Advertising + PR History

Advertising Education at Michigan State University

By Richard T. Cole, Gordon E. Miracle and Jef I. Richards

Crawford Creates a New Department

In 1958, the Dean of the recently established (1955) College of Communication Arts at MSU, Gordon Sabine, hired D’Arcy advertising executive John Crawford to serve as Chairman of a new Department of Advertising. There were no more than one or two other academic departments of advertising to be found anywhere at that time. Crawford built his faculty by hiring professionals with B.A., M.A. or MBA degrees in business, journalism or political science.

The Bachelor of Arts in Advertising was created as a liberal arts degree, augmented with a few advertising and journalism courses. Within a few years more than 100 students per year were enrolled in the program. Gradually the department added more advertising courses. In about 1960 the Department of Advertising was authorized to offer the Master of Arts in Advertising, and in the next few years granted about four or five M.A. degrees per year.

In the 1960s, scholarly advertising research was done mainly by faculty in colleges of business and schools of journalism. While the early members of the Department of Advertising were not researchers, Michigan State’s status as a significant research university placed an expectation for research on all of them. So the mid-1960s was a period of dramatic change in the MSU Advertising Department. All but one of the early practitioner-oriented faculty members retired or left MSU for positions elsewhere by the end of that decade, leading to a change in the faculty profile.

During his term as chair, Crawford also was recognized as an important national figure in advertising education. He was made the 8th “Fellow” of the American of Advertising (AAA) in 1964, elected to be the organization’s 8th Vice President in 1966-67, and elected to be its 9th President in 1967-68. This is the foundation on which the department’s reputation was erected in the coming decades.

The Atkin and Miracle Eras

Kenward “Ken” Atkin was the first of those early faculty to complete the requirements for the Ph.D. degree. He did so in MSU’s Department of Communication in 1961, while teaching a full load of classes. This was the beginning of a shift of faculty from being entirely composed of former practitioners to a recognition of the need for Ph.D faculty.

Gordon Miracle, Ph.D. in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin Business School and previously a faculty member at The University of Michigan School of Business, was one of the first doctoral faculty hired. He was appointed associate professor in 1966. In early 1967, Miracle introduced an undergraduate course in international advertising, thought to be the first of its kind at a U.S. university. This also represented a shift in curricular scope, stepping beyond basic “how to” course content.

By the end of the decade departmental undergraduate enrollment increased to more than 200 students. At the same time, M.A. enrollment grew to about 45 per year.

Ken Atkin was appointed as the department’s second chairman in 1969 and served until 1974. And as the Department approached its 15th anniversary, it was beginning to collect accolades and successes. One of those, certainly, was when it won the inaugural American Advertising Federation’s (AAF) National Student Competition in 1971.

Like his predecessor, Atkin had distinguished himself nationally. He actually served two terms as Vice President, 1972-73 and 1973-74, and two as President of the AAA, 1974-75 and 1975-76. Atkin also served as one of the first nine members of the editorial board for the Journal of Advertising, a leading research publication in this field.

Under Atkin the undergraduate program grew to more than 300 students, and M.A. enrollment held steady at about 50. Meanwhile, international students became a more important and central part of the program, particularly at the graduate level. The Department’s international reputation was beginning to find a foothold.

In addition to offering the nation’s first university course in international advertising, the department also offered the university’s first course in consumer behavior. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the department shifted from a more narrow focus on “advertising” to a broader focus on an integrated mix of marketing communication activities. This development was made more tangible, perhaps, by the later contributions of one of its prominent M.A. and Ph.D graduates, Don Schultz, who later became known as the father of integrated marketing communication (IMC).

This shift in emphasis served as the backdrop for two very important developments. In the early 1970s an M.A. in Public Relations was established. This was the first official integration of PR into the Department. Another major addition also occurred at that time. From 1969 until 1972, under Dean Herbert Oyer, informal discussions among faculty members in the departments of advertising, television and radio and journalism led to launching a Ph.D. program in Mass Media in 1973.

