My daughter graduated from eighth grade last week. Aside from the fact that I can’t believe she’s already old enough to be starting high school, it got me thinking about the importance of education. You might be thinking, “Yeah, whatever. It’s easy for this guy to talk about how important education is now that he’s made it big.” But I will tell you – I had to learn the hard way.
In my senior year at USF, I took a campaigns class. My team was one of hundreds of teams at universities across the country that took on a challenge issued by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) to compete in designing a national anti-drug campaign to stop drug use among the youth of America. The campaign we put together, “Just Say No,” ended up winning the national contest. We actually got to go to Washington, D.C., to present the campaign in the White House!!
I was determined that I was going to move to New York City and get a job with a big ad agency after I graduated from college. And I was riding high, especially after we won NIDA’s contest. I had ten interviews set up with ten different New York agencies. I told everyone I knew in Florida “goodbye.” I was going to land a job in NYC!!
As you may have guessed by now, things didn’t go quite like I’d planned. In fact, they went nothing like I’d planned! The HR manager at my first interview took one look at my resume and told me I needed to do two things: go back to school to get my MBA, and get some real work experience. I assumed she must be out of her mind…until every other agency I interviewed with told me exactly the same thing. That’s right: I went zero for ten. No job offers. Zero. Zilch.
I went to bed that night utterly defeated, convinced it was the end of the line for me. But when I woke up the next morning, I knew what I had to do. I knew all those HR people at all those ad agencies couldn’t be wrong. I immediately headed back to Florida, enrolled in the business school at USF, and got a part-time job at a local Tampa ad agency as a copywriter. It was while I was in business school that I first discovered the missing link between advertising and sales. Lots of brands have awareness, but that awareness doesn’t necessarily drives sales. I saw that there was something inherently wrong with the long-standing Allison-Fisher purchase funnel. So I flipped it upside down and developed Brandtailing™: a marketing strategy that bridges the gap between brand and retail marketing.
It was also during my time in business school that I realized that all the agencies I had interviewed with were building campaigns based on output of work, not outcome. So I decided I didn’t want to go work for one of those firms after all – I wanted to open my own agency and do things my way. And in 1984, I did just that in 400 square feet of office space in a Ft. Lauderdale strip mall. Today, Zimmerman Advertising is the 14th largest ad agency in the country according to Adweek, and does billings in excess of $2.5 billion.
Those are the sorts of dreams that education helps you achieve. That’s why I’m such a passionate champion for education. That’s why I’m proud to endow the Zimmerman Advertising Program (ZAP) at USF. That’s why I’m proud to sit on the board of trustees for USF. And that’s why I’m proud to partner with my high school alma mater, Piper High School, on the statewide PASS program that allows me to provide financial assistance to the school, as well as mentoring to staff and students.
Jordanism: The more prepared you are, the more success you’re going to have.
Education opens doors for you, no matter what you want to do in life. Never underestimate the importance of that. Don’t get me wrong: it also takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to achieve your dreams. But education is a platform for everything else. Never take that for granted. Dream big and dare to fail.