Masters in Creative Advertising marks 10th Anniversary

Professor Iain Macdonald on Making Mad Men for the Digital Future

Date posted

4 February 2016


An exhibition will be held at Whitespace in Edinburgh's Kings Stable Road on Thursday February 11 to mark the 10th anniversary of Scotland's first Masters Course in Creative Advertising.

In an article first published in today's Scotsman, Professor Iain Macdonald offers some reflections on the course and the industry.

These may be dark days in the oil industry and around Aberdeen, but in the other Scottish docks of Leith and Glasgow’s Pacific Quay the lights are burning bright as our other major industry grows new digital pipelines. New York may have had its Mad Men and London its Saatchi brothers, but Scotland has its own style of creative thinking and advertising. As new creative companies establish themselves and old ones develop new digital lines of advertising, branding and communication they seek new talent to bring on and prepare for the challenging work ahead. Ten years ago a unique partnership was formed in Scotland to meet that challenge.

In 2006 Edinburgh Napier University with the support of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) established the first Masters in Creative Advertising in Scotland, one that had a focus on what the advertising industry wanted. The creative direction and teaching was led by Susie Henry who had returned to Scotland with a cabinet of D&AD advertising awards (6 Pencils) after working at global agencies DDB and Saatchi & Saatchi, and having been the first woman to have her own successful London agency. It was the best start any student could ask for.

Recognition has come to many students who have won Roses Creativity Awards, and on the international stage at D&AD with Black and Yellow Pencil Awards. Over the last decade the course has developed to meet the changing needs of the advertising industry and their clients. Other industry professionals joined the University’s teaching staff: Brian Williams and latterly Iain Macdonald, Jim Fraser, Gillian Govan, Chris Muir, Andy Archer and Bill Walsh. A range of art directing, film directing, copywriting, planning and digital experience that has come from years of professional practice has contributed to ten years of Masters cohorts that have gone on to find employment: jobs in Scotland and across the globe that were not even thought of ten years ago.

How can higher education prepare for future jobs that have yet to be invented? There are several approaches that can be learned from Edinburgh Napier University’s MSc Creative Advertising programme. 

The first is to be close to industry: embedded in the course structure are live briefs and visits to agencies where networking opportunities can be encouraged and lecturers can remain engaged with their own creative practice. We also have a mentoring programme that is currently focused on providing female students (of which there are many) with female role models in creative departments (too few).

Secondly, students come from a broad range of under graduate studies: design, marketing, languages, humanities in general, and three quarters from abroad. International students may find Scottish culture rather nuanced when working on local campaigns, but the wider cultural benefits expand the horizons for all students. Having Polish, Italian, French or German as your first language is actually a very attractive proposition for Scotland’s agencies that have eyes on European-wide clients. A melting pot of cultures is arguably what made New York and then London so successful in advertising. 

Thirdly, it helps to be part of a University that has a mix of practical programmes that are taught by creative practitioners as well as academics. Advertising, like all technologically driven creative industries, relies on teamwork and collaboration. It is fun to work and make with others. Combining people with different skills is an alchemy that Don Smith, Creative Director at Realise has become very successful at and is encouraging universities to replicate. Breaking down, or ignoring the silo tendencies of universities and other institutions is going to be essential to experimenting with new combinations of copywriting, art direction, production, programming, user experience designing, data analytics, planning, research and…

There is a tremendous amount of goodwill in Scotland’s advertising industry for higher education. Logically there is a commercial motivation to have dialogue with educators that will help train future recruits, but this can also help to foster academic research as well as practice-based learning to benefit all. There are critics as well, change is slow in academia and the pace is often frustrating for those on the outside who want to see more radical innovation and future thinking. Rather than torch the existing model each intake of new blood, both student and educator, offers refreshment that injects new ideas and energy that can embrace change.

Working late in the colourful breakout pods of the creative agencies that twinkle in the watery reflections of Glasgow and Leith with a panoply of advertising media to call upon, billboards, print, television and radio remain stubbornly persistent. Yet the advertising landscape is changing. We’re changing with it. We look forward to encouraging students to think about their ideas, to see every problem as an opportunity to change the way people think or behave. But no matter how much the world we live in changes, one thing stays the same:
The power of effective communication.