Miracle headed the Ph.D. Program in that first year, and other advertising faculty members played key roles in guiding graduate student research and publication. The addition of a doctoral program greatly influenced the department’s research productivity.

Following Atkin, Miracle was department chair from May 1974 until December 1980, during which time the undergraduate program grew to nearly 1000 students. The Department’s international reputation continued to expand and by now nearly half of the M.A. students came from outside the USA.

The Department continued to build in both academic and practitioner orientations. In 1975 the Department established a Visiting Advertising Professional (VAP) program, where senior advertising professionals were brought to MSU from across the USA and from several foreign countries, for one- to four- week seminars with selected students. This program continues, even after several decades, thanks to a gift from Kensington and Alice Jones. A former advertising professional himself, Ken Jones taught in the MSU advertising program for nearly 20 years. Also during this time, the department strengthened its presence in the AAA, hosting the organization’s annual conference in 1979.

Like Atkin and Crawford, before him, Miracle distinguished himself within this academic field. He was regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in international advertising. Later, in 1990, he was named a “Fellow” of the AAA.

Block and Vanden Bergh Eras

It also was during the Miracle era that faculty began bringing in research grants, some of which involved faculty across multiple departments, such as the 1979 National Institutes of Health grant won by Martin Block, of the Advertising Department, and Charles Atkin, of the Communication Department (and son of Kenward Atkin). Both the grants and the cross-disciplinary cooperation transformed much of the research in the Department. At the start of 1981, being one of the Department’s leading researchers, Block became its chair.

Block oversaw the on-going growth in student count, as well as faculty research productivity, during his four years as chair. Among his achievements was beginning an off-campus masters program in Metropolitan Detroit. Strong research was, by that time, essential for the credibility of a strong graduate program.

In Block’s first year students in the department again won the American Advertising Federation’s (AAF) National Student Competition (1981). That win was one indicator that the growth of research did not diminish the essential purpose of teaching. Indeed, during the first two decades of its existence, MSU’s Advertising Department grew into a program with a solid balance of research, teaching, as well as service to the university and to the professional community.

Bruce Vanden Bergh served as Department Chairman from 1985 until 1997. During the mid-1980s student count exceeded 1200, as the MSU Advertising Department continued its tradition of leadership in teaching, research, and service to the industry, as well as service to national and international advertising associations. The Master’s program also grew, both on the main MSU campus and through a significant expansion of the Detroit area off-campus MA.

Vanden Bergh maintained his involvement in undergraduate education, even during his chairmanship, teaching the Department’s capstone class. During the late 1980s, Vanden Bergh was able to dial back undergraduate enrollment slightly, allowing the faculty to pursue more research and service.

A survey was conducted in 1988 by professors at two other universities, looking at the research productivity of advertising faculty around the country. Based upon research publishing, only, of the hundreds of advertising programs in the U.S. their top 5 were:

Productivity Ranking

  1. University of Texas
  2. University of Georgia
  3. Michigan State University
  4. Arizona State University
  5. New York University

(Soley & Reid 1988)

It should be noted that some schools in their ranking did not offer advertising programs or degrees, but they were ranked because faculty in other departments were researching advertising topics.

A similar study, using somewhat different criteria, was conducted by another professor just two years later. His results were a bit different, yet MSU came out about the same:

Productivity Ranking

  1. University of Geogia
  2. University of Illinois
  3. *Michigan State University
  4. University of Texas
  5. New York University

* = tie

(Barry 1990)

Clearly, out of those hundreds of programs across the nation, MSU had established itself as one of the leaders in advertising research.

