Talent Agency Culture Marketing

Arts cuts are making advertising a playground for the privileged again


By Kate Knowles, Strategy Director

January 9, 2024 | 6 min read

Strategy director Kate Knowles worries that the cuts in art funding over the last decade in the UK make the ad industry even harder to enter for working-class talent.

Art funding

Over the last decade, the number of teenagers taking art GCSEs has fallen by 40%. From consistent art funding drop-offs for schools, humanities subjects are the first to have their costs cut. The result? An incumbent generation where creative pursuits become the playground of the rich and privileged.

The advertising industry is already one that struggles to be representative of the demographic of the country. And with the next generation of would-be-creatives having arts classes slashed, the future of equitability looks somewhat precarious.

While there’s been progress in the gender and ethnic diversity of those working in advertising over the past few years, still less than a quarter of the advertising industry is working class.

And it’s not hard to understand why.

Our industry’s reliance on interns, opaque recruitment patterns, unstable income, and ‘graduate’ mindset makes it difficult to access without considerable in-roads and privilege. The ‘who you know’ working approach makes networks essential, and with decision-makers still pretty un-diverse, it makes things difficult for everyone else.

Now, happily, there have been steps taken to improve this. Increasingly, unpaid internships are on the out and replaced by paid routes in - like BBH’s Homegrown. There’s a much bigger focus on intersectional inclusion across the industry, being pushed forward by censuses run by the IPA and the activism of collectives within advertising. In general, people won’t stand for undiverse lineups or teams.

But so much of the progress has come from the persistent work of people who’ve tackled their way into the industry. And we still see, at the top, a stark lack of diversity - compared with that of junior roles. The progress can continue, but only if we continue to see people from diverse backgrounds entering the industry.

And these cuts to arts funding could be a huge issue for the future of our industry.

This is a decade, if not more, of cutting back already streamlined creative funding. This is at schools - where art departments at state schools struggle just to buy paper - this is at youth groups - where 750 youth groups have been closed in the last decade, this is at universities - where UAE cut 31 arts and humanities jobs. From start to finish, the pathways to creative ventures are becoming increasingly difficult to pursue outside of school without access to money.

Above all else, the government narrative about STEM is cutting creative industry talent before they even get started. This is wild when you think about the economic impact of creative industries; as The Guardian put it: “There are now 12,000 fewer students taking music (a 27% reduction) – despite the UK music industry contributing £4bn to the UK economy in 2021.”

More than ever, consumers want to feel represented in the ads they watch. And the only way for us to do our jobs well is by having a representative workforce at the bottom and the top. With creative jobs harder than ever to pursue, we need to be working double hard to find and nurture talented creatives ourselves. And we’ll need to look beyond traditional recruitment cycles and outside our network bubble to do it.

And there is hope.

It’s obvious, but I’m still to see brands and agencies fully take advantage. The emerging creatives on TikTok. While funding for creative education has dropped, platforms like TikTok have democratized access to creative tools. Anyone can create and edit films on TikTok and potentially reach millions. And there are thousands of accounts sharing educational tips on using creative tools, from grading to editing to sound design.

With TikTok challenging linear media and subcultures becoming more and more culturally significant over the mainstream, we may find a new way to keep our industry creative in the face of cuts by sidelining traditional education altogether.

Talent Agency Culture Marketing

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