Most students at the College of Communication will know John Raftery as an adjunct professor of advertising—teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses, such as Fundamentals of Creative Development and Brand Experience Marketing.
However, when he’s not in the classroom, Raftery is Senior Vice President, Director of Arnold Brand Experience, the full-service promotional marketing practice within Arnold Worldwide. Raftery has more than 20 years of experience in advertising, promotions, and marketing.
He sat down with The COMmunicator to talk about his career outside of COM and how it has impacted his teaching today.
Sadie Devane: Could you start by telling me a little about what got you into advertising, and how you first got into the industry?
John Raftery: I was an English and communications major in college and got my first exposure to advertising when I interned at WBZ-TV. I worked for a producer who was doing documentaries, and I really liked it.
At my second internship, I worked for a small advertising agency in Boston, which isn’t even around anymore, but because it was so small, I was able to write and record radio commercials and actually get work produced. So, my internships kind of gave me the entry into a career in advertising. When I graduated, I ended up working in-house for a retail company. It was super small again and I was able to do copywriting and design and photography, so I was able to tap into a bunch of skills. My next job after that was also in-house.
I liked it. I liked the diverse and eclectic nature of the work. Then I realized ad agencies kept coming in and producing all the really good work, so that’s what then put me on the track to leave that job and [to] go work for an ad agency. My first real agency job was at Digitas. I was working as an art director there at the time.
SD: How did you make the transition from art direction into experiential?
JR: A lot of the stuff that I was working on on the art direction side involved sponsorship and a little bit of activation, so I was introduced to the experiential world there.
When I left Digitas, I worked at a small agency, and we had a mix of clients. A lot in the travel category, but there was also opportunity to do some experiential work. And then I wanted to get back into a big agency. I had a friend who worked at Arnold, and I reached out to him, and he networked on my behalf. At that point [Arnold] had Volkswagen. I was brought on board to develop the capabilities for Arnold to produce all this sponsorship across the country for Volkswagen.
SD: For those who may not know what exactly experiential advertising is, could you give some examples of the type of work it encompasses?
JR: I guess I would consider experiential something that allows consumers to tangibly interact with a brand, one on one.
It takes on many forms. It can be like a PR stunt or pop-up shop, or a test-drive experience, or engagement with a brand ambassador, but it’s always live engagement and interaction with a brand.
SD: What does a typical day look like for you in your job?
JR: It’s pretty diverse. I’m not dedicated to just one client. It’s several clients, so not only do you have to switch mindsets when you switch between various projects for various clients; sometimes it’s also switching capabilities. Throughout my career, I’ve been able to get exposure to how to throw together a broadcast shoot, how to work with a digital team, how to work with the social team, how to work with set builders, how to put together permits and do something in Times Square.
So the client work is diverse and the type of work that we do throughout the day is fairly diverse. Usually with whatever I’m working on, the stakes are pretty high, because you really have only that one day or week, or whatever it is, to get everything right. It’s like putting on a theatrical production. You want to make sure everything is show ready and flawless.
SD: Do you think your work at Arnold on a week-by-week basis has an impact on what you teach at COM?
JR: Totally. It totally does. And it’s funny because someone said to me once [that] once you get done with the syllabus, you can always refresh it, but at least you’ll always have that foundation.
And I still have the foundation, because there’s certain materials I’ll always use every semester, but I try to stay current and topical. Like, to me, it would feel weird to review a campaign that I worked on last year. I’d rather bring in all fresh stuff. What’s also been awesome is through working at Arnold and working in the industry, I’ve had access to really talented people, and I’ve been able to have awesome guest speakers come in—in disciplines that I’m exposed to but not necessarily an expert in. So that’s also been a major benefit in combining both worlds.
SD: And so, sort of on the flip side of that: Do you think teaching has influenced your own work in any way?
JR: Yes, definitely. BU is a global school, so the classroom setting is incredibly diverse, which is great. I’ve been able to get exposure to students from all over the world and learn how advertising plays roles in their lives, and [to] sort of get new perspectives. They’re younger than I am and are exposed to new media and have a different way of receiving information, so it’s definitely kept me on my toes and has exposed me to a lot of things I can bring back to work.
SD: That’s awesome. So, one final question: What advice would you give to a student who wants to work in experiential advertising?
JR: I think right now what’s kind of cool is the way that advertising, marketing, communications, and the whole field is trending is that people are less specialized, and you’re expected to come in a little bit Jack of all trades. That kind of mentality, I would say, lends itself to experiential marketing.
I feel like somebody with a social background could do well in this career, someone with a copywriting background, somebody who’s conceptual, or a producer. It basically taps into a lot of different skill sets.
I would say internships are probably one of your best ways, in addition to a great education, to getting experience. And then making connections. I think just throwing your résumé randomly onto LinkedIn or any of the job sites isn’t really going to get you anywhere. I think making one-on-one connections or working through a friend for introductions is the best way to get a job.
I’m also a big fan of staying up to date on trends and reading publications, and looking and seeing what’s winning at Cannes, and using that as inspiration. Then I would say figure out what you like to do best. If you really feel passionate about what you’re doing, in any area, it’s not gonna feel like work. You’re gonna be excited to come to work every day. You’re gonna produce really great work.
Sadie Devane, Staff Writer
Sadie Devane is a second-year graduate student in COM’s advertising program. Originally from southeast Ireland, Sadie traveled to Dublin to study Visual Communication at the National College of Art and Design before coming to Boston University. An art director and designer by nature, Sadie currently interns at Arnold Worldwide while completing her master’s degree.