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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles > Slideshow « A Day At The Circus


A Day At The Circus

Posted on July 8, 2008 and read 5,343 times

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A little while back, a friend of mine at The Creative Circus sent out an email about a bake sale four students were hosting. How cute, I thought, but the four-hour plane ride from Toronto to Atlanta would make it just a tad prohibitive for me to contribute. Reading further however, I discovered the students wanted to hand deliver their baked goods…in France at $500 per cookie. Oh yeah, and sprinkles were an extra 100 bucks.

So here’s the back story: Less than a week before the Cannes opening gala, Creative Circus students Katy, Karen, Liza & Andy were informed they’d won an AKQA Future Lion Award. Actually, they’d won two; no small feat considering just five are awarded annually.

As the French say, it would be un grand challenge, for most people to pack for the world’s biggest advertising festival with such limited lead-time. However, these future superstars had larger worries than whether to bring the tiger or cheetah print speedo (pack both, by the way) – they had to collectively come up with six grand for travel costs. While the school was willing to help offset as much of the expenditure as possible, the students still needed to cover their airfare. So the world’s most expensive bake sale was born.

This is just the type of innovative thinking being spawned right now in a renovated warehouse in Atlanta’s north end. Visiting The Creative Circus earlier this year, I realized that, even though I graduated from college just six years ago, the curriculum I studied (and even the programs at some schools today) are light-years behind the level of thinking happening in Georgia right now.

Today has to be one of the most exiting times to be teaching advertising, but it also has to be the most intimidating. About the only thing those in the industry pubs can agree on right now is that the business is changing and evolving at an incredible pace. So how does someone prepare students for the future when no one knows what it will look like?

The Creative Circus is placing a lot of stock in collaboration. And while that’s not a new concept in an agency environment – doing so in a school, to a level that would rival some of the world’s best creative departments, is.

I sat in on a class dubbed ‘Superteams.’ It’s an invite-only class, made up of the Circus’ best students. Groups of four or five art directors, designers and copywriters reinvent a brand. We’re not talking about a new logo and a splashy print campaign. These students identify a struggling product or service and rethink it from top to tail. Thought is put into the product itself, where it is sold, how it sold, the packaging, the branding. Everything. And no one takes the easy way out here either – one of the case studies I was privileged to see, completely rethought a well known fitness chain, while the other – a work in progress – was breathing new life into a nationwide pharmacy chain.

What really struck me as I sat in the brightly painted classroom (aside from the dog running around) was the maturity of the discussion. I snuck in halfway through class and was hard pressed to identify the teachers – not only because of the youthful faculty, but because of the type of discussion that was happening. It wasn’t your traditional teacher-student dynamic, but a highly collaborative agency brainstorming session.

And if there was one thing more impressive than the level of thinking going on here, it’s the final product. Each group produces a professionally bound book, which lays out everything. Sure there’s the new logo and colour palette. And graphic standards. But there are also store layouts, client retention programs, launch campaigns and social networking applications. The list goes on.

It became evident that innovative thinking comes from the top at The Creative Circus, when we were asked to be guests on the school’s bi-weekly podcast (I realize podcasts are no longer cutting edge, but I’ve yet to come across another ad school producing one).

About a year ago teacher and department head, Dan Balser, decided to take his trademark classroom rants and put them online under the title “Don’t get me started – A Podcast About Advertising” Since then the show has hosted such guests as TBWA\Chiat\Day CD Perry Fair, Bud Light Daredevil/DDB copywriter Jeb Quaid and Toby Barlow, ECD of JWT Team Detroit.

One theme that we kept coming back to as we recorded Episode 31: The Interwebs are Here to Stay was how technologically advanced students are today – even more so than the pros in the agencies. It must have sounded like three old guys going off about ‘kids and their blasted gadgets and gizmos!,’ but in all seriousness, it was amazing to listen to these students intelligently discussing integrating RFID tags, Facebook apps, self-serve kiosks, and the like into campaigns. And they weren’t tossing Twitter into the mix just to do it; it was actually making strategic sense.

These students are being groomed to be industry leaders. Many have already won coveted awards while others are being scooped out of the classroom mid-semester by big name agencies.

Still, while any quality ad school can claim its students have made an impact on the industry’s creativity, how many can claim they’ve made an impact on its diversity? Let me introduce, Adversity. It’s an organization lead by former Circus student, Marcus Gartrell, and former Circus employee, Julius Dunn, to address diversity within the ad industry, an issue getting more and more attention these days.


As Marcus and Julius discussed the project and their vision, I couldn’t help be reminded of ihaveanidea’s burgeoning days. We sat drinking stale coffee so many years ago and Ignacio would preach on not needing permission from anyone to change the industry we love. I saw that same fire and disregard for convention in these guys.


While The Creative Circus was the birthplace of the project with support from Placement Director DC Washington, and school founder Carol Vick Bynum, Adversity has since grown to be a separate entity altogether. In efforts to ensure the project reaches its maximum potential Marcus and Julius, with guidance from Carol, have made in entirely independent from the Circus and any other school. Keep an eye on Adversity, big things are coming.

Towards the end of our visit, Ignacio and I sat down with some of the forth quarter students who’d hung back after our presentation (keep an eye on ACADEMIA for a highlight clip from said presentation). I really pushed to find out what they felt made The Circus different from other schools. Sure, it has talented students, stocked trophy cases and state-of-the-art computer labs, but what’s really different? Almost unanimously they said it was ‘nice.’ They weren’t talking about the building, although it’s ‘nice’ too. They were talking about the people. The students, the faculty – everyone is really nice. And not to mention helpful and humble.

I’ve toured a lot of ad schools, and I assure you, being the ‘nice school’ is an awesome distinction.

One final note: As you can see, Katy, Karen, Liza & Andy did make it to Cannes afterall. Leo Burnett came through and made it happen for them. Stay tuned for an article about their Cannes adventures.


Brendan Watson
Director of Educational Resources

ihaveanidea






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