Mary Hargreaves, Lancaster University: “Our students feel that advertising is a career they will enjoy”

Advertising and Education: The Meeting Point (Part 3)

yoluyla Mark Tungate , Adforum

In a series of interviews in partnership with the IAA France, we discuss the perception of advertising among young people, and find out what efforts are being made to attract young talent to the industry. This time it's the turn of a teacher: Mary Hargreaves, Teaching Fellow, Advertising & Marketing degree (BA Hons), Lancaster University, UK. 


Lancaster University in the UK has been running its degree in Advertising & Marketing for many years. In fact, some of the best-known names in advertising graduated from Lancaster, providing a rich pool of alumni who often return to pass on their experiences to students.

Mary Hargreaves graduated from Lancaster herself – with a History degree. But she went on to enjoy a long career in advertising and consumer research, working on the accounts side for legendary British agencies like Benton & Bowles, Kirkwood and Dorlands. She returned to Lancaster as a lecturer in 1997.

So how do her students perceive the advertising industry today?

“They still find it exciting. They worry that it’s hard to get into – and in my experience it has become harder. But they feel it’s a career you can enjoy; that it’s more fun than other industries.”

Perhaps because they’re already keen on the industry, they’re less negative about advertising’s encouragement of consumption and its subsequent impact on the planet. “I think they also understand the power of advertising to address those issues. It can raise awareness and change attitudes. We talk a lot about brand purpose and marketing for good.”


Creativity and strategy


The concept of “creativity” remains highly alluring, she says. “A lot of them want to be Creatives with a big ‘C’. I often tell them that all the roles are creative with a small ‘c’.”

Mary jokes that – initially at least – fewer students are attracted by the account handling role. “I think there’s something about the word ‘account’ that puts them off. On the other hand, they’re often interested in going into planning. They like the idea of being strategists.”

Media planning and buying is an important part of the course and many students have gone on to work in that discipline. The university has a solid relationship with media agencies, which provide live briefs for students to work on.

Talking of media, although students tend to believe that social media is now the most effective way of building brands, they watch more broadcast TV than they think. “They may not actually watch a television set, but if you dig a bit, you’ll find that they’re watching a lot of broadcast TV on their phones. They just don’t think of it as television.”


Persevere to break in


In the past, agencies systematically reached out to universities to source young talent through graduate schemes. Those have gone, so you need to be more of a self-starter to break into the industry. The university’s strong contacts with its alumni provides a source of current help and advice.

“In addition, the industry is making an effort to become more inclusive. When I first started, I was one of the few who hadn’t graduated from Oxbridge,” Mary adds.

How often does the university have to adapt the course to changes in the industry? “Obviously we include more digital and social marketing than we did in the past. But the most dramatic changes are always in media. You almost have to start from scratch and re-do the lectures every year.”

Thanks to industry consolidation, the chart of “who owns who” in the agency world must also regularly be updated, as anybody who’s been following the story of VML is aware.

From an external point of view, the university does seem to offer a wide-ranging and inspiring programme, which is firmly in touch with the real world. Its pool of graduates who’ve gone on to great things is a clear advantage.

Mary recounts: “When students are enjoying a speaker, I often say to them, ‘You’re in the audience right now, but one day you’ll be up there. Don’t think I’m not going to keep your number.’”


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