In 1991, a survey looking at faculty opinions about how schools ranked – the schools’ reputations – put the MSU program slightly lower, though it was pushed down by one school that didn’t appear in the top five on those productivity studies:

Overall Ranking

  1. University of Illinois
  2. University of Texas
  3. University of Florida
  4. Michigan State University
  5. Northwestern University

(Keenan 1991)

Then, in 1994, yet another survey of faculty opinions brought MSU back up to the level of those previous studies:

Overall Ranking

  1. Northwestern University
  2. University of Texas
  3. Michigan State University
  4. *Syracuse University
  5. *University of Missouri

* = tie

(Stout and Richards 1994)

In 1996 a study separated graduate from undergraduate programs, resulting in an interesting difference in rankings:

Undergraduate Ranking

  1. *Michigan State University
  2. *University of Illinois
  3. University of Texas
  4. University of Florida
  5. University of Missouri

* = tie

Graduate Ranking

  1. Northwestern University
  2. University of Illinois
  3. University of Texas
  4. Michigan State University
  5. University of Georgia

(Richards and Taylor 1996)

This suggests that perhaps the failure of other studies to separate the two might be presenting a ranking that confounds graduate and undergraduate programs.

In 1996 U.S. News & World Report offered a ranking of advertising programs for the very first time. It looked only at graduate programs, and it sampled the opinions of Deans, most of whom had never taught in advertising. This resulted in the lowest ranking ever received by MSU:

Graduate Ranking

  1. University of Illinois
  2. University of Florida
  3. Northwestern University
  4. University of Texas
  5. University of Georgia
  6. Michigan State University

(U.S. News & World Report 1996)

But, clearly, no matter how it was being ranked – by productivity or reputation, graduate or undergraduate or a blend of both, by faculty or by deans – MSU was one of the top few programs in the nation.

Block, Vanden Bergh and college Dean Irwin Bettinghaus, sensing the growth of public relations as a respected university discipline, began staffing up with experienced public relations professionals like Ned Hubbel, Richard Cole and Jim Gaudino. Cole had been press secretary and chief-of-staff for Michigan Governor Jim Blanchard, and Gaudino later went on to become a dean of communication at Kent State, and then president of Central Washington University.

In 1989, a generous endowment to the department by the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation established the world’s first Endowed Professor in Public Relations, in honor of Ellis N. “Ned” Brandt, a Public Relations executive for Dow Chemical Company. Charles Salmon, former head of the Public Relations sequence at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, was appointed as the first Brandt Professor. A few years later, the Gerstacker Foundation provided additional funding to convert the endowed professorship into an endowed chair, and to establish an annual Ellis N. Brandt Lecture in Public Relations at MSU. Salmon eventually became dean of the college.

Vanden Bergh, like the chairs before him, made a notable mark on advertising education. He was elected president of the AAA in 1995.

Reece-Shaver-Reece Eras

MSU’s sixth department chair, Bonnie Reece, served from 1997 through 2000, and then again in an “acting” capacity during 2003-05. Reece was uniquely equipped for the chair role, holding a Ph.D from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Harvard. She was a professor in the Department from 1982 until her retirement in 2006.

In 1998 the Department faculty joined together to rate commercials during the annual Super Bowl. That event quickly became an annual tradition, with media coverage of the faculty ratings each year.

It was during Reece’s term that Professor Hairong Li, along with University of Texas Professor John D. Leckenby, formed a new advertising research journal, the Journal of Interactive Advertising (2000). It was the world’s first online-only advertising journal. The journal quickly gained acceptance as a valuable source of research, and it eventually was acquired by the AAA.

Reece turned the leadership duties of the department over to Mary Alice Shaver in 2000, making Shaver the seventh chair in the department’s first half century. She was another chair to serve as president of the AAA, in 2002, as well as being editor of the Journal of Advertising Education. Shaver went on later to serve as president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (2005). In 2003, Shaver returned south for a leadership post at the University of Central Florida.

While the Department had a master's program in Public Relations for several years, it wasn’t until 2000 that the college created an undergraduate “specialization” in PR. The specialization was shared by the Department of Advertising and two other departments, and eventually was based in Advertising.

