Students Go Behind-The-Scenes of an Ad Agency

The ad agency experience is one not fully understood or appreciated until it is inhabited, which is why the College of Business and Eric Rob & Isaac are giving students an inside look.

The new course, the brainchild of Rob Bell, a principal at Eric Rob & Isaac, and Stephanie Watson, chair of the College of Business’ Department of Accounting, shows students the inner workings of the agency world.

“I was an English major without any public relations or advertising classes,” said Bell. “I had no idea what it was like to be in an agency, but then I talked to people with those classes and they still didn’t really have a taste for what it is.”

Bell said he sees this course as a real-life experience for students where they’re given genuine tasks they would complete at an agency while also learning how an agency is structured, as well as how it functions, earns revenue and completes projects.

“This is an intentional way to let them see what goes on behind the agency doors,” said Bell. “Many don’t understand the business side of it and we wanted to give them an opportunity to see it.”

The course, taught by Ashley Phillips, is divided into five modules with three weeks in each module. The students, in groups of two and three, are assigned industries picked by ERI including banking, health care, and public universities.

“Each module helps students gain an overall perspective of their industry,” said Phillips.

Module topics include industry analysis, profitability, information management, and success measurement.

“We’re looking at what makes a business successful and seeing what that looks like in the real world,” said Watson. “For a student to get an opportunity like that is pretty cool.”

After a week of research, students present their findings to College of Business staff and receive feedback. During the third week, students present to ERI principals and staff, ask and answer questions and receive feedback.

“We saw this as having the potential to be a Q&A for students with people in the trenches every day,” said Bell. “It provides us an opportunity to share the struggles we face on a daily basis and be a sounding board for them.”

So far, students have presented once at ERI. Emily Ketchum, a senior marketing major who is one of nine students in the class, said it was interesting to see the professional side of a business while enrolled in a class.

Ketchum is an intern at a local insurance agency and said this class appealed to her because it seemed like another internship that would allow her to learn about another possible career field.

“I wanted to know if the ad agency world was something I was interested in,” she said. “I graduate in the spring and am still trying to decide how I want to use my degree and thought this could be helpful in that process.”

Ketchum’s reasoning is the exact purpose Bell saw for this class.

“They can get a taste and see if they love it or if it is not something they want to do,” he said. “Making that realization before getting into it, saves them time, as well as the prospective agency’s time and investment. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

It also potentially serves the added bonus of being an extended job interview.

“Our business is weird, we could be completely full one day, gain a new client and then need to hire three new people,” said Bell. “If we’re working with these students over a period of time and identify potential, that’s the first place we’re going in that situation.”

Those opportunities do not stop at ERI, said Bell.

“We get asked all the time from clients and others in the industry about potential writers, designers or marketing types,” he said. “It’s good for us to have an arsenal of those we’ve seen that show potential and get beyond just a resume we might have on file. I’ll be able to see these students in action. It’s definitely a foot in the door.”

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