The last thing Dan Greener and Joe Federer expected to do during a pandemic was start an online advertising school.
When stay-at-home orders went into place across the globe, Federer and other moderators of the Reddit subreddit r/Advertising noticed an influx of graduating students who had questions about the industry. Shortly after this, someone in the community suggested there should be a Zoom happy hour call, and the subreddit—which has more than 105,000 members—hosted one for 30-40 attendees. The call included a wide range of people in the industry, from agency owners to interns.
Greener and Federer are no strangers to advertising: Greener is a copywriter at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, while Federer is a strategy consultant who used to work at Reddit. So after the call, Federer realized just how “refreshing and interesting” it was to get a glimpse of how people made their way into advertising. He texted Greener that there was “something really special about this conversation and the way that it’s kind of breaking what’s very often a stiff industry.”
They turned to r/Advertising to suggest r/Advertising School, a free 12-week program where industry leaders who work at places such as Grey and Apple will teach courses in topics ranging from brand building to media planning. After members gave their feedback and suggestions for what they’d like to get out of the program, Federer and Greener teamed up with Goodby art directors Neha Guria and Edward King, and freelance art director Shannon Smith to make r/Advertising School a reality.
The program kicks off June 1. Each class includes a 30-minute Zoom lecture with Q&A, and an assignment critiqued by the teacher and others in a thread on r/Advertising. The live lessons are capped to about 50 students but made available later on YouTube for the remainder of registrants.
The goal of r/Advertising School is to “reduce barriers for entry for as many people as we possibly can,” Federer said. “What we want to do is give everyone as much insight into what it’s actually like to work in the field, what area you want to aim at and how you can stand out as [much as] possible.”
Federer and Greener agree that a traditional undergraduate experience and portfolio school are valuable, and they don’t want to compete with those programs. Federer said it can be difficult to try and break into advertising when you’re “working in an adjacent field” and don’t have the time to attend a program that may interfere with a 40-hour work week.
“What’s really cool about [r/Advertising School] is that there’s an actionable takeaway at the end of every lesson,” he said. “So even though you’re not attending school full time, you can still get that real-world assignment that’s going to be critiqued by the community.”
Jesse Alkire, founder of the Denver Ad School, agrees that r/Advertising School is not a competitor to his and other advertising programs.
“Seeing this come out and the fact that it is free, it’s online—all the intentions are great,” he said.
Alkire’s one concern is whether the advice given to students applies to where they live. He’s spent time on the r/Advertising subreddit and occasionally finds that some tips given to users might apply to one country’s approach to the industry, but not another’s.
“Who’s actually leading the class?” he said. “Who are the [students] getting advice from?”
Meanwhile, Vann Graves, executive director of the VCU Brandcenter, noted the importance of giving people interested in the advertising industry options when it comes to learning. It also just so happens that Smith, one of the r/Advertising School founders, is an alumna of the Brandcenter.
“Education is a benefit to our entire industry, and when it comes to determining which program to consider, I believe it’s primarily about finding the best fit for the individual,” Graves said.
Deb Morrison, the Carolyn Chambers distinguished professor of advertising at the University of Oregon and a member of the Adweek Academic Council, loves when things such as r/Advertising School “are invented and pulled into existence because someone sees a void,” but believes that online classes “without deeper relationships and experiential learning isn’t satisfying or sustainable.”
“What I worry about for Reddit or for any of the virtual programs springing up—hell, what I worry about for any of us—is relevance,” she said. “Right now, what this industry needs is what the world needs: empathy. It’s hard to learn and wrangle and shape and find that via a screen.”
The power of mentorship
As Covid-19 continues to have a massive impact on nearly every industry, Greener is happy to see that “people are really invested in mentoring folks” through the community r/Advertising helped build to make way for r/Advertising School.
“It’s really scary to be a creative or someone who wants to break into the industry, [then] email creative directors on LinkedIn or cold call them,” he said. “But people are so willing to share that information, and it really inspires you to want to operate the same way.”
Even though the program is a week away from starting, Federer and Greener already hope to continue r/Advertising School with new courses at least two to four times a year.
“We’re going to learn a whole lot in the inaugural class, but all signs have pointed to students [finding] this super valuable, [and] people in the industry are willing to help out and provide the insights [that are] valuable to them,” Federer said.
And with a subreddit with a membership in the thousands, any advertising connection is possible.
“Just tapping into a small portion of those folks is incredibly powerful,” Greener said.