The Rest of the Story

The Love Story Behind Miami Ad School

The story of Ron & Pippa Seichrist and how they reimagined education. Reprinted from GRAPHIS.

Graphis featured the couple in the latest New Talent annual. In Pippa’s interview (reprinted below) she answers questions about inspiration, the unexpected way Ron proposed and living a creative life. In Ron’s interview he answers the same questions with surprising answers. The book also features dozens of pieces of Miami Ad School student work. 

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“Working together over the last 25 years, Ron and Pippa have grown a global network of 14 schools with more than 10,000 graduates.They have each been committed to challenging creative innovation in education. Ron and Pippa, both artists and visionaries, share a passion for helping others achieve their full potential. Each and every day, where Pippa’s imagination meets Ron’s ever-evolving vision, they make magic happen.” —Hank Richardson, Director of Opportunities and Outreach and Design Coach at Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center

Q: Pippa, what inspired or motivated you into your career in advertising, design—the creative world?

PIPPA: If it hadn’t been for a chance meeting my mom had at the post office one afternoon when I was 21, I never would have become an art director. It’s odd that such a seemingly insignificant thing can change your life. Everyone in my hometown was a rocket scientist—literally. I grew up near Cape Canaveral, NASA’s launch center. I think the whole town had a PhD in engineering. The people in my life knew that 4,187 is the square root of the distance to the sun divided by four. Fortunately, my parents encouraged my creativity. They even thought it was wonderful when my friends and I painted our feet bright colors and danced through the living room. After graduating with a degree in art I was lost. My family and I knew nothing about creative careers. Then my mom went to the post office and ran into a friend. Their daughter had graduated from an amazing school in Atlanta and got paid to do all sorts of creative things. “Pippa should go to Portfolio Center.” I did and my life changed forever.

Q: What is your work philosophy?

PIPPA: There is no division between work and play. Each expands the other.

Q: Where do you seek inspiration?

PIPPA: My first stop is always a stack of books. I just like to wander and fill my head with ideas, words, images, strategies, techniques, and colors. Mix all that intentional randomness with the problem and usually something interesting happens. My husband and I are book addicts. Hundreds of our books are at the school to share with the students. But in-person inspiration is best. When we see someone inspiring or someone we admire—we invite them to speak and give a workshop at the school. Then students and staff get to spend time with them. We brainstorm ways a brand can target their core belief. Create something that makes the world better. Invent. Collaborate. Disagree. But above all—explore.

Q: How do you define success?

PIPPA: I feel successful when a graduate is successful. When they start their own design firm with a classmate. Or come from a disadvantaged background and go on to win lots of awards and make more money than they ever imagined. The best successes are those that make the world better like when a graduate created a website to combat child sex slavery in India. Her idea raised enough funding to allow thousands of girls to stay in school instead of being sold into slavery. Another graduate came to school to learn how to market the stem cell research foundation she wanted to start. At the time, I never dreamed that helping her accomplish her career goals would, years later, wind up saving Ron’s life and the lives of many other people.

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“Ron and Pippa are visionaries who keep creativity at the heart of things and have revolutionized the creative education industry.”

Soham Chatterjee, Senior copywriter, Leo Burnett

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Q: Who is or was your greatest mentor?

PIPPA: Remember the story of how I got to Portfolio Center? Ron Seichrist started that school. He was one of my instructors. That school changed my life. For the first time I was in a place where everyone thought like me. The other students and I learned how to turn our crazy ideas and our love for making things, into a career. The day after my graduation the school had a Portfolio Review. Design companies and ad agencies came to interview the graduating students.I was sitting on the sofa waiting my turn when Ron walked by and tossed a piece of folded paper into my lap. When I opened it there was written “Since I can’t flunk you, will you marry me?”

The note didn’t really surprise me. I knew I was one of his favorite students. I thought it was his clever way of saying, “I’ll miss you.” As I was leaving the school I saw him standing by the front door. He looked nervous. Before I could say anything he said, “I just wanted to let you know I really meant what I said.” My stomach plummeted to my feet. Zoomed up. And flew out my mouth. I said, “Can we have lunch first?”

