Madison is known for its overeducated underemployed population. Philosophy Ph.D.s driving cabs and MFA candidates mixing cocktails are not unusual for us. So why in the world would the city need yet another educational institution? Do people here actually need more credentials? Scott Kirkpatrick, president of downtown Madison's new Extra Bold Portfolio School, would argue yes.
Extra Bold, which opened in October of last year, seeks to fill a niche in Madison that is not quite satisfied by traditional college or technical school courses: to provide students with ample opportunities to generate and develop their advertising ideas. The advertising world is all about ideas ' and not necessarily about degrees earned or courses taken. 'You could walk into an ad agency as a janitor with 10 good ideas and be hired,' says Kirkpatrick. However, many people interested in advertising, whether they have a degree or not, haven't been given an opportunity to develop their ideas into a working portfolio to show employers, a key element in the ad world. Enter Extra Bold.
Although there are several tracks at Extra Bold, they all lead students through real-life projects that result in examples of work for their portfolios. Students will also have the experience of working in an environment that mimics their prospective jobs: Extra Bold strives to operate as a professional ad shop, complete with industry professionals to evaluate student work.
If Extra Bold's environment is just like a professional ad shop, it seems like that would be a pretty enjoyable place to be. The campus, such as it is, is an office building just off the Square. The interior is painted bright red and yellow, and much of the furniture is coffeehouse-style: big couches and small, moveable cafÃ tables. There is a mock bar in the middle of the main room, and Kirkpatrick even donated his grandma's vintage 1950s kitchen table. If you squint, you might think you're in a hip tavern.
Also noteworthy is the lack of computers and textbooks. There is a small computer lab, but Kirkpatrick does not allow students to use it right away: 'There aren't any ideas in there,' he says. Kirkpatrick wants students to become skilled at coming up with ideas on their own, not by using Google. Instead of traditional textbooks, he turns to such trade publications as Archive and Communication Arts to show students examples of stellar advertising ideas.
Though the atmosphere is fun, there is serious work to be done as a student at Extra Bold. Its most extensive program is the one-year 'Ad School.' Students enrolled in this track take three classes per five-week quarter; each course is one night a week for about three hours. Many initial courses in the Ad School emphasize creativity, such as 'Creative Solutions,' 'Creative Writing' and 'The Evolution of Creative,' in which students learn the history of successful ad campaigns. Further into the curriculum, courses speak to more specific skills and address a range of advertising formats: newspaper, radio, TV and guerrilla. During their last quarter, Ad School students will take 'Portfolio Review and Job Hunting' to polish their portfolios and interviewing skills. Two Ad School groups have begun so far ' the first last October and the second in early February.
Students develop advertising campaigns from start to finish. Ad School student and employee Charlotte Easterling describes a 'branding' class project: 'We took a fictional Eddie Bauer spin-off company and developed an entire identity for it, including name, logo, tag line, store appearance, packaging, advertising and Web site.'
The Ad School courses build on each other from quarter to quarter. For example, the final project for 'Newspaper Advertising' is to take the brand developed last quarter in 'Branding' and introduce it entirely through newspaper ads. To help prepare for the project, students complete similar mini-assignments weekly and are critiqued by fellow students and the course instructor, Steve Barlament. As the former creative director in the marketing department at Capital Newspapers and winner of several Addy awards in 2006, Barlament helps students understand how their ad ideas would play out in a newspaper format. Students will present their final projects to industry professionals John Frisch of Capital Newspapers and Shanan Galligan of On Design Studios, who will comment further on the students' ad campaigns. Their interaction with students may continue, as both are looking to hire freelancers with fresh ideas.
The vibe was somehow both relaxed and energetic at a 'Newspaper Advertising' class in late January. The course, and all Ad School courses, starts at 6:30 p.m. That's quitting time for most people, and brains are unwinding all over the city. Students reflected this in their idle postures and quiet chatter before class began. As the class got rolling, though, they became fully engaged with the material. It began with a discussion of last week's guest speakers ' again Frisch of Capital Newspapers and Linda Baldwin, Isthmus associate publisher' and shifted into the assignment critiques. Comments were constructive, and the assignments were thoughtfully done. All six students stayed after class to work on projects due the following week.
Mini-courses are another option at Extra Bold. They run for 10 weeks and are offered at two levels. The first, 'No Experience Necessary,' gives students a taste of working in an advertising agency. Each week, students are asked to come up with ideas for a different ad campaign. At the end of the session, students will have the material necessary to begin a professional portfolio. The second-level mini-course, 'Turning Ideas Into Great Ads,' is an independent study. Students get feedback from Kirkpatrick and others from around the Midwest on their developing portfolios.
A third option for interested students is the 'Ad Shop.' This is an ongoing offering, set up as an operating advertising agency. Local businesses contact Extra Bold if they want help with their advertising and are restricted by a tight budget. Students in the Ad Shop will work to develop feasible advertising options for the company. So far, WJJO, Java Detour and the Chris Farley Foundation have contacted Extra Bold to be involved. The Chris Farley Foundation asked students to work on a board game based on Madison landmarks, and students have developed a board and box cover, with more to come. Businesses benefits from an inexpensive, creative advertising team, and the students benefit from more portfolio samples.
At the end of the courses, students don't receive a certificate or diploma. What they will have is a well-developed portfolio full of their very best ideas. A portfolio might be difficult to frame and put on the wall, but it also might get someone a start in advertising.
Scott Kirkpatrick got into advertising when he 'accidentally developed' a portfolio as an art student at the University of Minnesota. He answered an ad that said 'Draw gophers and make money'; the job was with the school newspaper, and by the time he graduated, he had many work samples. The gopher caricatures began a career that eventually led him to become the director of creative services at Famous Footwear.
His time at Famous Footwear only reinforced his belief that portfolios are the key to employment in the advertising field. Part of his position was to hire new 'creatives' and, after going through the interview process again and again, he realized many people had talent and drive, but nothing with which to prove it. Hence, the idea for a portfolio school in Madison was born.
Kirkpatrick stresses that people from all educational and professional backgrounds are welcome
at Extra Bold ' if they are interested in breaking into advertising. Current students' backgrounds vary from recent high school graduates to not-so-recent university graduates. Students range in age from twentysomething to fortysomething, and their experience in the advertising world ranges from extensive to nonexistent.
There are established portfolio schools in the Midwest: Minneapolis has Brainco, and Chicago has the Chicago Portfolio School, but Kirkpatrick is wary of talented people leaving Madison to pursue grander horizons. 'My goal is to make Madison a creative mecca,' he says. 'There's no reason why Madison shouldn't be known for all of the creative talent and energy that is here.'
121 S. Pinckney St., Madison; 608-250-9253
What will it cost?
Ad School: $10,000
Ad Shop: $300 for a 3-month commitment
Financial Aid: Private loans are an option, but there is no federal aid available. The federal government requires a new institution to be in operation for two years before it will loan money
to its students.
No Experience Necessary Mini-Course: Begins Feb. 21 (late enrollment possible)
Turning Ideas Into Great Ads Advanced Mini-Course: Continual enrollment
Ad Shop: Continual enrollment