It’s an idea that can continue to expand, especially if we get more corporate support,” said Eric Erickson, vice president for marketing at Target, who joined the BrandLab board. “If we can get it well funded in the Twin Cities, it’s an exportable idea.”
While growing up in West Virginia, Mr. Erickson recalled, even though “I was an arty kid, I had no concept of advertising” and “stumbled into it after college.”
“I wish I would have known” sooner, he added.
Mr. Olson said that “it cost us an absolute fortune” to start the BrandLab, which he estimated at $1 million in cash and the time of agency employees. It now costs $200,000 to $300,000 a year to run the program, he said. Target will help out this year with a donation of $50,000.
For the 2009-10 school year, six semesters of BrandLab curricula are being taught in five high schools.
“It’s fantastic to see the kids light up, especially when we bring them into the agency,” said Ellen Walthour, the program director for the BrandLab, referring to Olson. “They’re definitely intrigued.”
That was echoed by Cheryl Martin, a business education teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Minn., who is participating in BrandLab this semester.
“The kids see advertising and marketing day to day,” Ms. Martin said, “but we’re able to dig a lot deeper.”
“What was most appealing to me was that we could bring in some industry professionals,” she added, “not only to speak to the class but also to work with the students and help them get a real-world perspective.”
It is also worthwhile to expose the students to the different roles played by those who pursue careers in the industry, Ms. Martin said, explaining that “they sell products, but you don’t have to be a salesman” to get a job in advertising or marketing.
Discussions with some of Ms. Martin’s minority students helped illuminate the effects of BrandLab.
“I didn’t know anything” about the industry before the BrandLab class, said Valentino McKinley, a senior who is 17 years old.
“Now I like it, I’m really in love with it,” he said. “I wanted to be an accountant, but I don’t know now.”
A classmate, Ferguson Stanford, a junior who is also 17, said he would “absolutely” consider majoring in advertising or marketing in college, adding that he wanted “to be like an anthropologist, studying and researching” consumers.
Travon Sellers, a 17-year-old senior, said he had “always had an interest in the business field,” but now has “a better understanding of what” a job in marketing would entail.
“I think marketing is great,” Mr. Sellers said. “I like the anthropology and sociology.”
All three students, Ms. Walthour said, are applying through the BrandLab for summer internships. Twelve will be offered, along with a dozen scholarships of $1,000 each, which can be used at any accredited postsecondary school.
“It’s all about the exposure to opportunity,” said Barbara Kaufman, manager for educational giving at 3M.
“We really should start in middle school,” she added, laughing, “but that’s a whole other program.”