Do YOU need a College Degree to Work in Media?

With student debt now topping $1 trillion dollars and the cost of college far outpacing inflation, some have begun to question if getting a college education is worth it. Industries like media and advertising tend to rely on a lot of on-the-job training, and client entertaining and negotiating isn’t something most schools teach.

To get a reality check, I asked Nick Johnson, senior vice president, national sales, for NBC Sports Digital at NBCUniversal, for his view.

Nick, is it important to have a college degree if you want to work in media and advertising?

Nick: From my vantage point, it’s pretty critical to have a college degree to begin a conventional career in media and advertising. I do believe that college remains an important part of a potential employee’s maturation and personal development. Obviously, different degrees and disciplines are fundamental for specific roles within the organization: finance, operations, marketing, strategy. I would be open to meeting with candidates that have experienced very rich experiences in their lives that preempted the need for college — young entrepreneurs, for example.

Does it matter where someone went to college? 

Nick: I am always interested in a candidate’s college. Certainly, it offers perspective on academic ambition as well as visibility into extracurricular activities and other interests. The college discussion is a good ice-breaker and can provide a pretty good point of view into the motivations and personality of the candidate. At the end of the day, I’m as interested in understanding what the candidate is interested in accomplishing over the next five years as I am [in] their college career.
Are there schools where grads come out especially prepared for a career in media?

Nick: Certainly there are many schools that focus specifically on degrees in marketing and communication. Candidates that have made an early commitment to the industry and have spent years studying the business offer momentum and a knowledge base when entering the job market.

I have also spent the past few years working with my alma mater (Gettysburg College), as I believe that a liberal arts education is a strong fit for the digital media and advertising industry. I find many of these students to be smart, inquisitive and intellectually curious: great attributes for an industry that is constantly evolving and pivoting. Students that have had the opportunity to study across disciplines and have a diverse curriculum lend themselves well, in my opinion, to our industry.

What should students look for when they apply for an internship?

Nick: I talk to a lot of students, and one of my key points is that it took me some time before I had my career epiphany that I wanted to dive into digital full-time. I tell them to look for industries and categories that they have an affinity toward, [where they] can bring their passion and a point of view into the organization.

The keys for me are to spend time in a working environment, get immersed in the jargon and rhythm of business, demystify the workplace, find a mentor and, most importantly, figure out what you like or don’t like about the job. To me, that’s the key takeaway: identifying the triggers that will help define the right job down the line. I also tell them to think proactively about networking during their tenure, and learn how to use Linkedin to prepare a foundational Rolodex for when it’s time to jump in full-time.

Is having an advanced degree like an MBA important to getting promoted in media?

Nick: I don’t believe so. Passion, hunger, drive, intelligence and success beget success. Certainly, MBA grads come to the table with lots of great experience, but the key to advancement is what you do with the job when you’re in the seat.

By Matt Straz
Matt Straz was a senior partner at MEC from 2002-2008. He is currently the CEO of Namely.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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