Advertising can be a cut-throat industry, and prospective ad-men and women, be they executives or creatives, need every edge they can get. Strange, then, that unlike other such competitive fields - accountancy, journalism, the law - advertising still boasts few specialist postgraduate qualifications. The MSc in advertising at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), however, has long been a stalwart supplier of personnel to the Irish and UK advertising industries.
Brian Ross, one of the course lecturers and a former director of the agency Ogilvy & Mather, believes that "what separates it from other courses is that our students have a passion for advertising specifically. I'm not sure that people on an accountancy course would have the same passion for accountancy." Shane O'Brien, 22, one of Ross's students, says the same. He and his course-mates "talk about ads all day in a pretty nerdy way," he confesses. "When a show comes on television, I flick channels to find more ads to watch."
The defining characteristic of the course is its close reflection of the advertising industry. The annual class of about 25 is split equally between aspiring advertising creatives, like O'Brien, and executives. During the first semester, the two halves of the class share lectures. "The creatives learn the importance of the business side of advertising," explains Rosie Hand, the course director, "while the suits come to appreciate the difficulties of the creative process."
In the second semester, the creatives and executives split up to be taught by industry specialists in their fields, only to be re-united for a final project that sees two teams (each comprised of creatives and execs) competing to impress a real client. Each student also completes a dissertation.
This year, the final group project sees the postgraduates concocting potential marketing campaigns for Budweiser, while in past years they have presented their work to Ballygowan and Barry's Tea - two major Irish brands - and even McDonald's. The group project gives the students the experience of competing under authentic industry conditions. "The final pitch to the clients is also attended by the advertising industry," says Hand, "so many of our students find their future employers on the spot."
The Dublin course gives its executive students a direct line to a job in an Irish or British agency, and its creative students the opportunity to build the substantial portfolio by which they will be measured as professionals. The two partners in any creative team are the art director and the copywriter, and the MSc also affords its students the chance to forge those future working partnerships.
The course's graduate employment record, at nearly 100 per cent, speaks for itself, even if not all the students immediately find work in the most glamorous corners of the industry such as, say, television advertising. "Working in TV means you get to spend five days on the beach in South Africa filming the ad you created," says O'Brien, "whereas for a press ad you spend your time sitting in front of a Mac in an office. But either way, advertising is a great way to be creative without being on the breadline."
Ross is far from the only high-profile ad industry professional lecturing at DIT. Another is Trevor Jacobs, who teaches strategy and handled Guinness for about 20 years. His classes involve case study work, where the students assess past campaigns for uber-brands like Absolut Vodka or Gordon's Gin. Gerry Kennedy, who teaches copywriting - the art of the killer tagline - is creative director at McConnells, one of Ireland's biggest agencies. The MSc course is regularly re-evaluated in consultation with the industry to ensure that it echoes the changing advertising landscape, through both its teaching and its staff, and thus consistently provides the agencies with a valuable recruitment resource.
Getting on to the course is a test in itself for prospective students, who need to mount successful self-promotion campaigns if they are to be picked from the 300 or so candidates who apply annually. Last year, for the first time, applicants were asked to state from the outset whether they wished to be creatives or executives, rather than deciding at the end of the first semester. While there is a minimum entry requirement of a 2.2 degree, the students who make the grade are from a wide range of backgrounds, from economics, business and marketing degrees to psychology, sociology and English.
'I'll be managing all of the creative opinions - everybody in advertising has one!'
Rachel Foley, 24 'creative'
Before doing the advertising MSc, I studied visual communications at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. I wanted to study advertising because I've always loved design and the way things look. Working as an art director at an agency would mean being responsible for constantly generating new ideas, which appeals to me.
I'm creative director for one of the student teams, so I'll be looking after the creative team and liaising with the executives. My key role will be managing all of the creative opinions - everybody in advertising has one!
My favourite current ad campaign is for Bulmers cider (called Magners in the UK). The ads are beautifully shot in orchards, with great music, and based around the theme of seasons. The tag line is: "Time dedicated to you." It's really turned the brand around.
Anna Ryan, 24 'executive'
I did the advertising MSc after doing economics and French at University College Dublin. I decided to study advertising after working in Paris for a year in the marketing department of an Irish whiskey company. They saidI should be working on the agency side instead of the client side of advertising, because I was always trying to control everything.
As managing director of one of the student teams, I'll be managing the pitch and choosing the account executives and strategic and media planners. I'll then manage them so that they can concentrate on their roles.
The campaign I most admire right now is MasterCard's: "For everything else, there's MasterCard." I've seen versions in Ireland, the UK and France, and it works everywhere. And I think it has been running successfully for about three years now.