The Youngest Minds Boast the Brightest Future

Last week, I was given the opportunity to take a look into some of the most strategic and creative minds of the next generation of advertisers. I was invited to serve as a semi-finalist judge in the American Advertising Federation’s (AAF) National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) alongside three marketers from Tai-Pei.

Walking into the room, I had no idea what to expect – 

This year, 200+ teams from colleges and universities from across the country competed through creating a detailed and comprehensive two-tier ($10M and $15M) strategic advertising, marketing and media campaign for Tai-Pei. All highly qualified, in the semi-finals round I judged the remaining 18 pitches, which we were tasked to narrow down to 8 finalists.

Minutes into the first pitch, I was blown away.

The competitors came equipped with so much energy, drive and passion that I was inspired. As an agency president and leader of new business, I’ve been on both ends of hundreds of pitches, but many of these undergrads nailed the pitches, as a seasoned agency team would. Not only did they sell their ideas, but also developed very sound, robust, multi-faceted campaigns… (I almost hired a few on the spot).

18 presentations later, we deliberated and I went back to the agency…refreshed, inspired, and humbled (but it was also Cinco de Mayo, so that could’ve been effects of the salsa.) Who would have thought that a bunch of fresh-faced 20-somethings could teach some industry veterans a thing or two about putting together a campaign?

A few insights that I took away as a reminder for continuous improvement:

  • Extract meaning from research. While half of the teams performed extensive primary and secondary research, less than half of those teams developed insights and opportunities from the research to inform and influence the campaign’s strategy. It’s important to get to the core of consumers’ needs and understand more deeply what drives their behavior. 
  • Ensure creative continuity throughout the campaign. 75% of the teams developed very strong creative concepts, however, several teams broke the continuity of the concepts while transcending mediums. Continuity is key – especially in today’s media cluttered world. All the parts no matter how different must be reconciled so they support each other.
  • Test campaign concepts prior to the pitch. The teams that tested their concepts prior to the pitch typically scored higher. As a judge, I appreciated the measurement and refinement of the message… and, typically, the creative was stronger!
  • Develop tactics that support the campaign strategy. While a few groups nailed the tactical execution, many groups found themselves recommending anything that they think would stick. My advice? Hone in on your big picture! Focus on tactics that support the strategy and are going to achieve the objectives of the campaign.
  • Develop a strong measurement plan. Measurement must go beyond CTRs and CPCs – how else can the campaign be measured? And, relating back to ROI for the business certainly doesn’t hurt. 

Perhaps my largest takeaway is confidence. I’m confident the next generation is stronger than ever before – for agencies and brands alike, we’re in good hands.

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Mike Kapetanovic

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