Miami Ad School Toronto dean: it's not sexy to teach ROIs but it legitimises our creatives

Stephen Jurisic addressing students at the Toronto campus

Adland is learning the hard way that change is needed to ensure its survival as management consultancies, brands and media owners take command of their creative processes. On the fringe of these skirmishes, ad schools must cultivate talent for an industry burdened with self-doubt.

The Drum talked to ad schools spanning the globe to discover if the change is as tumultuous at the grassroots levels of creativity.

In the second of the series, Stephen Jurisic, dean of the Miami Ad School Toronto, shared with The Drum how he navigates his small role in running a chapter of a creative institution spanning the globe.

Jurisic is known for co-founding the ‘unignorable’ creative agency John St in Toronto. He served as its executive creative director for 16 years before stepping aside to lean into his academic roots - which in the nineties saw him serve as a portfolio teacher at the Ontario College of Art Design. At the start of 2018, the dean role at the Miami Ad School Toronto opened up and Jurisic's commute saw him have to travel a few minutes east of his former agency up Queen St avenue.

As well as bases in its namesake city and Toronto, Miami Ad School is located across 15 locations, including: Sao Paolo; Madrid; Rio De Janiero; Berlin; Hamburg; and Sydney.

To date it boasts roughly 9,824 graduates who have secured 727 awards since it was founded in 1993 by creative directors Pippa and Ron Seichrist. The pair claim to have “invented the school they wish they had gone to” unlike British creative Marc Lewis who resurrected London’s School of Communication Arts (SCA) where he first earned his ad wings.

Back to Toronto, and Jurisic claims it was always his intention to return to teaching and “become an incubator for the market”. He doesn’t believe “agencies or companies are mentoring as much as they would like to or used to".

It is the reality of the economics of time and speed,” that prevent this from happening, he explains.

The school offers a broad range of courses, some aimed for the industry newbie, others at established professionals who know they must upskill to keep with the times.

How to enter advertising

Anyone looking to crack advertising should "try to self-teach and look at the best stuff", says Jurisic outlines. Titles like The Drum, The Webby Awards, One Show and D&AD can offer guidance and inspiration on the benchmark of top work he notes.

Ad schools are not mandatory to enter the trade, but they offer a leg up over the competition in his opinion. "I have met a lot of people that haven't gone to school, they came into the agency, met the right creative director, got briefed and mentored, and then built a book. It is a longer process - but it works."

The school (pictured above) on the other hand affords students access to the industry leaders that cross its threshold. In its early days, the famous faces only visited Miami Ad School to talk - that quickly changed. "They realised that it would probably be better to actually create a school [themselves] and actually teach.”

One of the unique draws of the Miami Ad Schools is the fact they form a global network, argues Jurisic. Students are free to travel to foreign chapters in their second year and draw on international experience, expand their contacts and absorb new cultures.

Jurisic says: “In their second year students have the option to go to over 200 locations internationally, for example you can go to Berlin and work for DDB for ten weeks and then go to New York and work at R\GA for ten weeks and then come back and graduate, they get real-world experience. It also demystifies what it is like to work in a real company.”

The changing skillsets

There are skills beyond the creative that must be imparted on attendees too. One of these is the art of the sale; because no client will buy a good idea that isn't pitched with precision.

“We bring in real clients so the strategists and the creative teams get to go through presenting and understand how to sell. If they have a good idea and can't sell it, they are dead in the water.”

Jurisic's curriculum is always subject to change too, reflective of the industry in flux it is preparing students to enter. Jurisic admits: “There is a lot of [industry] panicking and a lot of people don't know what to do next.” He thinks the best the school can do is keep its “ear to the ground” and tailor courses to ensure they are providing skills with the industry needs.

In the time since he co-founded John St, he has noted one change in the talent coming through the door – the ability to see an idea through to completion.

“These kids are now doing UX and front-end development and motion graphics, they are thinkers and also makers. In the old days you may have delegated some of this, but now they come into these companies and they have to come up with the idea, prototype it and show it.”

The school runs open briefs from real clients which provide invaluable experience for students. Some of the best work even sometimes gets picked up by brands. Tim Hortons (pitch below) is among such advertisers. There are opportunities for local and regional brands to tap into this talent too.

Unlike the industry, which is being rocked by in-housing and consultancy encroachment, ad schools - particularly Jurisic’s - are not panicking.

“We are not struggling to create students that the market needs," he says. "We know that the consultancies are there and are more leaning into creativity. As long as we keep training art directors, copywriters and designers, we'll be fine.”

This is especially true when the creative is grounded in strategy and data analytics, which Jurisic says means “students do more than come up with a shiny bauble”.

He concludes: “It is not sexy to teach ROIs and KPIs but the more we teach business to our creatives the more they will legitimise themselves.”

The full feature comprising top advertising schools and tutors appeared in The Drum's recently released Advertising issue. You can get your hands on it here.

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