What Teaching Teaches

By Timothy Delaney

An MRI of a typical creative person’s brain would no doubt reveal a highly developed right lobe (that’s the intuitive side) and a somewhat atrophied left lobe. Most great advertising is not arrived at logically, but through a series of random leaps. For the typical ad geek the left lobe is reserved not for statistics and spreadsheets but for TV theme songs, film dialog and the names of ‘70’s rock bands. An art director might have a few Photoshop tricks stored in there but that’s about it. For creatives the right lobe is our bread and butter, where ideas, art and all other worthwhile things come from. Left-brain stuff is reserved for the suits. But every once in a while that half does come in handy.

A while back I was invited to teach an advertising course at Columbia College Chicago. I had taught portfolio classes in the past, where you give eager students assignments and get to play creative director. But this was different. The course was Introduction to Advertising and was meant for marketing students. I accepted the challenge, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Columbia College Chicago is a bona fide learning institution, with grades, evaluations and a teachers union. My students were not just creatives, but also included the clients of tomorrow. This course was to involve real information, not just opinion. And each class was nearly three hours long.

But there is a wealth of advertising related content out there waiting to be tapped. Books by Luke Sullivan, Pat Fallon, and my own friends Mark Silveira, Pat Hanlon and Larry Minsky function as our textbooks. The ad columns in the New York Times and the Sun Times provide weekly grist for discussion. And of course there’s YouTube. Anything the least bit noteworthy or just downright stupid in the broadcast world finds its way to YouTube in a nanosecond.

And there is also my own vast experience. My history stretches back to the Paleolithic era on the advertising timeline. I started out at Scale, McCabe, Sloves in New York working for the guys that pretty much invented the business. Not exactly “Mad Men” but close. I recall seeing the archetypal Maxell guy in the chair as a comp on a presentation board. I have spent time in Ed McCabe’s hot tub. I’ve witnessed Joe Sedelmaier verbally abusing talent. So when things slow down after about 90 minutes (and they often do) I can usually pull a great story out of my murky past. Accounts of in office drug abuse and debauchery go over particularly well

And more often than not, I learn from my students. These kids are not trust fund slackers. Many speak English as a second language. All of them work during the day. And although I had to explain who Mr. Whipple was, they are very tuned into pop culture, both past and present. So I don’t have to subject myself to VH1 to know what’s hip.

The net result is a fair exchange between student and teacher. They challenge me to regurgitate everything I’ve learned about this wacky business.

And in return, I get to feel like I actually know something.

Timothy Delaney is an art director who runs his own freelance creative services firm. He has won One Show, CA, Chicago Show, and various other awards. His most recent essay, prior to this one, appeared in The New York Times.

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