“They all want experience, but you can’t get experience until someone hires you, but no one’s going to hire you if you don’t have experience.”
This is the predicament that haunts so many college graduates, and current advertising professor of practice Lou Schiavone; was no different. After pursuing his master’s in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, he moved back to Connecticut and once again became roommates with his parents. He worked at a bookstore and a few indoor tennis clubs while scouring the Help Wanted section of his local newspaper, hoping to break into the publishing industry.
“I saw an ad one day for a copywriter,” said Schiavone. “I had no clue what it was. I thought it had to do with copyrighting a name or registering a trademark. That was how clueless I was. Advertising was not on my radar in any way.”
Schiavone went into the interview with an accordion folder holding poetry, a couple of term papers and a few book reviews he had written. It was far from a portfolio, but it earned him the chance to prove his worth and he landed the job.
A Successful Career
After bouncing locally from agency to agency, Schiavone made his way to New York and landed at McCann-Erickson, where he would go on to create award-winning ad campaigns for a number of high-profile companies.
“When I got to New York and McCann, I got to work on Coca-Cola, L’oreal, Sony, the American Express Gold Card and AT&T,” said Schiavone. “It was really a lovely mix.”
Schiavone ended up heading over to work at Ogilvy, where he worked on accounts like Seagrams, Duracell, the British Tourist Authority and Paco Rabanne. He continued to work for a number of highly-visible accounts, and even did pro-bono work for brands like the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and Meals on Wheels.
And then Schiavone got recruited to come to Michigan. He worked at Doner in Southfield, which had primarily been a regional agency, just as they were getting approached by national and multinational clients for work. Schiavone’s creative group worked on brands like Iams pet food, British Petroleum, Chiquita Bananas, Ballpark Franks and Lay-Z-Boy, as well as more regional accounts like The Detroit Zoo, The Detroit Institute of Arts and University of Michigan Hospital.
“I was at Doner for about eight years and then I went to work at Enlighten, a digital agency in Ann Arbor, which was strategically a great career move,” said Schiavone, who remembers the convergence of traditional media into a new digital world where everyone lives online. “My time at Enlighten helped me to see the convergence coming and also to know how to fit what I do into that landscape. It gave me a skillset that helped me stay relevant.”
Bringing Experience to the Classroom
His continued relevance and impressive track record in the advertising profession are what put him on ComArtSci’s radar. Before long, he was approached by the university to teach.
“I’ve practiced my craft in the real world, and now I teach what I’ve done my whole career,” said Schiavone. “They have a commitment in this department and in this college to bring in people who are actually still practitioners in what they teach.”
If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to be successful in the advertising industry, it’s Schiavone, and he wants to pass that information onto his students. He says that talent is of paramount importance and that “there’s a lot of talent here” at ComArtSci.
“Besides talent, timing is really kind of everything,” said Schiavone. “If I look at my own career, it had everything to do with timing. Sometimes it’s about knowing people who can open doors for you. That doesn’t mean you won’t do well on your own once you go through those doors, but it does help to develop relationships with people who can facilitate your movement upward.”
Schiavone has certainly propelled his students upward and onward. Recent advertising graduate Savannah Benavides ’17 won a National Silver ADDY after Schiavone urged her to submit her class project, recognizing her talent despite her doubt. Alumnus Matt Richter ’16, who just won a National Gold ADDY for his work with alumna Lauren Cutler ’16, credits much of his success to the relationship he built with Schiavone, citing him as one of the professors “who will bend over backwards to get you a job, because they believe in you.”
A Global Industry
Schiavone also emphasizes the importance of staying relevant by keeping up with current work in the industry, not just in the U.S., but globally. New markets like Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv and Moscow are turning out great work.
“You don’t have to know every agency and every player, but it does help to know where the really good work is being done,” said Schiavone. “It’s really a global business now.”
Beyond talent, timing and staying relevant, Schiavone says that he can’t think of anyone who ever got anywhere on the creative side of advertising by playing it safe.
“I think it’s important to play full-out, to take your foot off the brake - metaphorically speaking - and actually let your mind go to a place that’s unfamiliar,” said Schiavone. “I think that’s absolutely critical. If you just work within a box and play it safe, you’ll have a career. You just won’t have a terribly exciting one.”
By Kaitlin Dudlets