We had lunch a couple of days later. He explained that when I was around he felt happier. He wanted me in his life forever. A mentor makes you realize your own creativity. I’ve been married to mine for 30 years.

Q: Who were some of your greatest past influences?

PIPPA: For their strength: Frieda Khalo, Catherine the Great, and Oprah Winfrey. For their creativity, these women make me drool: Nicole Jacek and Noreen Morioka, creative design team at Wieden & Kennedy; Chloe Gottlieb, Director of UX at Google; Helayne Spivak, amazing writer and first woman to be the CCO of two global agencies, JWT & Y&R; Katherine Gordon, Founder of The 3% Movement; our graduates Margaret Johnson, Chief Creative Officer of Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Tara LaWall, Creative Director at 72andSunny. Many of these women are also amazing mothers. It’s a great time to be a woman.

There are some very inspiring men too: artists Saul Steinberg and Alexander Calder; authors Malcom Gladwell and Steven Johnson; creative/strategic leaders and geniuses Lee Clow, TBWA; Alex Bogusky, CP+B; Barry Wacksman, R/GA. Many of these men are also great fathers.

Q: Who have been some of your favorite clients you have worked with?

PIPPA: Tough question! The school’s Innovation Lab has worked with a lot of great clients: Starbucks, Ford, UNICEF, Wendy’s, and The New York Times, to name a few. Our favorite client to work with is probably Burger King. The Global Chief Marketing Officer, Fernado Machado, recently joined our board. The creative staff from Burger King’s ad agency, DAVID, work with the students on projects. The most recent work the students brainstormed was produced and won a Lion at Cannes, the most prestigious advertising competition in the world. Burger King sent the students to Cannes, France so they could be there to receive the award.

Q: What is your most difficult challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

PIPPA: In the early days of Miami Ad School I had a fierce onset of Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a progressive illness that affects the nervous system. Overnight I had virtually no feeling on my left side, which made it almost impossible to walk. Several very prominent people in advertising came out of the MS closet and called me. Their advice and moral support gave me a lot of hope. Focusing on the students and going to a job I love distracted me from the pain. Determined to keep whatever functionality I could, I joined a gym. In two and half years I had gained back the use of my leg and had no pain! That was years ago. A doctor recently told me, “You healed yourself.” New research shows that a positive attitude and exercise helps the body rebuild the nerve endings that the disease destroys.

Q: What is your greatest professional achievement?

PIPPA: The experiential concept behind Miami Ad School. From the beginning, we brought in great, creative thinkers, all industry professionals, to work with the students. They were from all over the world. This cross pollenization of ideas worked so well we decided to flip the idea—send students to go to where the great thinkers are. For the first time students could customize their education based on their interests. Study and intern in multiple cities and countries. Develop unique portfolios based on their own individual experiences and mentors they worked with.

Our idea has grown to be a global network with 15 schools around the world. Through the school’s partnerships with design firms, ad agencies, brands, and platforms, students have hundreds of opportunities each year to get hands-on experience at R/GA, Ogilvy, Facebook, 360i, Vice, Disney, and Sapient, to name just a few. Students graduate with a portfolio of great work and life experiences.

The campus in Miami is covered in street art. This classroom has unique, sound-absorbing wall paper—blue jeans!

Q: What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your work?

PIPPA: Seeing happy students and graduates doing what they love, keeping the economy chugging along, and coming up with meaningful ideas.

Q: What professional goals do you still have for yourself?

PIPPA: Create a wide variety of training programs that allow people to level-up their skill sets from short courses and workshops to Masters degrees to online training. We want to provide people with the skills and network they need to take their career. People come in all shapes, sizes, and goals. Education needs to parallel that.

Q: What advice would you have for students starting out today?

PIPPA: Recognize opportunity.

Q: What interests do you have outside of your work?

PIPPA: Currently, I’m getting the most attention for my custom dog face jugs (below). Several galleries started carry my work! With Ron I’m restoring a 1949 Chevy rat truck. I also hang out with our two adopted children from Ukraine, Olya and Andry. We adopted our daughter when she was six, searched for her biological brother for five years, and adopted him when he was 13. He and I are about to finish a memoir we are writing together, “My Life Before”.

