Work / Opinion

How can we connect young, diverse talent with the agencies who crave it?

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Jamie Williams is a partner at London-based independent creative agency Isobel. Here, he asks, how can we connect young diverse talent with the agencies who crave it?

“How do you get into advertising?” I’ve heard this question a lot, but equally important questions to ask are “Why get into advertising?” or “Should I get into advertising?” So let’s start there.

Advertising and the wider creative industries are changing quicker than almost any other industry. There are so many different ways for brands to engage with consumers, only the best agencies and marketers stay ahead of the game.

The industry is always on the look-out for something new. Fresh ideas, a new approach, new insights, new trends, new technology, new talent. While experience and knowledge are absolutely crucial in our industry, they need to be mixed with new thinking and new approaches.

I’ve sat through enough uninspiring presentations on youth marketing to know that utilising the thinking and energy of young people is of great importance to agencies.

So for young people, I think our industry is an incredibly exciting one, jam-packed with diverse opportunities, within creative, design, strategy, tech, project management, and that’s just the start. And if you do well, you can move up remarkably quickly.

We don’t have formal operating qualifications like medicine or law. Some young people see this as a negative, but it means that in theory, anyone can make it in advertising. While the range of advertising and marketing courses available are all beneficial, as are wider degrees and diplomas, some of the most successful people in our industry have very little traditional education. Once you’re in, it’s how well you perform that matters.

But having said all of this, I know our industry often doesn’t feel very accessible.

From the outside, advertising has always had a glamorous image. However far from the truth it may be, it’s an industry associated with celebrities, fame, money, and the bright lights of London.

There are great agencies and opportunities throughout the country, but London is where the main action is, where most of the jobs are, and it’s a pricey place to live. If you live a long way from London, getting into advertising can seem a long way off.

Added to this, we have to be honest, as an industry, we don’t pay the most. The salaries for formal graduate schemes (which are still very much dominated by ‘red brick Uni’ graduates), haven’t really risen much over the past 15 years. Many people enter the industry through work experience and internships, and despite increasing payments and financial assistance for such schemes from companies, these are difficult (often impossible) to be a part of, especially if it means renting in London.

So what are we doing about it?

From what I can see, forward thinking companies do recognise these issues, and are starting to act, but it’s not easy.

The Ideas Foundation is a registered charity designed to increase diversity in the creative industries and nurture talented young people who haven’t thrived in traditional education. They organise creative media camps for young people who want a taste of the industry. The D&AD foundation promotes a similar cause.

A lot of agencies have kicked off their own specific schemes in this area – going into schools and talking about the possibilities that exist within advertising; ensuring living wages are paid to all creative placement teams; starting their first phase of recruitment blind; even launching speciality agency arms designed to hero talent from diverse backgrounds. There’s a fair bit going on.

At Isobel, we absolutely see the value that diversity brings to the creative industry, and we are trying hard to engage with younger people, to give them some experience of what we do.

We hold an annual summer school, when we invite ten 15-16 year olds from a range of local London schools into the agency to experience the world of advertising. They spend time with every department, learning about strategy, creative, client management and even finance. This year, they even spent time with a professional actor learning presentation tips.

Despite their school’s close proximity to the agency, we find the world of advertising usually feels a million miles away from the future thinking of most of our participants. But on leaving, our industry is often centre stage in career plans.

Our programme is gaining momentum, and this year we were supported by Joanne McCartney, deputy mayor of London, who came into the agency to help judge the participants’ final presentations. Like us, the Mayor’s office is well aware of the amazing young talent pool that is out there, so working with such partners, we need to find different ways of linking this diverse talent directly with agencies.

The substantial issues of geography, and London’s affordability as a city are big issues. At Isobel, we are now thinking about how we can do more. How we can open our summer school scheme up to a more diverse audience, from other parts of the country. Not easy, but it’s a problem we’re trying to solve.

So, if having read this, you are still asking “How do I get into advertising?” then have a look at different schemes that are going on, speak to the IPA, to the Ideas Foundation, and most importantly, start knocking on doors. I mean this literally. Most agencies are always on the hunt for diverse and interesting talent, but it’s not always easy to find. We love people with ideas and creativity. And importantly, people who also have the drive and passion to deliver on their ideas. It’s very possible to demonstrate this in the way you make contact.

Ultimately, our industry is about cutting through and making yourself stand out from the crowd, so show people that you get this. Work out what’s interesting about you, find a fresh way of communicating this, and don’t be shy about it. If there are issues preventing you taking up opportunities, talk to people about it, and work with potential companies on solutions.

We are a fast-paced ideas based industry. We crave the best and most diverse talent. I think we (now) understand the many issues that young people face, but we certainly haven’t cracked what to do about it yet, and how to fully connect with this talent pool.

All help and ideas in this area are very much appreciated. It might just be the thing that gets you noticed.