Teaching Creative Advertising Students to Excel

When Mel White was recruited by the Newhouse School to teach the advertising creative track, she had a goal: to provide students with the education, guidance and mentorship she wished she had received in college.

White’s enthusiasm for her students has been unwavering since she began her teaching career at Newhouse in 2015 as a professor of practice for the creative advertising program. In her time at Newhouse, she has grown the program into a national powerhouse, acknowledged by the most prestigious advertising industry award shows and competitions.

Mel White headshot
Mel White, Professor of Practice

After eight years under White’s leadership, Newhouse creative advertising students have gone from winning zero to over 1,000 awards at competitions like Cannes Future Lions, Clios, One Show Young Ones, D&AD New Blood, New York Festivals, Communication Arts, Addys, Graphis New Talent, Ads of the World and more. The awards reflect positively on the quality of White’s teachings.

White’s dedication to teaching her students is one of the reasons why she was one out of two professors in the entire university who were awarded the Syracuse University 2023 Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Teaching Recognition Award for Continuing Excellence.

“No Newhouse professor has had such a dramatic impact on our students and our reputation as a school as Professor White,” said Edward Russell, chair of the advertising department. “In her short time here she transformed our creative advertising major into the nation’s leading undergraduate program.”

Before starting her career at the Newhouse School, White had 25 years of professional creative experience at leading global ad agencies such as Ogilvy, Y&R, Grey, Publicis, DMB&B and Digitas.

Innovative techniques

Throughout her experience in the industry, White intuitively developed her own process on how to create ideas for compelling ad campaigns.

“There were times when I was in college where other students and I would come up with ideas for campaigns, and my professors either loved them or hated them, and we couldn’t figure out why,” White said. “The professors didn’t teach a process on how to concept. So when I became a professor, I was determined to demystify the concepting process and teach it to the students.”

Today, she teaches the creative advertising students a process of ideation to spur unexpected ideas to create compelling ad campaigns. As a result of this process, students avoid creative block and create innovative campaigns that are recognized and awarded by the ad industry.

“My students do not say ‘where do I start,’” White said. “They have a defined process to follow that continues to exercise their creative muscles while in school. And one they can repeat in the industry with much success.”

In addition to her teachings, White created an awards program for the school’s creative advertising track. Understanding the lack of awareness among students regarding such opportunities and the submission processes, she created a 100-page guide for 22 competitions on how they can enter their work.

While searching for prestigious competitions, White prioritized those that were free to enter, ensuring accessibility for students. The Newhouse advertising department receives funding to enter some of the ad campaigns into the more expensive award shows, which means great work will still be entered, regardless of a student’s ability to pay.

“I want to get as many students participating so they can get that opportunity to win in these award shows,” White said.

“Students earning awards for their ad campaigns elevate their appeal to creative recruiters and creative directors when looking at their portfolios for internships and jobs,” White said. “Now, it’s not just your teachers, peers or family praising your work; it’s the validation of the advertising industry. When industry creatives win awards, it propels their careers forward. Similarly, student award wins in school can help launch them into the industry.”

Two people take a selfie in front of a sign that says #CannesLions
White (right) and student Emily Alek at the Cannes Lions Festival following her prestigious win of the Cannes Future Lions Award, an honor only given to five student campaigns globally. The campaign was created in White’s Portfolio III Class.

White also started the first annual Newhouse Portfolio Review, a virtual event that brings over 50 creative recruiters and creative directors from around 30 top ad agencies to review student portfolios.

The event usually results in many students receiving internships and job offers. For example, Sam Luo ‘21 received a job offer as a junior art director from Wieden+Kennedy, one of the top ad agencies in the world, after meeting a creative recruiter at the portfolio review.

According to Luo, his success in the creative advertising industry comes from White’s dedication and guidance.

“I really cannot express enough how lucky I am that Professor White opened my eyes to the wonders of creative advertising,” Luo said. “Her classes were not easy . . . she [encouraged] us to create ideas that we didn’t even know existed in our heads. I cannot express enough how grateful I am.”

Encouraging representation

White is adamant about her desire for diversity in leadership amongst the creative advertising industry. As someone who faced gender inequality in this field, she’s determined to ensure ad agencies notice the work of underrepresented students, leading them to full-time positions that hopefully advance into leadership positions.

“My goal is to get anybody who is underrepresented in the industry to be able to create incredibly bold work,” White said. “I want to help them grow strong creatively, win awards in the industry as a student, and get noticed by top ad agencies.”

For White, it’s not all about challenging students to just think creatively, but to also implement relevant cultural and sociopolitical issues and topics like racism, LGBTQ+ rights, climate change and more. Students’ innovative ideas were not made only for the purpose of being creative; rather, they were stimulating and thought-provoking, she said. White’s teachings demonstrate to students how to fully grasp complex issues and go beyond their limited perspectives to play a socially responsible role in the world.

Jaden Wilson is a graduate student in the magazine, news, and digital journalism program at the Newhouse school.

This is the third in a series of three stories about Newhouse faculty honored by Syracuse University in 2023 for teaching excellence.