"Find yourself a job". This was my father's mantra and it was usually repeated to everybody who seemed to have grand and creative plans about their careers. The reason for this harsh and realistic mantra did not come from the fact that he disliked creative businesses, in fact he would have probably loved to be a drummer, but life had a different plan for him, a plan that prompted him to develop a no-nonsense approach to things and to come up with his personal motto about finding yourself a (proper) job.
To be honest I often dismissed his advice as something unadventurous and boring, but his words suddenly echoed in my mind last week when it was announced that Condé Nast Italia had launched its first Social Academy to train - drum roll - influencers.
Apparently the new degree came not (as most of us may think) from the need to make a disgusting pile of easy money out of the gullibility of young people, but from the will to prove that influencers are not the enemies of media companies and that consumers don’t see borders between journalists and influencers anymore, at least according to Condé Nast Italia Chief Executive Officer Fedele Usai.
In a way it is extremely surprising for a professional like Mr Usai to believe there is no difference between an influencer and a journalist: the former openly collaborates with brands; the latter reports and writes about things from an objective point of view. Maybe he was referring to the fact that the lines are blurred between an influencer and a fashion journalist working for some Condé Nast publications where they may be asked to interview, cover or praise only those designers, shows or brands advertising with them.
The course currently offered by the Social Academy - a certified postgraduate degree program - will run from November to March at the media company's HQ in central Milan. Classes will be taught by 15 teachers, with international guest lecturers specialised in digital communication.
The first academic session is free and will be offered to 20 female students selected from among 2,000 candidates (requirements: candidates should be at least 19 years old, have a high-school diploma and be enrolled at a university, and should have a good knowledge of the English language).
The first course will focus on beauty and lifestyle and is going to be developed together with L'Oréal Italia and with the scientific and educational support of Milan's SDA Bocconi School of Management.
The 240 hours of lessons will explore the beauty market and digital marketing and communication strategies, audience management techniques, content development, ethical standards (will students be taught about rules and regulations about advertised posts and the perils of managing fake followers?) plus sessions on Instagram, Facebook, brand affiliation and video and photo editing.
There will be two further academic terms in 2018 (this time students will be charged, though, and the course will be open to 40 students per term) with future brand partners coming from the fashion, food and technology fields. The main aim of the company is to form a group of new social influencers who will be collaborating in future with them (allow us to add - if Condé Nast will still exist...).
Now, excuse us as we laugh in Condé Nast's face, but the company seems to be rather clueless about its current choices. Just at the beginning of November American Condé Nast shut Teen Vogue's print edition, slashing about 80 jobs (even though the publication had finally found a new life with well-researched features about politics and actvism), and decreasing print frequency across multiple publications; now the Italian branch attempts to form "influencers" as if we needed more of them or as if you actually needed a degree to become one.
People who 15 years ago got a degree in media and in journalism in particular know that many of the skills they were taught became obsolete, as digital media eroded the power of the printed word, while readers started focusing more on visual stimuli than on long texts. Universities and institutions offering fashion design courses are instead finding themselves in an identity crisis as they know they are forming individuals who may not find jobs in the vastly saturated fashion industry.
In a nutshell, Condé Nast Italia should have maybe started an academy to form entirely new figures, journalists, archivists, researchers, consultants and cultural experts with a vast knowledge comprising different disciplines including technology, history, fashion, biology, science (just to menion a few...) and law matters (because the debate about copyright issues will become even more relevant in future years), rather than educating more perniciously annoying presences à la Chiara Ferragni (or maybe they could have launched a degree course in investigative journalism to discover where her initial capital came from...).
Last but not least, according to Li Ederlkoort's S/S 19 trend report influencers will more or less disappear in two years' time. So, it looks like Condé Nast Italia has just embarked on the Titanic of postgraduate degree programs. Still convinced this is the career path for you? Well - as my father would say - find yourself a (proper) job.