“He would kid with me that I got so far on so little talent,” said Don Borreson , a former student of Mullen’s. “He helped me make the most of the talent I did have. That’s what you really want from any professor.”
A former School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor, Mullen passed away on May 26 at the age of 91 at Carolina Meadows Retirement Community, where he lived with his wife, Dorothy .
The creator of the advertising sequence within the journalism school, Mullen’s impact is still felt.
John Sweeney , a journalism professor and head of the advertising sequence, said many parts of Mullen’s advertising curriculum remain important.
“A lot of the core exists today, even though the principles of advertising are executed with digital technology that would’ve set the brains of Madison Avenue in the ’50s into utter shock,” he said.
Sweeney said Mullen taught him the importance of being a critic.
“There’s nothing wrong with approaching your field with a little bit of irreverence,” Sweeney said. “Jim was a strong proponent of good advertising practice but also quick to be a critic. It’s a good balance to bring to any field.”
Former journalism professor Tom Bowers said Mullen was vital to his transition when he joined UNC’s faculty in 1971.
“Jim was exceptionally generous with his advice and time with helping me, but at the same time, he did not hover over me and allowed me to do things in my own way,” he said.
Bowers said he remembers when the advertising sequence was first created.
“From 1959 to 1971, (Mullen) was the only advertising teacher,” he said. “He taught all of the courses all the time to the students and created the basic structure of the program in terms of courses.”
Borreson said after taking Mullen’s introduction to advertising course, he knew advertising was the business for him.
“He made the advertising business sound so mysterious and alluring and fun,” he said. “‘Mad Men’ has nothing on Jim Mullen.”
Borreson said Mullen taught him the important lesson of self-belief.
“You knew that if you could satisfy and impress Jim Mullen, you could satisfy and impress the best in the business,” he said.
Ben Fisher , a former UNC journalism school student and recipient of the James J. Mullen Award to the Outstanding Senior in Advertising, said he didn’t know Mullen, but familiarized himself with his background after winning the award.
“He really seemed to be someone who was really driven to working with his students and people who really wanted to do great work,” he said.
Borreson said Mullen taught his students to believe in the power of advertising.
“Everything he said about the business resonated with me,” Borreson said. “It made me want to aspire to be a really good ad man.”
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