Diversity in the ad industry: a newbie's view

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Advertising Unlocked saw 70 UK agencies, including London Advertising, host open days.

With so much talk about the romance, creativity and fun of advertising being removed by technology and short term-ism, can the industry attract the new, diverse talent to fuel its future? Is there life for advertising after the Mad Men era? I’m trying to find that out by spending a year working in the industry. Here’s what I have found out so far.

The trending thing for university degrees nowadays is ‘sandwich years’ - the third year of your degree spent working in the industry that you are studying. I decided to go for it, because after all, how many real-life skills can you learn from a textbook if you’ve never actually been able to apply them?

I approached my sandwich year knowing that the twelve months would probably end up defining what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – or at least give me a semblance of a route to follow. Having a multinational background (Singapore, France, Philippines, UK) I concluded that working for an international agency in London would provide me with a unique opportunity to get real hands on experience working in the industry.

When I googled 'London advertising agencies' top of the search was London Advertising, a global agency with just one office that has created work that has run in more countries than WPP has offices. I wrote to the chief executive who offered me a job to assist the agency’s marketing efforts.

Being in such a dynamic, fast-paced environment here has allowed me to feel like I’m part of the team, not just an intern tucked away behind a desk in a non-descript department of a big multinational – but someone that is given real responsibility by people that I have the honour of calling my colleagues. The embodiment of this is that despite only being in the agency for three months, I was tasked with planning London’s participation in the IPA’s industry open day, Advertising Unlocked. The IPA’s objective was to encourage diversity by attracting people who had never even considered a job in an agency.

We set ourselves the objective to get more people to sign up to visit London than any other agency. And it was my task to deliver it. Yikes!

So, firstly to communicate the romance and fun we enjoy at London (if not the rest of the industry) we ordered three crates of champagne and offered every visitor a glass on arrival along with one of our limited edition 'Be brilliant' t-shirts.

Secondly we gave attendees the opportunity to work on a live creative brief for our client, The Food Foundation, using their ‘Peas Please’ competition, whose objective is to reduce childhood obesity by creating the best ad to get kids to eat more veg. The winning submission, chosen by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Sir John Hegarty, and London’s very own CEO, Michael Moszynski, will see the winner’s work appearing in high profile media and retailers across the UK.

And thirdly we gave our guests the opportunity to ask our team questions in The Mastermind Room; our meeting room was blacked out, with one spotlight, one chair. Our head of new business & marketing, our head of production, our senior account director, and even our CEO all took turns in the hot seat, giving an insight into their lives in the industry.

Mission accomplished: by the eve of the event we had more people booking to come to London than any of the other 70 agencies across the UK taking part. It was fulfilling to see people relax, open up, and feel like they were free to think creatively in our office, and to have people from such different backgrounds, including Saudia Arabia, all feel welcome.

Despite having only worked in the industry for three months, it has become apparent to me that the question of diversity in advertising has been asked time and time again, whether the emphasis be on gender, culture or age. The stereotype that advertising only caters to the opinions of white middle class males is one that needs to be shattered in the era of social media.

For me, the way forward isn’t by imposing diversity quotas, in the hopes of showing off an artificial version of what diversity looks like, but instead to promote diversity by piquing the curiosity of people who wouldn’t have considered advertising as a career in the first place, and Advertising Unlocked is a step in that direction. Well, at least the way we did it at London.

With the industry asking itself 'where do we go from here?', perhaps the solution lies somewhere we haven’t looked before.

Antonio Thomas is marketing executive intern at London Advertising

Antonio Thomas

Antonio Thomas is marketing executive intern at London Advertising.

All by Antonio