The creative industries – including but by no means limited to adland – have something of a Stepfordian saminess to their ranks. And, if anything, it’s been getting worse over the years. So much for progress.
It’s statistically unlikely that well-off white folks from the South East of England are more creative than any other demographic, right? In an effort to reach out beyond the circles of nepotism and the ‘right’ sort of people on the ‘right’ sort of path from the ‘right’ sort of schools, various industry charities have set up initiatives and projects to help creatively talented individuals with no familial or social connection to the advertising industry. There’s the Creative Circle Foundation’s course – applications for the first intake
open in February - and also D&AD’s New Blood Shift, which just last week showcased all the great work from the class of 2017.
These initiatives are great. They’re a start. The tip of the wedge that might open up access to a more varied group of people with more varied ways of thinking. But if they are really going to have any kind of meaningful impact then the people who attend them need to get a chance in the real world. You lot need to hire them. Or at least give them a (paid) placement.
For D&AD CEO Tim Lindsay, increasing diversity in agencies and creative studios is more than just a nice-to-do, it’s a business imperative. Speaking at the packed-out New Blood Shift event on Thursday, he reflected that social and economic pressures had made things worse than when he joined the industry (‘about a thousand years ago’).
“Creative departments were more demographically diverse than they are today and there are a lot of reasons why that’s changed for the worst. One is tuition fees, obviously, one is the cost of living in London, and the other one is that you now need A-Levels to go to arts universities whereas before you could go to art college without them if you were talented enough,” said Tim. “All that has made our industry worse. Setting aside issues of social justice and the rightness of giving people opportunities to do things that will help them fulfil their potential, the argument for shift is a purely business one. Our industry will not service clients as well as it could or should without a diverse intake. Homogenised communities produce homogenised thinking - and increasingly clients are realising that’s what is taking place. And they’re not prepared to pay for it any more. Don’t forget all the rest because it’s important but the business imperative here is what should be driving this forward.”
The Shift-ers' work on display
The 19 Shift-ers shared the culmination of their five month intensive boot camp, work which had been created in response to briefs from the likes of AKQA and Nike. And it’s clear that the experience has had a profound effect on the attendees.
“Before Shift I had no idea about this industry and I don’t think I would have learned as much as I have without the help from the other agencies,” said Lucy Jackson, one of the 2017 Shift-ers. “Shift has propelled me to think differently about everything – my work and how things are made. It’s pushed me into becoming more and to create work that I never knew I could create.”
Also speaking at the event were Google Creative Lab ECD Steve Vranakis and Havas London’s Leanne Blossom, an alumnus of New Blood Shift 2016.
Reflecting on her time at Shift and out in the industry, Leanne suggested that there was much agencies could do to support people coming in with no formal training or little previous contact with the industry.
“Obstacles were, after my placement, being thrown into the deep end and being in a world that feels very alien. Then there’s this thing about having not studied and feeling like you belong to be in a space where everyone around you feels quite different,” said Leanne. “People were a lot nicer than I imagined. From the talks from people coming through the programme, I was expecting people to be a lot harsher but I think there could be more support in terms of understanding if you don’t know this industry, if this is not your world. It’s not just that you’re starting a career for the first time, it’s this whole new world.”
Meanwhile Steve became quite emotional as he recounted his own experiences as a self-taught creative from a family of Greek immigrants in Canada. He revealed that the prohibitive cost of art school drove him to educate himself by finding work in print pre-production service bureau, where he would pester the designers with questions.
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He commented on the importance of the whole initiative. “The diversity thing… it’s easy to go ‘oh we need to do the diversity thing’, but when you look at the different perspectives, the different points of view that are brought together from these different people, whether it’s ethnicity or socio-economic or different reference points, ages or whatever, I think that’s where the magic happens, I think that’s what will help the industry be a little bit more impactful, a bit more interest. We owe it to ourselves to encourage that thinking that will come out from bringing people with all those different backgrounds together.”
At the end of the talks, Hilary Chittenden, foundation manager at D&AD who has been instrumental in making New Blood Shift happen urged attendees to pick up the baton and continue the work started by Shift.
“This programme was designed by D&AD and the industry for the industry and we really need your help to make this sustainable and a success,” she said. “And that means not just having a look round and having a glass of wine and then buggering off home that means speaking to these guys, giving them placements, giving them advice, giving them contacts and making sure that this programme sticks and they get jobs in this industry.”
Hear, hear. So take a look at the work, reach out, give the class of 2017 a shot.