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Michael Rosen, co-ordinator of Humber College's creative advertising program, with third year students Sarah Kirkpatrick,centre, and Rachel Kennedy, left.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Today's advertising industry is far removed from the world portrayed in the television drama Mad Men, about a 1960s Manhattan agency dominated by chain-smoking male executives who dazzle clients with their print and broadcast creations.

For one thing, women share the spotlight with men. Meanwhile, technology has reshaped the industry, and masterminding brand buzz more commonly involves the digital space.

As consumers increasingly turn to online communication, the dozens of colleges across Canada that offer advertising education are shifting the way they groom their "mad men" – and women – of the future, augmenting traditional programs with web-based and social networking training.

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Because students also get real-world experience, working with ad agencies and other industry members, most get jobs right after graduation.

Michael Rosen, co-ordinator of the creative advertising bachelor's degree program at Humber College in Toronto, says some students may be lured by images of the glamorous, cocktail-drinking ad world portrayed in Mad Men, but they soon realize "there's just a huge amount of work involved."

Humber's program, in the School of Media Studies and Information Technology, was launched in 2005. It has traditionally attracted more females than males, but of the 64 students admitted this fall from about 300 applications, it's a 50-50 split.

Sarah Kirkpatrick and Rachel Kennedy, both 23 and in the third year of the four-year Humber program, believe the tech skills students of their generation possess give them an edge in pursuing careers in advertising.

Ms. Kirkpatrick, who had studied business at a college in Calgary, says she was weaned on words like "taglines" and "search engines," and now wants to become a copywriter – the person who crafts the words seen in ads.

Ms. Kennedy, who aims to become an art director, says she and fellow students built a Labatt anti-drinking-and-driving ad campaign around the Facebook phenomenon that spread like wildfire on the social networking site. The campaign involved pictures of young people having a good time without drinking, with catchlines such as "LOL, I was so sober," that could be uploaded as Facebook users' profile pictures.

"People check out their Facebook three or four times a day, where they might not check out a billboard three or four times a day," Ms. Kennedy says about the message-spreading power of social networking.

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Despite the increasing importance of digital advertising and marketing, there remains a "media agnostic" approach to teaching students how to sell their ideas, because print, radio and newspaper advertising aren't dead: This is stressed by Mr. Rosen and Anthony Kalamut, co-ordinator of the two-year creative advertising diploma program at Seneca College in Toronto.

Mr. Kalamut says ad education at Seneca, which graduates about 50 students a year and has a partnership with York University that results in a bachelor of arts degree, emphasizes creating "the big idea" that works across all platforms.

"Big ideas can sell little products, and no one idea can be considered out of play any more," he says. "You have to figure out the story to tell, to engage with the audience and put the pieces into play.

"We have to be flexible, quick and agile enough to say, 'Facebook will be a nice accent to what we're doing on billboards.'"

Seneca has run an ad program for some 40 years but revamped it about 15 years ago to meet the changing industry. Students now learn design and layout, effective communication and presentation, copywriting, computers and applications, and desktop publishing. In the second year, they choose one of two streams: creative, which prepares students for jobs in (for instance) copy writing or art direction; or business, which offers preparation for jobs in account management, media planning and buying, and strategic planning.

As an example of how traditional ad vehicles can team with a modern method of communication, Mr. Kalamut points to the award-winning "Billboard Coupon Campaign" for James Ready beer.

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Seneca alumni Steve Persico is a copywriter at Toronto's Leo Burnett agency, which worked with James Ready on the campaign. The beer company partnered with local businesses offering discounts on their products and services that were splashed on billboards. People could take a picture of the billboard, on their camera phones, for instance, and show that picture to the relevant company to get the discount.

The concept behind the billboard-coupon campaign: People can save money on necessities and then have more money to spend on beer.

At the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), the "integrated approach to communications" prepares students to get jobs at ad agencies, companies that specialize in internet marketing, businesses like restaurants and cellphone companies, and even government agencies, says Geoffrey Bird, a BCIT School of Business instructor in the marketing management program launched in 1970.

Marketing communications became a program option during the 1994-95 school year. Currently, about 70 of the 500 students in the program specialize in marketing communications, which has courses in advertising design and websites, e-marketing, sales promotion and public relations.

"Students get that professional insight into what a consumer needs so they can build that message that is compelling enough that [consumers]want to share and pass it around," says Mr. Bird from the Burnaby campus.

One of the tech-driven exercises Mr. Bird led in his public relations class involved students using Twitter to promote Schmoozapalooza, a fundraising event with all proceeds going to the BCIT Marketing and Communications Endowment Fund. Students tweeted "Schmooze 2012" for 40 minutes to see how it would trend, and it went to No. 1 in both Canada and Vancouver for a time.

College ad programs don't just attract students right out of high school. Some are already in advertising jobs and looking to update their skills, while others want to change career paths.

Seneca creative advertising student Jillian Pearson, 26, for instance, was acting and running a theatre company in New York after studying acting at Dalhousie University in Halifax, but wanted "a different kind of adventure with more structure" that still tapped her creative energy.

Now in her second semester at Seneca, Ms. Pearson was among students who worked with the Cundari ad agency on a BMW Series 7 relaunch project – part of the hands-on experience that makes students job ready after graduation.

"The professors are well-connected – they're still in the industry so we get the opportunity to reach out to clients that you might not be able to reach out to until later in your career," says Toronto-born Ms. Pearson, who wants a copywriting career after she graduates in August.

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