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September 22, 2011
Continuing Education: A Sustainable, Competitive Advantage
 
According to Arie de Gues, “Your ability to learn faster than your competition is your only sustainable competitive advantage.”
Now, to be honest, I am not even sure who Arie de Gues is, but I am thinking he is some sort of a genius. The problem is, far too many fail to heed his advice — regardless of whether they are new to the industry or seasoned professionals.

At our agency, continued education is not only essential, but also required — and no, this does not mean attending night classes at your local community college.

What I am referring to is taking on the responsibility of bettering yourself, whenever and wherever possible. This could mean performing research on market trends or simply paying attention to the world around you. The biggest mistake anyone can make is assuming they already have all the answers. If you ever start to feel this way, just take a look up in the rear view mirror and you’ll see your competition quickly approaching.

And make no mistake — there is competition everywhere, whether it comes in the form of another company within your category or from a fellow employee who wants the corner office at the end of the hall. In the end, the only way to keep your edge is to keep your brain sharp.

Unlike other industries, advertising does not require licensing and continuing education credits, although it could easily be argued that this would not always be a bad idea. That being said, we must take these endeavors upon ourselves, even when they are not required.

Fortunately, all you need for this to happen is an Internet connection, a cup of coffee, and an inkling of ambition to keep you inspired and moving forward. Ok, the coffee is optional, but ambition is not.
You have to want to be better, want to improve, and want to grow. Otherwise, you end up falling behind. This alone can hurt your career, but more importantly, it can hurt your clients’ success — something I take very seriously.

One thing you should absolutely not do is learn at your clients’ expense. Instead, I recommend practicing on yourself, your company, or a pro-bono client. While “fake-it-till-you-make-it” practices may have been in high school, it isn't a good idea when your client is investing millions of dollars for an ROI that increases revenue.

When I speak to recent graduates, I tell them that their formal education is just the first step in a process; a process that goes far beyond what you can get from a book. It has to do with real-world experience that hopefully drives you to want more. Without this drive, you will soon find that you are either stuck in a holding pattern or unable to even leave the ground.

To be successful in today’s world, you have to do more and be more, and most importantly, you have to want it more than anyone else.

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Jaci Russo is a co-founder and senior partner of The Russo Group, a national branding agency located in Lafayette, LA. She is a brand strategist with experience including strategic planning, consumer insight, brand management, national product launches, and media management for clients in a cross section of industries. She speaks to organizations across the country on the power of branding, changing the conversation, message training, and how to brand through social media.

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