The solution to most creative departments looking like a hall of mirrors is the door. Open it and welcome different people in, from other neighbourhoods, counties and lingos.
A wonderful way of doing that is via an apprenticeship programme, as long as it’s designed to attract people outside our usual catchment area.
For many years, our industry has looked for talent in the same places. What started in quite an organically informal way also organically evolved into a system. Money and habit, not creativity, ended up becoming decisive filters. Our own bias being another strong one. It’s now all too apparent how much we need to fix the way we invite new creative minds into the profession.
Busting the bias
There are many excellent initiatives around, like the National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), or #askanapprentice and #askanemployer with Q&A’s on social media which anyone can access. But it’s not enough to think about new and diverse talent one or two weeks a year. Our industry needs a bigger boat.
NAW is well aware of this and highlights how much work needs to be done. Their theme this year made it clear: “Build the future”. You don’t do that 14 days out 365. It needs to be far more structured than that.
There’s a common misconception that by actively seeking to create a more diverse group of people you’d be compromising on creativity. There are at least two ways to dig further into such a claim.
One is that, precisely because our industry hasn’t been hiring, training and promoting enough diverse talents for the last 20 to 30 years, we haven’t got nearly enough advertising professionals to immediately set the balance right. Particularly in the senior levels. Seniority, as the word indicates, takes time to achieve. A good place to start addressing this is to get rid of our own bias, promote, train and invest in the people already working at the agency.
The other aspect is that, by forming a diverse group of creative people, you’ll improve the creative output, not compromise on it. You’re adding more creative perspectives, different voices and views of the world. These make the creative process less expected and more nuanced.
It’s not an easy fix, though. We must systematically attract new creative people into our business and make sure the structure is there for them to succeed. It’s as complex as it is urgent.
Nobody is there yet, which isn’t to say nobody is working on it. The existing efforts may not be enough, and that’s a different point.
A diverse pipeline
At Ogilvy, we’ve been trying to get it right for a few years now. Since 2016 we’ve run The Pipe: a fully paid apprenticeship programme aimed especially at people you don’t usually see in the corridors of our industry (when it started, we still walked actual office corridors, rather than virtual ones).
At the end of last year, just after we all went into pre-Christmas lockdown, 18 of us at Ogilvy sat for an animated two-hour Zoom session. We were selecting the 10 candidates who’d be the 2021 intake of The Pipe. As in every other edition, the candidates should never have set foot in a creative company before, in fact many of them don’t even know such companies even exist.
For the 2021 edition of The Pipe, with all the [insert expletive] that’s been going on in the world, we’ve doubled down on our resolve: the programme is stronger than ever. It’s now nation-wide; we’ll have the candidates in for two years straight (instead of months), we’ve added a start-up grant to help them get set and we’ve added the Government’s criteria so that they’ll have a Level 3 qualification at the end (the equivalent of two A Levels).
The future apprenticeship
One thing we’ve found as The Pipe has grown and developed over time, is that there are five key elements that make a successful apprenticeship scheme:
- It should be fully paid: we need to invite people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford it to both apply and stay on it.
- It should be a blind application: we must judge candidates entirely on their creativity – ie, their personality and how they think.
- It should be for people with no previous experience in the industry: this is particularly vital for the creative industries. We either welcome diverse creative thinking into the business or there won’t be too much of a business. (For the record: we do have programmes for people with previous training as well. For those, we work in collaboration with schools, universities, the D&AD and many other organisations).
- It should be long-term: inclusion is a fundamental part of it. Give them the time to become integral to our work.
- It’s business-wide: so apprentices are able to develop their understanding of the industry (and company) as a whole and find their perfect fit.
The whole point all of the above isn’t a pretty picture in a PR effort. It’s for the much bigger picture. It’s to allow the multitude of creative fields, from every walk of life, to flood our thinking.
Since The Pipe began, we’ve had creative people who were rappers, DJs, skaters, jewellery designers, supermarket shelf stackers, sculptors and poets. And have they done great work, or has it just been great fun? The Pipers have won Cannes Lions and D&AD Pencils (that’s when they first heard about these awards), several pitches (the latest one was a global win, by the way) and have created, off their own bat, an internal network of black people that’s grown so strong it now involves all WPP. Just open the door to the amazing talent that’s out there.
There is an ‘I’ in ‘team’
So, it turns out there is an “I” in “team” after all. It’s “I” for “Inclusion”.
We know our programme isn’t perfect and is but a drop in the ocean. It’s only one initiative, in only one of the many creative companies which happen to be in one of the many cities in the world. But it’s our city. And it’s our company. And it’s entirely up to us.
We’re very excited to see what the people who make this intake of The Pipe will bring. And, most especially, where they’ll take us.
Featured image: GoodStudio / Shutterstock.com