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June 4, 2014

Jef Richards: Embracing a shifting field

Jef Richards is a professor and chairman of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. His research includes advertising regulatory issues and he has published more than 80 articles, books and book chapters.

The morning of the May 2014 commencement, I was privileged to have breakfast with one of our department's distinguished alumni. He currently serves as president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. We talked about an idea he had to get this department involved in a fabulous project with a potential for both national impact and national visibility. With his help and guidance, we could do something good, not only for this department but for the broader society in which we function.

That afternoon during the commencement ceremony, I sat with another outstanding alumnus who is CEO of Deutsch LA, one of the top advertising agencies in the country that is doing some of the most talked about advertising campaigns of today. You would be familiar with several of those campaigns. He told me that MSU students will always be welcome, even encouraged, to apply for jobs at his shop. He insisted that I come to visit Deutsch and made it clear this department is important to him. He offered us a chance to develop a more fruitful relationship with one of the most creative agencies in the country.

The next morning I had breakfast with yet another notable alumnus. This one just retired from his position as chief revenue and marketing officer of the Washington Times newspaper. As he has every time I've seen him, he asked what he could do to help our department. And he means it. He already has done many things for our students.

Those are just three examples—a small sample, across a span of about 26 hours—but the point is that our alumni are our greatest strength. The Department of Advertising and Public Relations has been turning out graduates for well over half a century, at a rate of several hundred per year, so the pool is deep. Large numbers of them also are amazingly successful. They love this department and they, most certainly, love MSU. This is a network that can, and does, help our students on a daily basis, and there is few if any advertising and public relations programs anywhere in the world that come even close to such a vast and committed resource.

This is not, of course, to understate the value of our faculty. Our faculty includes world-renowned researchers, as well as an impressive roster of those with industry experience. They were born and/or raised in a total of 13 countries, lending a very broad base of global experience and diverse perspectives.

Many of them have received distinguished awards that set them apart from other faculty around the United States (or elsewhere). For example, this year the American Academy of Advertising, an international organization, introduced a brand new "Promising Professor" award. Only one person—anywhere in the world—could receive the award, and they could have no more than four years of teaching experience. The recipient was required to exhibit both excellence and innovation in both teaching and research. That award went to Saleem Alhabash, on our faculty, who began his career just three years ago.

Last year, another major organization, the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, honored another of our faculty, John Besley, with its "Under-40" award. That award, too, is given to only one person and hails up-and-coming talent who have excelled in three areas: teaching, research and public service. Though the award has been given for more than 30 years, this is the first time anyone at MSU has received it.

But like with the alumni, these are just a couple of examples. The ADPR faculty are distinguishing themselves in a multitude of ways. Their research, especially, is getting noticed. It has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, and on National Public Radio. They are making contributions to understanding cyberbullying, alcohol marketing, banking habits of the elderly and other societal concerns. Several faculty members also are receiving advertising creative awards.

Then, of course, there are our students. Of 25 MSU "Outstanding Senior Awards" this year, five of them came from the Department of Advertising and Public Relations! And students on the "arts" side of our fields are getting noticed with awards from outside the university. In 2008, students won two ADDY awards, given by the central Michigan advertising industry. In 2010, students brought home four ADDY awards. The numbers grew to 17 in 2011. It was 31 in 2012, plus two of those went on to win National ADDYs! In 2013, the number was 53, and this year it was 58. This is a truly amazing trend.

It is worth noting, too, that there are a lot of Advertising and Public Relations students. At last count, we have 1,236 undergraduate students and more than 100 graduate students in the department, making this one of the top two or three largest AD/PR programs in the country. That is a huge potential influence on the industries we represent.

There is much more detail I could provide, but the point is that the department is uniquely strong, and that strength puts us in a good position to meet the rapidly shifting environment faced by our fields. Let's face it—there are few fields where the ground beneath them is shifting more quickly than it is for advertising and public relations. With our growing base of outstanding alumni, our leading faculty and our talented students, we are ready not only to meet those changes, but also to embrace them.