The University: The Teacher Is Taught

This summer I was invited to teach a media planning course at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications. After years of guest-lecturing in its hallowed halls, USC bestowed upon me my very own tweed jacket, elbow patches, and pipe. I'm now a professor at this prestigious school for journalism and communications - okay, an adjunct professor, to be precise, but my mom is still awfully impressed.

I jumped at the opportunity for several reasons (not the least of which is the giddy joy I get from being called "Professor Kyle"). It's also a great opportunity to teach media to a class full of future advertising professionals. And, quite selfishly, it's a rare chance to be immersed in the world of our industry's obsession: the young adult media consumer. You know, the group that supposedly doesn't know what NBC is and has never touched a newspaper. I would engage 40 young adults over 13 weeks - that's like 1,800 hours of focus group time. Priceless.

My most important and disturbing lesson came on the first day with this simple question: "Please raise your hand if you have any interest in working in media." Not a single hand was raised. Not one.

Oh God, I thought - this is going to be a long semester. And boring. Painfully, glacially, boring. They hate media...and this is a media class! When pressed further, the students indicated that they all planned to be creatives, account executives, and account planners. One student even said she wanted to work in print production! But there were no media hopefuls in class? How painfully ironic.

I pushed on, shrugging off the gnawing pain of insignificance, and began to lecture. The first class was a general introduction to the media landscape, in which I spoke of broad trends in consumer choice, engagement, TiVo, and so on. As I lectured, an amazing thing happened - hands started shooting up left and right. The students shot media questions at me rapid-fire, ranging from relatively evolved stuff ("What will happen when everyone has a TiVo?") to old-school queries ("How much does an ad on the Super Bowl cost?"). Almost everyone had a question, and the more we talked, the more they wanted to know...about media. This could have gone on for the entire three-hour class.

And so it has gone in every session since: A room full of intelligent, engaged students drill me on a wide range of media topics. Their curiosity dodges the obvious stereotypes, and emerging media aren't their only interest. In fact, the opposite is true, as evidenced by the student who giddily announced Katie Couric's quick ratings slide, sounding more like a seasoned broadcast buyer than a young-adult media cliché. Several students even took me to task for saying newspapers will disappear. Who'd imagine these supposed rejecters of old media would defend their grandparents' medium of choice? Wow.

So I was presented with quite a paradox. This group of young people who have absolutely no interest in becoming media professionals are totally interested in media. This has implications for two areas.

First, this emerging class of advertising professionals - whether they're would-be creatives, account managers, or account planners - will be exceptionally engaged in media. While you no doubt already see this among younger staffers outside of your media department, expect to see it more in the next few years. In other words, your whole agency is about to become an adjunct media department; plan to capitalize on it.

Second, there is a disconnect between this group's view of media as a profession (boring) and its view of media as a wildly interesting topic. One small step might be to engage your junior media staff at a higher level (and thus a more stimulating one) than is typically the case. While junior staffers' core responsibilities remain important (coordinating dozens of insertion orders, crunching numbers, working up budgets, etc.), they could be enriched with tasks that also reflect their intrinsic interest in media.

That was just the first lesson these exceptionally bright students taught me. In my next columns, I'll explore more ideas about my students' views of media as consumers, not just as future professionals. In the meantime, the semester-long focus group continues.

Kyle Acquistapace is executive vice president, director of media planning at Deutsch Los Angeles. (

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