Campus Confidential: Lessons Learned from Guest Lecturing

Yes, it’s true that Don Draper would likely disagree that the employed masses have anything to learn from a bunch of college students – those oversleepin’, Ramen-eatin’, laundry-totin’ scoundrels. But checking in with the next decade’s – or, for that matter, the next year’s – crop of professionals can offer some insight into what they know, what they don’t know, and what they’ll bring to the table once their mortar boards have been tossed. 
Our intrepid Chief Operating Officer Ron Thompson took on this mission last month, and came back to WP with plenty of field notes. The skinny: Today’s student wants to do well and to learn how to be better. They are interested in finding ways to work well with members of other generations, and perhaps most importantly, they will tolerate opening ice-breaker jokes from ad agency COOs. Read on.

University of Hartford campus, West Hartford, Conn.

The Mission:
Dazzle a class of co-eds taking a level 400 Communications course titled Media Operations and Management.

The Tactics:
• I told them the professor and I met in prison (insert laugh here).
• After providing them with my CV listing all the companies I’ve worked for and jobs I’ve held (broadcasting, film and video production, educational technology development, software development, and advertising), I also shared with them brochures from the agency.
• I explained the history of how the agency was once two firms, how they came to be, and how they function now.

The Findings:
• …turns out that most of the class were communications majors with minors in journalism – out of the 12 students only one was a graduate student – all of them were upper classmen, and interested in several topics, including:

– the perils of off shoring (way more management overhead than anyone expects)
– the blurring of PR and Social Media
– the value of web-based advertising (price, reach, and measurement)
– the marketing budget and how it gets hammered during difficult economic times
– the change in the ad agency revenue model – much less dependent on media commissions

• Largely though, their interests seemed to focus around a few things:

1. what employers are looking for these days in employees – which makes sense given the current high unemployment rate and their nearness to entering the job market;
2. different management styles –  also managing different types of personalities;
3. the difference between working for big companies versus small.

The Final Ron-alysis:
Regarding #1
Personally, I most often look for people who are problem solvers. Yes, they have to have the basic skills and knowledge to do the job, but they also need to prove to me that they are going to be an employee who can work indepedently to solve problems. If they bring me a problem each day but also bring a couple of potential solutions to the conversation, they at much more valuable to our company. Thinkers are gold.

Regarding #2
I learned early in my career that finding a management style and philosophy and sticking to it was important. Finding a balance between too soft and too hard is also key. But even more importantly, when you find a style that works – stick to it. Don’t make your employees guess everyday how you are going to operate or react. Also – never forget the human side of management – we all want to do a good job and be recognized for it. Conversely, don’t become so soft that people walk on you. When you have lost the respect of your employees you become ineffective. Managing different types of people is very important; take note of how personality types like to communicate and what motivates them. There are some general categories that employees can be grouped into but always remember that they are all individuals. So, while most sales people are social creatures and often respond well to positive feedback, and many programmers don’t like to engage directly with others if they can avoid it, it’s worth noting some programmers also like words of encouragement and some sales people will be thrilled if you throw a Snickers bar on their desk instead of patting them on the back and telling them they are great.

Regarding #3
Working for a large company when you are young is a great thing. There will always be many more opportunities for advancement and also excellent chances of trying many different things. During my early years in educational publishing I was very lucky to work in an area of great growth and opportunity. However, bigger companies are very often lacking soul, and as you get older you will realize that you are often seen as a number or just another cog in the wheel. If you truly like people, (especially managing people in particular) smaller firms are much more intimate and often more flexible when it comes to the uniqueness of individuals. What small firms cannot always provide in the way of opportunity, they often make up for in loyalty and appreciation. 

Ron Thompson is the Chief Operating Officer for Winstanley Partners. He’d like more cowbell.