The Creative Circle is going back to its 1940s educational roots with the launch of a free, full-time school advertising school for students who would ordinarily struggle with the cost. But the task ahead for chief executive Jeremy Green is immense, not least because it relies on the industry’s willingness and commitment to giving back.
Earmarked to launch in September 2018 (a year later than originally planned), The Creative Circle Foundation will cater for roughly 15 students from diverse backgrounds. They’ll be put through a one-term boot camp before touring agencies and embarking on a six-month industry placement.
The scheme is supported by a board of big-name creative trustees, including Leo Burnett’s Chaka Sobhani, Mother’s Mark Waites and Grey’s Vicki Maguire and Caroline Pay. Yet despite this high profile support, Green, who been plotting the creation of the school since he took up the chief executive mantle in 2011, is left with unenviable task of raising approximately £10,000 per student in order to end the “conveyer belt” of talent that’s “progressively more middle class and less diverse”, with only 11% of employees in creative industries coming from BAME backgrounds.
His plan is happily rudimentary: pledge 10% of Creative Circle Awards fees and 100% of membership fees to the foundation, alongside awarding companies that donate £10,000 with a gold roundel, and those that donate £5,000 and £2,000 a silver and bronze version respectively.
“It’s not much of a reward,” he admitted, “but that that gives us some money to employ teachers and [hire] some accommodation.” The latter is a big differentiating point for the foundation, with Green believing the cost of living in the capital to be a huge stumbling block in the road to socio-economic diversity.
So far, support from the industry has been mixed.
“The managing directors get it,” he said. “They can see past [the question of] what they get from it and often answer on my behalf that it’s not a matter of what they get – it’s their turn to give back. The kids will know that these companies and agencies have supported them as a group but I’m not going to let agencies say ‘We own that student there’."
On the other side of spectrum, Green has also found agencies’ own diversity schemes are, paradoxically, inadvertently blocking support for the foundation.
“People say, ‘We’re really keen on helping with this, but at the moment we’re running our own scheme where we get the few kids from a council estate in east London and we let them walk round the agency for a week’,” he recalled. “Too many are just doing that. There's no real diversity of socio-economic circumstances. How do these people really relate to what diversity is?”
Despite that attitude, the Creative Circle Foundation is not a “working class charity”, nor is it a charity dedicated exclusively to BAME students or women. The board aims to target prospective creatives aged 19 and over who are invited in for interview off the back of a blind application process (their names and any references to their backgrounds will be removed). The foundation doesn’t want squares or suits; instead it’s issued a rallying cry for who identify as ‘the loud one … the class clown … the quiet one at the back … the one that soaks up culture'.
The website is the first port of call for these “naughty kids”, as Green calls them. The irreverently styled monochrome landing page is, by anyone’s standards, pretty cool, and will act in lieu of any traditional advertising campaign.
“We're hoping kids might share it with their mates and say, ‘Look at this website’ and see how playful it is,” said Green. He and his team are also working with the Mayor of London’s Peer Outreach Team to make sure applications start rolling in when they open next February.
A class of 15 won’t solve the industry’s diversity problem in its first year. But ideally, as the scheme progresses, Creative Circle will eventually run courses for up to 50 students.
Green is already mulling the possibility of starting a separate course for the production side of the industry which may not have a diversity problem as critical as the advertising industry’s but still experiences the same talent challenges due to similar costs of training.
For now, it seems like there’s been no better time for real, financially-backed action in favour of diversity.
“As an industry we should be a little embarrassed,” Green said. “Now, it should be easy for us to recognise the mistakes we've made in the past.”