Ad agencies don't represent the country we live in – and this needs to change

Advertising has changed, but has the creative director? In this series, Wunderman UK chief creative officer Ian Haworth explores the changing nature of the role in the modern media world.

As a creative leader, one of my ambitions is, obviously, to find new ways of doing things; reshaping products and services that might be perceived as tired, haggard, boring. In order to achieve creative greatness today, we must strive for greater inclusivity in our teams – not simply focus on diversity.

Diversity is just the tip of the iceberg. Inclusivity means having a conscious intention to include people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised.

There are amazing working-class artists, as there are middle-class ones. Painters. Authors. Musicians. Creativity stems from anywhere and everywhere, which is why employing people from all sorts of educational backgrounds, ages, religions, sexualities, nationalities and so on is of the utmost importance.

When you look at me, you probably won’t think ‘diverse’. You’ll think ‘middle-aged white bloke’. And I am. But when I was 17, I dropped out of school to be a tea boy at an advertising studio.

I thought it was an art studio.

I wanted to be an artist.

I had no idea a career in advertising was a ‘thing’.

I lucked-out in this industry. Stumbled upon it. I was given a chance and my unique point of view juxtaposed with other people’s, and that’s what ignites creativity.

Back then, the door was slightly more ajar than it is now. Now, the industry has swung toward a focus on graduates – which is detrimental to the future of this industry.

They just come along on a conveyor belt, same background, same education, same interview training, same ideas. Don’t get me wrong, they’re more than capable – good, great – but we need a mix of talent, from all walks of life.

If everyone piles in from the same background, then the messaging of all the campaigns is going to be a massive blanket statement that will either entirely miss or just fail to connect with people from other walks of life. Even with the technology and data analysis we have today, you can’t quite nail that local approach, that nuance.

The socio-demographic nature of this industry is crawling backwards. It doesn’t represent the country we live in – and this needs to change.

Creativity isn’t elitist.

And we need to do a better job at building a more inclusive workforce. If you’re good, you should be able to join us.

I used to work with a charity in Hammersmith. They gave me a bunch of secondary school kids from a council estate to talk to and teach them about advertising. I gave them a creative brief and their solutions were brilliant. They were so fast, so fresh, so completely unique. I’d not seen an approach like theirs before - it was completely hidden in their minds, their dialect, their way of thinking. They were the perfect example of the fact that you don’t grow into creativity, but grow out of it – by going against conventional thinking.

We need these people, because we need to future-proof our businesses.

Outreach needs to be invested in, and taken more seriously. Properly. Embedded in every agency going forward.

We need to reach beyond education, beyond grads.

Many coders nowadays don’t receive a formal education. I had a chat with someone in the cybersecurity industry, and he asked me what I thought the average age of your run-of-the-mill hacker was.

Disgruntled, jaded 20-something male, been through the ringer of higher education, fed up with the system, sat in his noodle-stained vest and pants. That’s what I thought.

Apparently it’s closer to the twelve years-old mark. Twelve.

They’re not doing it because they want a life of crime. They’re doing it as a game, as a hobby, as a means to an end, to get their next computer, a new pair of shoes that they can’t afford due to the circumstances they were born into. We need to reach these people, and turn their talents onto something less, well, illegal.

A stark difference in lifestyle shouldn't be seen as a negative.

Respect it. Embrace it.

The industry is undertaking a massive journey - gender diversity is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to come.

A fully inclusive workplace will naturally foster creativity, connecting your work to more people on a deep level, on a level that genuinely means something to them, as individuals, as human beings.

So let’s get to work.

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