You can see more of Pippa’s sculptures, like the ones below, at dogfacepottery.com.

Q: What do you value most?

PIPPA: Time to do the things I love and believe in. One of those things is fairness and diversity. Ever since the Mad Men days, the advertising and design fields have been dominated by white men. The industry has been slow to accept women and minorities. Agencies now realize that it is a business imperative to have a diverse creative staff. We decided to do our part to make it easier for agencies to diversify their creative departments. Since 2016 the school has awarded half a million dollars in minority scholarships and established a mentoring program.

Miami Ad School’s minority enrollment has grown to 43%. (The minority population in the U.S. is only 38%.) We have the talent the industry needs to diversity their creative departments. Now companies including IPG, R/GA, VaynerMedia, and Facebook are contributing to the scholarship fund and helping mentor students. It’s great for the companies because they get to develop relationships with all of our minority students and hire their favorites.

Q: What would you change if you had to do it all over again?

PIPPA: I wish, when I first started, I had the confidence I have now.

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Student photo by Allie Hine | featured in Graphis
Student poster by Soham Chatterjee | Platinum award in Graphis

Pippa Seichrist is an art director, creative director, ad agency owner, and co-founder of Miami Ad School, a global network in fifteen cities. Pippa developed, with her husband Ron, an experiential educational model for creative education. Miami Ad School is the only school in our industry that encourages the cross-pollenization of ideas by allowing students to study and intern around the globe. The result is the most award-winning school in the world and a nearly perfect placement rate. Pippa’s students have been recognized by the One Club, Clios, Future Lions, D&AD, and in Graphis New Talent Annuals. Pippa is now a featured speaker at numerous conferences from 3% Conference, 4A’s Strategy, Facebook Summit, New York Festivals, AHAA, Google Agency Offsite, One Club––Here Are All The Black People, AdAge Small Agency Conference, and others. Her focus is now on increasing diversity in the creative fields. Miami Ad School reflects this with a student diversity rate that far exceeds that of the advertising industry today. Pippa is now based at the school in Atlanta. When she isn’t traveling to the other locations, she carves rustic furniture and does pottery at her studio in the mountains of North Georgia.

Ron Seichrist started his career as a graphic designer. First with a pharmaceutical company and later with Xerox. In his mid-20s he was featured in Communication Art magazine. He shifted to art direction working in agencies in Richmond, VA and NYC. He left New York in the early 70’s to work in Frankfurt, Munich, and London. Coming back to the USA he spent a year as a photo journalist focusing on annual reports and his own personal work. He had a design company in Minneapolis and began teaching at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he became the youngest full professor and then Dean of the Design Division. After 10 winters Ron moved to a warmer climate, Atlanta, to start the first portfolio school in the world, Portfolio Center. Ron was featured in ADWEEK magazine as “one who changed advertising in the South.” After ten years he left the school he founded and with his wife, Pippa, started an agency specializing in German and Dutch companies doing business in the USA. In 1993 the duo moved farther south to start Miami Ad School. Ron was honored by the New York Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame for his commitment to education and also received the Mosiac Award for Diversity.

Hank Richardson is the Director of Opportunities and Outreach and Design Coach at Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center. He is an AIGA FELLOW and recipient of the NY Art Director’s Club 2010 Grandmaster Teacher’s Award. He is the 2018 recipient of the Educator of the Year, Golden Apple Award from the Dallas Society of Visual Communicators, National Student Conference. He is a Director of the Museum of Design Atlanta and has served on the AIGA National Board and board of The Society of Typographic Aficionados. As an educator at Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center, Hank brings strategic design-thinking into his teaching, integrating design, business, and technology. Hank advises student leadership teams that translate design-led business development for start-up companies and products within a real-world context. He has contributed to such books as Design Wisdom, The Education of a Graphic Designer, Becoming a Graphic Designer, Design for Communications, The Education of a Typographer, Graphis

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