AAA School’s triumph
Plenty of talent but not enough money
THE AAA SCHOOL of Advertising’s Johannesburg campus put in a dominating performance in student advertising awards last year, winning almost half of all points dished out. It was, says the school’s principal, Ludi Koekemoer, “our best year ever. We just had some brilliant students with brilliant concepts and my staff helped them to develop ideas so beautifully. Our Cape Town campus is usually stronger but this year Johannesburg was top. Sometimes you get a much better calibre than usual.”
There are only two big awards events for students in South Africa: the student Loeries and the Student Pendorings (Afrikaans). Until recently most of the entries came from the AAA School, Vega Brand Communications School and Red & Yellow, commercial schools that are less academically inclined than the universities. University entries were the exception.
Then they suddenly woke up to the fact they could enter and that awards were a short-cut to employment. This year there were 380 entries. There are around 15 institutions that regularly enter for these awards, including Johannesburg, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, North-West, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela universities. North-West University has emerged as a surprising centre of advertising creativity. Second place put it ahead of such established advertising schools as Vega and Red & Yellow.
Other recent examples of youthful talent were FoxP2’s art director, Reijer van der Vlugt, who won the Young Creative Award after taking a gold and two silver Loeries and two bronze Lions at the Cannes Festival last year.
Also in the spotlight has been Rory Welgemoed and Leon Kotze, who won a Cannes Gold Lion last year, their first year in advertising.
But if there’s so much student activity why do ad agencies complain so vigorously about the shortage of talent? Koekemoer tracks students’ job history after graduating and reports that over 20 years 87% of AAA graduates have gone into advertising and marketing. But in current tough conditions it hasn’t been easy to find work. “Agencies are laying off staff, so youngsters can’t get permanent positions. Often they go in as interns on low salaries or even for nothing in order to gain experience and prove themselves.
“Two years ago most of them had jobs by the time they graduated. That’s no longer the case.”
Despite empowerment, there’s still a shortage of blacks in advertising. At the AAA School only 40% of its graduates are black. At Vega, Red & Yellow and most universities the figure is more like 10% to 20%.
Ad agencies have another problem that didn’t exist 10 years ago: salaries. Margins are much tighter than they were and salaries have consequently suffered. Because demand for black staff is high while supply is short, they quickly get lured out of agencies into better paid positions with their clients.
“One of our student graduates had two job offers,” says Koekemoer. “One was from an ad agency, offering R5 500/month. The other was from a client company. Its offer? R20 000.”
For the student it’s a no-brainer. For ad agencies it’s a disaster.