In 2001 another study was conducted that attempted to rank advertising programs. Similar to the Richards & Taylor (1996) study mentioned earlier, but with a larger and somewhat different sample, this study looked at the reputations of both undergraduate and graduate programs:

Undergraduate Ranking

  1. University of Texas
  2. Michigan State University
  3. *University of Florida
  4. *University of Illinois
  5. Northwestern University

Graduate Ranking

  1. University of Texas
  2. Northwestern University
  3. Virginia Commonwealth University
  4. University of Illinois
  5. Michigan State University

* = tie

(Richards, Taylor, & Woolley 2001)

In that same year, Reece returned to the chair position, this time on an acting basis. On her watch the next year, 2004, saw the Brandt Endowed Professorship in Public Relations become the Brandt Endowed Chair in Public Relations.

Reece also assisted in the merger of the university’s Merchandising Management program with the Department of Advertising in 2004. The program in merchandizing management – now known as Retailing — came with a strong reputation and moved four highly regarded senior Retailing faculty, and one junior faculty member, into the Department. The result, as of 2005, was the newly named “Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing.”

Cole and Richards Eras

Charles Salmon was appointed dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences in 2005, after having served as acting dean since late 2003. Dean Salmon recruited former faculty member Richard Cole to fill the chair’s position. At that time Cole was serving as Chief Administrative Officer of the ten-hospital university Detroit Medical Center. So, at the beginning of 2006, Cole rejoined MSU as professor and chair of the newly established Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing (APRR).

Cole, along with associate chair and retailing professor, Linda Good, immediately focused on bringing retailing, advertising and public relations together under a set of common initiatives designed to preserve the distinctions of the separate disciplines while capitalizing on the opportunities to establish a unique position in the world of commercial communications and shopper marketing education and research.

They also focused on implementing Dean Salmon’s initiative “to put the arts back into communications arts and sciences” by elevating “creative opportunities” for advertising students, by hiring a highly regarded graphics artist, Henry Brimmer, and copywriter, Larry Steinberg, while forging a new teaching relationship with the university’s Art and Art History Department by becoming a part of its Design Specialization (which was abolished in 2015).

The department also introduced a new visiting lecture series called “Promotions Commons,” endowed by MSU alumnus John Aldinger. The series was designed to bring top-level retailing, advertising and public relations leaders to campus, giving students some real-time insights into their professional fields.

It should be noted that an extremely valuable contribution by Cole was the creation, along with a practitioner and alum named Derek Mehraban, of a course that they dubbed “The New Media Driver’s License.” This was a class about using social media to promote a product, company, or idea. The course went on to have several spin-off courses, all of which contributed to the department having one of the country’s most robust digital advertising specialty training programs. It also became a major source of revenue to help fund department operations.

In 2008 the International Advertising Association (IAA) created InterSip, an International Student Internship Program, and the MSU Advertising Department operated this program. It was a partnership between IAA and MSU, and the now-retired Gordon Miracle ran it.

The department also started an initiative, spearheaded by Nora Rifon, Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, and Rick Cole, that it dubbed “Children’s Central.” Its purpose was for the Department to become a central source for research into the effects of advertising, public relations, and retailing on children and adolescents. The first wave of publications emanating from this effort was funded by the Kellogg Foundation, and a grant from the Michigan Children’s Trust (MCT). Partnering with the MCT a conference on children’s marketing entitled “Consumer Culture and the Ethical Treatment of Children: Theory, Research, and Fair Practice” was held at MSU in 2009, attracting researchers from 7 countries across the globe. Subsequently a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development helped to further establish Children’s Central in the Department.

In fall of 2009, under the direction of Dean Pamela Whitten, it was announced that the Retailing program would end. After just 5 years in the college, the program was to be cut, though it would take a few more years for students in the program to finish.

At the end of 2010, Cole’s 5-year term ended, and beginning in January 2011 Jef I. Richards filled the chair position. A few years earlier Richards had been chair at the Department’s primary peer (or competitor, depending how you view it), the University of Texas Department of Advertising. Like so many of the other chairs of MSU’s program, he had served as a president of the AAA in 2008. And in 2012 that organization also named him a “Fellow.”

