COVID-19 in the Industry: Professor Susan K. Jones on Advertising

In the past month, students and workers alike have been a part of a digital transition as a result of the rising threat of COVID-19. To assess the impact of COVID-19 and the switch to virtual on the advertising industry, we interviewed a Ferris State University Marketing Professor with an extensive understanding of both advertising and digital communication. Professor Susan K. Jones is highly involved in advertising at Ferris State University, while coordinating the All-Advertising/IMC Majors’ Meeting, Advertising/IMC Board, and Digital Marketing Advisory Board. She is also a member of numerous Marketing Associations, and has created textbooks for many of her courses. Professor Jones has been teaching digital classes for 22 years. She was the first in the world to offer an online direct marketing class and has developed three online certificates at Ferris State University. In fact, this semester all of Professor Jones’s classes are completely online, which puts her in a unique place during the midst of this pandemic.

First off, I just want to say thank you for agreeing to an interview in the middle of this crazy time.

SKJ: My pleasure… Happy to help.

Since all your classes were already online, in some ways this has been a less extreme adjustment for you. But all the same, being housebound has had an effect on all of us. What has your personal experience been adapting to this new normal?

SKJ: I do find that I get distracted by news reports, and I miss going to the Pilates studio, which was my main form of exercise.  Martha Stewart says we should be using this time to spruce up our homes…that’s not happening around here, I’m afraid!  Another thing – usually in the spring I meet with my advisees to help them get set for fall classes.  All of that advising now has to be done online, which is a mixed blessing.  I’ve been having some great online conversations with students, but it’s not the same as having them face-to-face in my office.

Speaking of students, this virus has had a massive effect on them as well. You’ve been doing online classes for longer than most of us—do you think online learning is an effective way to learn for the students in your program?

SKJ: Absolutely. Most of the classes I teach currently are focused on digital marketing.  Being able to communicate in the digital world is imperative for these students.  What’s more, the electives that I teach online are available to Ferris students throughout Michigan and beyond, which allows Statewide students to take electives that would never attain critical mass on their home campuses.

Most of us are very aware of the negative results of the quarantine. As a Professor in the College of Business, have you seen anything else positive come about as a result of FSU’s switch to online?

SKJ: I find that some students thrive in the online setting because they can do their work at a time of day or night that they are at their best.  Some students really open up one-to-one with the instructor or on the discussion board in ways that they would not in a face-to-face setting. That said, this is something I have seen overall, not new to this situation.

One thing that is new is that I have been checking in more with students to see if there are ways that I can help them keep up, considering the challenges they are facing outside of school.  I have gotten into some good dialogues in this manner and been able to reassure students and work to accommodate them.

Have you seen any students or faculty members really step up to the plate in this crisis?

SKJ: I would like to commend my colleagues who have never taught online up until a few weeks ago.  They have jumped in head first, asked for help and advice, and kept in touch with their students by means that are brand-new to them.

Do you anticipate any modifications to the College of Business once students can return?

SKJ: I suspect that we may see more blended classes with some sessions conducted on Zoom or BlueJeans or other such means. Professors who were apprehensive about teaching online may feel more comfortable doing so in the future.  That said, I know that there are a number of colleagues (and students) who can’t wait to get back to the physical classroom.

Looking outside of Ferris, how has COVID-19 affected collaboration and communication in your industry?

SKJ: The advertising field has traditionally included many face-to-face interactions between clients and agencies, and within advertising agencies and departments.  Thank goodness for Zoom!  That is the new way to communicate along with conference calls and various web software programs for video conferencing.  This has long been a standard way to communicate with colleagues on the other side of the world, now it’s done from home to home as people work from their kitchen tables or home offices. 

What about advertising jobs—how have they been affected?

SKJ: In recent days we have seen signs that there may be layoffs and cuts in advertising.  Why?  Because clients are cutting back on their advertising investments and – according to Advertising Age – slowing down payments to agencies. In extreme cases, clients are actually refusing to pay, citing their need to hoard cash. Campaigns from food vendors are ramping up to encourage spending on take-out and drive-through, but consumers are holding back on purchasing items like clothing and luxury goods, and of course, they’re not signing up for vacation trips until they know they can actually take those trips.

Have you seen any other changes in the marketing field because of COVID-19?

SKJ: This situation has allowed brands to show their support for their customers and communities through well-publicized programs of “giving back”.  Some brands are sending out messages like “we’re all in this together,” but that may backfire because the impact of the virus varies tremendously across lines of socio-economics, race, and location.

Do you think your industry will change once people are allowed to return to work?

SKJ: I do suspect that many people may advocate for more time working from home.  I do suspect that there will be stronger acceptance for online collaboration and conferencing.  I suspect that students will need more training on how to effectively communicate in the virtual space.

One last thing: do you have any advice to students in your program (or other programs) during this time?

SKJ: For most of our students, this is likely the most monumental overall challenge to themselves and their communities in their lifetime (or at least in their personal memory).  That said, “This too shall pass.”  I would hope that students may actually see work on their classes as a welcome and positive distraction from everything going on in their lives and the world.  I certainly find that to be the case as an instructor!