Mechelen students get taste of the real world of advertising


As part of their programme, students at the Belgian Advertising School have only weeks to create an advertising agency that makes a difference

Mechelen’s Mad Men

The Goudhaan advertising agency only started up on 15 May, and by 21 June it will be closed. But this pop-up still aims to make a difference, both for its clients and the aspiring creatives and account managers working there.

The agency is the final project of students of the Belgian Advertising School, a year-long post-graduate programme devised by industry insiders and hosted by Thomas More University College in Mechelen. Each year the programme takes 25 students with a range of educational backgrounds who are driven to get into advertising.

The programme was founded by advertising consultant and strategist Koen Thewissen. “He felt that the gap between school life and work life was too big,” explains Sofie Papen (pictured), one of Goudhaan’s account managers. “And this is a very practical programme; it really helps to build up your experience and knowledge about how the advertising world works.” 

The programme begins with a nine-week boot camp, with students visiting agencies to find out about different aspects of life and work in the industry. And each week, in small groups, they prepare and pitch a new project.

After that they spend five months on internships with agencies around the country. Finally they have to do something for themselves, such as set up and run their own agency.

Learn from experience

“We invented the name, the concept, we found the location – we basically decide everything ourselves,” says Emily Michiels, a copywriter with Goudhaan.

The concept is that the agency spans the generations. “Goudhaan means upcoming talents in Dutch, and that’s what we are,” she explains. “We’re ‘millennials’, so we are fresh and young and ready to get at it, but the thing we are missing is experience. So we went looking for professionals in the industry to support us.”

We’re ‘millennials’, so we are fresh and young and ready to get at it, but the thing we are missing is experience

- Emily Michels

So alongside the youngsters in Goudhaan there are 14 people with least 25 years of experience in the sector who can act as an inspiration and as quality control. Yet these veterans also have problems with the industry. at 

“If you are not in a management function by around 40 you get pushed out because you get too expensive, and they want the young fresh minds,” says Michiels. “And that’s ironic, because we are the young fresh minds, yet we don’t have enough experience to get in.”

The students have backed up this observation with research on the age profile of people working in advertising in Flanders and Brussels. Said to be shocking, the results should be released in the coming weeks.

Lay the groundwork

“We wanted to talk about that problem and, with our pop-up, to get those people involved again and show their worth, because they are of great value to us,” says Michiels.

Then there are the clients. The biggest is Anderlecht football club, where Goudhaan is working on a complete rebranding for its ketjes club, aimed at kids from four to 12. “Right now we are doing everything from the logo to the subscription methods, and the entire website,” says Papen. 

Also in Anderlecht, the agency is working on a strategy to help the Abattoir market boost visitors across the whole weekend, rather than the bump it currently has on Sundays. And for waste-busting organisation Mooimakers, Goudhaan is thinking of ways to get teens involved.

“For some reason it’s not cool to recycle at that age,” says Papen. “Before and after it’s no problem, but from 12 to 18 they just hate it, so we are trying to change that.” Other clients include the Fun toy and party stores, fundraising organisation SOS Kinderdorpen, and fabric entrepreneur Lotte Martens.

Reap the rewards

While six weeks is not such a long time, Goudhaan can still do a lot for its clients. “We can have teams that are fully focused on one client, so we can do a lot in one day,” says Papen. But they also know their limitations, stopping short of the production work and media placement a permanent agency might do. 

Unlike the internships, which the students do without pay, their work at Goudhaan earns real money. Half the agency’s revenue goes to the school, where it forms a fund for the following year, and half is shared between the 25 students.

It isn’t a fortune, but the recognition is important. “We are students, but we are doing the work and working very professionally,” says Michiels. 

As for the future, Michiels has already found a job with De Vloer, the advertising agency in Antwerp where she did her internship. Papen meanwhile has changed direction a little after her internship as an account executive. “I realised along the way that I would love to start as a producer or product manager, so I’m looking for a job right now.”

Prospective students for the next intake of the Belgian Advertising School have until 21 June to apply.