Before he was invited to move to MSU, in 2010, Richards conducted a “quick and dirty” opinion survey that asked advertising faculty in the U.S. to name the top 3 ad programs:

Overall Ranking

  1. University of Texas
  2. Virginia Commonwealth University
  3. Michigan State University
  4. University of Illinois
  5. University of Georgia

(Richards 2010)

Richards’ start coincided with the birth of the college’s Media Sandbox initiative, designed to foster a stronger “arts” side of the college. The idea of “the Sandbox,” as it was known, was to start students with an interest in the artistic side of communication (advertising art and copy, film making, gaming, etc.) in courses that would nurture that interest as early as their Freshman year, such that many of them could have these “creative” courses throughout all their undergraduate years. In his first year students in the Department brought home 18 ADDY Awards, and in 2012 they won 31, the increase achieved 53 in 2013 and leveled out at that number for both 2014 and 2015, but in 2016 it jumped to 78.

Late in his first year, 2011, Richards was contacted by Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, about the possibility of developing an educational collaboration with MSU. Dean Whitten, then dean of the college, took this request and over the coming months spearheaded an effort to offer that company Public Relations education for its executives, which lasted a couple of years. Although the program was mostly taught by faculty in other departments, it did have an impact on the perception of the Public Relations program at MSU.

In 2013, following the demise of the Retailing program a few years earlier, the department changed its name to reflect its new identity. As of July 1 it become the Department of Advertising and Public Relations (though the faculty used a “+” in place of “and”).

Also during this era, faculty member Henry Brimmer began taking groups of students to China, to compete in a competition sponsored by The One Club. By doing so, MSU became the only non-Chinese university to compete in that competition involving about five thousand Chinese students. The first year, 2014, MSU students brought home a Silver Pencil, and in their second year, 2015, won a Bronze Pencil.

Brimmer also introduced a competition at MSU modeled off of that, which he termed “Minds [Wide] Open,” in 2015. This competition brought more than 50 students from China to East Lansing for a week, with about a dozen MSU students. The Chinese and American students did not compete against one another, but rather were blended into mixed teams that then competed. This competition was successful that first year, so it was repeated in 2016, with even more students.

In 2016, the department became the first program in the world to offer a complete course on Shopper Marketing and Brand Activation. This was achieved with the help of the largest Shopper Marketing agency on the planet: Geometry Global.

When Richards began as chair, the department had just under 900 undergraduate students, about 75 M.A. students, and 25 Ph.D. students. By 2016 the M.A. program had dropped to about half that size, by design, but the undergraduate program had increased to 1400. This was an increase of almost exactly 50 students per semester, and that number did not include more than 100 public relations students not majoring in advertising, but largely taught by faculty in the ADPR Department.


There is no conclusion because the department continues to thrive and change. The fields of Advertising and Public Relations change so quickly it is difficult for any department to keep up, yet this department continues to meet that challenge and even lead other departments around the world as it embraces those changes. No ranking is perfect and every one of them looks at programs from a slightly different angle, but notice that in every one of them MSU’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations is among a tiny handful of programs consistently dominating the top of the list.


  • Barry, Thomas E. (1990). Publication Productivity in the Three Leading US Advertising Journals: Inaugural Issues Through 1988. Journal of Advertising, 19 (1), 52-60.
  • Keenan, Kevin (1991). Unpublished Advertising Program Ranking Study. University of Maryland, College of Journalism.
  • Richards, Jef I. (2010). A Wide-Angle View of Advertising Education. Journal of Advertising Education, 14(2), 5-6.
  • Richards, Jef I., Elizabeth “Gigi” Taylor, and Mary Ellen Woolley (2001). Ad Education Programs at the Turn of the Millennium. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Soley, Lawrence C. and Leonard N. Reid (1988). Advertising Article Productivity Updated. Journalism Quarterly 65 (Spring) 157-164.
  • Stout, Patricia and Jef I. Richards (1994). Advertising Agency Views on Graduate Education in Advertising. An unpublished study, University of Texas at Austin.
  • U.S. News & World Report (2000). 2001 College Rankings. ( /primer.htm).