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Adjunct feature series: Jessica Collins, advertising

Dec 20, 2016

Posted in: News

By William Lineberry

Jessica Collins
Jessica Collins
Jessica Collins is making up for lost time.

As an advertising professional, Collins was late to the game—about 10 years late, to be specific. A lot had happened—a child, a separate career in another field and an undergraduate degree from U.Va. -- before she realized that advertising was where she wanted to be.

At the age of 31 Collins entered the Brandcenter and began carving out her place in the advertising world. It would also take a little while longer, and a couple steps outside the proverbial comfort zone, before she realized that along with practicing advertising, she had a separate yet equal passion for teaching the craft. 

After a few years working in the industry, Collins decided to try out teaching and co-taught her first advertising course at the Robertson School. After teaching her first semester, she was hooked. Since then, she has been one of the Robertson School’s premiere adjunct instructors for the last two academic years.

She has taught a number of courses in the School, ranging from Advertising Completeness to strategy while also holding down jobs at The Martin Agency, The Mom Complex, Free Agents Marketing and now currently at Good Run Research in Richmond.   

Rollercoaster

When it comes to teaching, Collins has one primary goal: She wants her students to experience the most realistic representation of working in an advertising agency as possible.

“By the time these students get to be seniors, this is what is most important for them when it comes to looking for a job,” Collins said. “I think the more real-life work they can have in their portfolios, the better.”  

It’s not until students experience this kind of week-to-week rollercoaster that they can truly understand how the industry actually works, Collins said. At first students don’t really seem to understand the structure of the course but after, or around, the first project is completed they seem to begin thriving off of the challenge, Collins said.

“Advertising is so subjective, and until you get in front of someone (in a pitch) you don’t really know what to expect,” Collins said. “One week your client really likes what you’re doing, and then the next week another one doesn’t. There’s so many opinions they have to make their way through.”

Collins (center) and her students from last semester.
Collins (center) and her students from last semester.
Collins sets her classes up like an actual agency, with two major pitches per semester. The first client the students have is a practice run with a real brand that is failing in the marketplace (This semester students were told to make a campaign for Smartcar, which is nearing a complete shutdown). The second client of the semester is a real-life client, which is usually based out of Richmond.

This semester, students in Collins’ “Advertising Completeness” course worked with Brook Road Academy in Richmond, a non-profit under St. Joseph’s Villa that helps children with autism and social anxiety disorder.

Students in the course went and visited Brooke Road Academy. They talked with employees and students there, as well as communications managers, to get a firm grasp on the type of campaign they would need to create to meet the goals of the organization.

On the last week of the semester, the student groups gave their final pitches to the cast of employees and judges of their work at the Brooke Road Academy. After the pitches from all the groups were complete, the Academy picked the campaign they thought best suited their needs. In the coming weeks the Academy will continue to work with the winning group to better refine, and eventually, launch the ad campaign.  

Collins said that although the balancing act between work at her advertising agency and as a teacher can get complicated, but that she couldn’t imagine not doing both.

“I tell my students that I come with a life-time guarantee,” Collins said. “That means they can reach out to me at any point in their career after they have me in class. It’s not really a job to me. It’s my thing outside of my work, outside of being a mom, outside of all that. It’s a space I’ve created where I hope students feel challenged but they also know it’s a safe place to fail and continue to grow.”