In an impressive field of finalists, Christopher Vega, creative resident/copywriter at BBDO has emerged as the winner of the 4th Young Innovator Award. In partnership with The Advertising Club of New York, Google and The Drum, the award recognizes and rewards excellence and innovation by young professionals in advertising, marketing and media.
Vega, a native Californian, has dedicated himself to bringing more diversity into the industry through a free, eight-week portfolio class he pioneered at BBDO and intends to take the $5,000 Young Innovator Award prize to further expand the program he continues to develop.
"Congratulations to Chris on winning the Young Innovator Award, and helping to remind all of us that innovation comes not just from the application of new products, technologies and platforms, but also from diversity and inclusivity in creativity and approach,” said Scott Falzone, telecom industry director at Google.
“Since we started the Young Innovator Award with Google, we have consistently seen incredibly dedicated and talented young people who will continue to lead us forward,” said Gina Grillo, CEO of The Advertising Club of New York. “What Chris has achieved already in a very short period of time is a testament to his talent and understanding that innovative thinking will help evolve much-needed inclusion for the industry.”
The program that Vega started was a direct result of his experience with the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), where he was exposed to the power of mentoring for aspiring, diverse entry-level advertising professionals. A couple of years after his first experience, he has become a mentor himself — and that helped spark him into action.
Working with a young woman who couldn’t afford portfolio school — and was having trouble with building it in the first place — Vega found an opportunity. He created around 10 briefs and each week working with her, spent time helping her build one of the most important industry currencies for young people: a strong portfolio that ended up landing her a job.
From there, it became a “snowball effect,” sharing briefs with other young people to put them on the path to success and Vega decided that it was time to dedicate himself and to formalizing this program for free.
“I thought maybe I could help more people if I'd structure it a little bit, because it seems like a lot of people need this...even people who are in the portfolio programs or advertising programs,” said Vega.
On his own time, with the support of BBDO, including using space, leaning on the agency’s senior talent as guest speakers — including Dave Lubars, chairman, chief creative officer of BBDO and Greg Hahn, chief creative office of BBDO New York — and hustling the needed materials, Vega, who has worked on AT&T, Band-Aid, Campbell’s, Exxon, FedEx, GE, Pedigree, Visa, and many other brand assignments, continues to evolve the program so that he can bring in more talent, eventually expand to other BBDO offices and, ultimately, take it to as many places as possible.
At present, Vega’s track record is impressive, with just about every student that has participated landing a job or carving out their own freelance path.
Currently, the program is focused on creativity, although, Vegas sees ample opportunity to engage with other important disciplines in the industry.
“I think there's a possibility to expand it to other disciplines besides just creative. Like strategic planners or strategy,” said Vega, whose last roster of talent in the program included a 50/50 gender split and people with Mexican, Filipino and African-American descent.
“I constantly think about what I learned in school,” said Vega, a Stanford graduate with a degree in psychology with cognitive science speciality. “Diverse groups of people are better at problem solving. It’s a classic psychology study that's in the majority of psychology books. The majority of that applies to advertising because you're dealing with mass groups of people. It helps a lot to be able to lean back on that, especially when you're thinking about insights or similar.”
Said Greg Hahn, chief creative officer of BBDO New York: “The impact that Chris has had on the culture here has been really great. It’s been very good that he’s been bringing in new voices and it’s a great way to get people in the industry who wouldn’t consider it don’t feel that they have an ‘in’ to advertising.”
Hahn also pointed to how Vega and his cohort has a critical knock-on effect, exposing people in the agency to how young, diverse people use and craft media and how their associated heritages and backgrounds open eyes.
“A big part of advertising is empathy, being able to think through somebody else’s eyes, even if it’s not part of your own experience,” said Hahn. “The more we can bring in people, who have those experiences to share, the richer this whole place becomes.”
As far as how innovation will continue to enable his program, Vega sees technology as a way to greater access and success. Though the mechanism is yet to be determined, that democratization is a crucial part of the evolution, touching as many talented, young diverse people as possible.
“Chris’ ability to use his creative skills in a very innovative way, which gave back to the underserved community was very worthy of recognition,” said Marie Devlin, former SVP, global brand management at American Express and Ad Club board member. “He’s disrupting the expensive portfolio classes, giving back and reinforcing our support of diversity efforts within the industry.”