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Could Advertising Pay for Your Child’s College Education?

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Years ago, a friend of mine sold his company to national telecommunication company.  With time on his hands, and being a serial entrepreneur he set out on his next project.

Watching his two children come home every night with overstuffed backpacks full of books, he decided his next venture would be to lighten their load. With a track record of technology innovations, he developed an e-reader years before the IPad and Kindle.  The reader had an interactive note pad on one side and the e-reader on the other side.  He provided much of the funding and line up production in South Korea and China.

Next, he would need the education system to play along.  And that’s where the story ends.  He preached of the value of democratizing education to school systems, locally and nationally.  The opportunity to generate new revenue streams by promoting college professors, courses and information beyond the classroom to the reach of every student with internet access.  But the old guard was too wedded to their legacy business models, and their traditional thinking of a “campus education” and as a result, they never got onboard.

That was until now.  Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs are changing the mindset of some of the most prestigious colleges in the US.  Leading universities like Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins are now putting some of their marque courses online, and many of them for free.

MOOC platform providers like Coursera, edX and Udacity believe higher education is a basic human right and, as a result, have seen a surge in interest.  Coursera now has more than 1.7 million registered students.   Brian Caffo, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, teaches what he calls a “math biostatistics boot camp” that usually draws a few dozen graduate students (found 15,000 students from around the world had signed up for the free online course).

Bringing higher education to the masses also comes paradigm-shifting challenges. It has the potential of redefining the value of a “campus education” and to disrupt the traditional business model.   Nick Anderson of Washington Post suggest that MOOC platforms pose a key question for universities “Are they undercutting time tested financial models that relies on students willing to pay a high price for a degree from a prestigious institution…or are they accelerating the onset of a democratized, globalized version of higher education?”

Burck Smith likens it to the challenge newspapers faced when they first launched web sites.  Smith, the CEO of StraightLine, which sells low cost online courses says, “Free content has never really been a successful business model.”

Perhaps Mr. Smith is wrong.  With two kids not far from college, I’d like to suggest that there could be a new business model built on free content – Advertising.

In this new world, Universities become, in a sense, content houses, similar to publishers.  By making the best universities, courses and professors available to the masses, the opportunity to draw huge audiences and to build brands worldwide is created.

For example, the eight courses made available by Johns Hopkins have drawn more than 170,000 students from around the world.  And where there are highly engaged and defined eyeballs, there are advertisers waiting, and wanting to gain access, especially given the fact that courses are available in multiple formats and devices.

Although this “revolution” is in its early stages, it has to the potential to redefine the college experience, education and business model.  And, as the story of my friend attests, the industry is slow to change, but with cost of an average public college education at $27,435, “free” sounds pretty good to me.

How the Big Agency Model Really Works

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Original post on January 5, 2007

Caveat: I wrote this post 2 years prior to joining an advertising agency. It was based on my experience working with clients and their agency “partners.”  Having now been “in the business” for close to 3 years now (with a mid-size agency), I wasn’t too far off the mark.

The Big Agency Model

Dissatisfaction with the “Big Agency” business model has recently made the news. Some are calling for a new advertising model, that the old global network model is dead.  Here’s one man’s cynical view of why and how the “game” really works.

The Game

Big agency wins account with contract “pitch team”, innovative creative, and a promise of a global platform designed to create consistent communication, production efficiencies, and improve program/people spend, etc. The client drinks the “kool aid” but then quickly comes to realize that it was a sham.

The first play of the game comes with the introduction of the lead account manager, who looks nothing like the person introduced as the account manager in the pitch.  Shortly afterward the signed scope of work, they start to doing an impression of the “invisible man.”  And the once senior and experienced account team also starts disappearing, only to be replaced by fresh faced staff of kids just out of school.

The account relationships sputters along with marginal program/campaign performance. The client BU’s and regions get fed up with the “Global Platform” (never getting the attention and team promised) and start going outside using smaller, more responsive agencies (who happened to be the talent that left the big agency).

The innovative “creative” shown to win the account turns out to be the only truly creative thing produced in the last few years and it gets recycle in multiple pitches.

Big agency realizes the account is at risk and begins acquiring the smaller agencies serving the client to secure the account.  If the client is willing to commit to retaining the agency after all this…they promise to win them an award and get them really good concert tickets.

Again, this is just one man’s opinion…I could be wrong.