Saatchi & Saatchi London’s MD Sarah Jenkins and CEO Sam Hawkey on the agency’s three-pronged approach to tackling systemic racism
The advertising industry’s issues with racism and glacial progress on diversity and inclusion was put under the spotlight this summer following the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. But tackling systemic racism will be a long-term commitment and concrete action, rather than a ‘moment’ of hand-wringing. That’s why the leadership team at Saatchi & Saatchi has kickstarted not one but three initiatives designed to dismantle several of the blocks and biases that have obstructed meaningful change. Saatchi Ignite is about reaching school-aged kids and particularly those who have been historically cut off from and unaware of the creative industries; Saatchi Open is an apprenticeship scheme that both sets candidates up for success but also supports them in their entrepreneurial ambitions; Saatchi Home is a subsidised accommodation scheme for interns, Saatchi Open participants and junior team members, acknowledging that the prohibitive cost of housing in central London is a major impediment.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Saatchi & Saatchi London’s MD Sarah Jenkins and CEO Sam Hawkey.
LBB> When and why did this new roadmap begin for Saatchi & Saatchi? Was there a particular moment that set you on this path?
Sarah> We’ve spent a lot of time building our plans around diversity and inclusion, obviously the killing of George Floyd made us really accelerate and deepen our approach. Over the summer we talked a lot as an agency and held workshops to discuss the changes we wanted to make. This roadmap is just three of the ideas that came from those workshops, and there is lots more in the pipeline.
Sam> The need for more of the impossible, more audacity, more outsider thinking has never been more urgent. The BLM movement, along with the changes brought around by Covid have only accelerated that urgency. Marketing at its best is an engine to solve problems and we believe these initiatives are an essential part of solving the problems we face within our industry. In short we want to create more opportunities for more people to succeed. And our approach will evolve year on year as we measure that success.
LBB> In your press release you said: “The brief we gave ourselves is that our solutions need to be as systemic as the problems." Can you unpack that a bit please? How do you make sure this is the case?
Sam> Racism exists at a systemic level, from working practices to access to industries and career progression. Our solutions must then also be systemic if they are going to work. Serving an underserved community is our first port of call. We are at the start of a journey to create real change and we hope the fact that we are making our initiatives as sustainable as possible, with long term commitments with expert partners, and measurable targets that we can monitor and improve over time, will keep us on track in achieving that.
Sarah> It’s important we hold ourselves accountable – we can’t measure the launch, we have to measure the impact these solutions have, for the people accessing them but also for the wider industry. That’s why we are committed to sharing our blueprint for success, as well as any data and learnings, so they can be replicated by our partners and competitors alike.
LBB> What do you feel is the single biggest barrier to more diverse talent making it into careers in advertising?
Sarah> That’s a hard one, this is a complex project but it’s probably a lack of opportunity, as there is definitely no shortage of diverse talent. Therefore we and the industry have to work much harder to create more opportunities for all the brilliant and inspired talent out there.
Sam> Our industry at its worst is very closed, and that is a huge barrier. What we are trying to do with these three initiatives is create a platform or springboard to open up the industry and make it less opaque, which is desperately needed right now. I think for our business and our industry to grow, it’s essential that we open our doors, minds and clients to people who think differently and give them all the tools and support they need to succeed once they are through the door.
LBB> Reaching students at school age seems fundamental to solving this huge problem because knowing that these careers exist is a massive step. How did you select the schools that Saatchi Ignite will reach?
Sarah> Serendipity and shared ambition helped us select our first school partner. Whilst developing our schools programme I shared our plans with a friend who is a brilliant teacher to get her advice and it was immediately clear what she would bring and what her school would bring. They went on to become our first school partnership. Harris Academy Greenwich has incredible energy, ambition and a driving ethos that every student should ‘find their greatness’. They are also part of the Harris Academy Federation, a 48-strong schools network, which allows us to ensure we scale up. On so many levels we are very lucky to be partnering with them.
LBB> Making the tools available to schools and students all over the country is a great idea. How will you ensure that these get out to the communities furthest away from the ad industry? Schools and students need to know they are there first, and realise their value!
Sarah> We know the importance of getting this right so year 1 is about working with the Harris Academy Greenwich and its sister schools so we’ll be much more focused on London. However as soon as we have a blueprint we’ll start to reach out to schools and networks across the UK, via expert organisations such as Teach First. We’ll also host our programme on the Publicis Groupe digital platform the Open Apprenticeship, so any teacher can download the curriculum resources we are creating.
LBB> As you see it, what is the specific obstacle that Saatchi Open is trying to tackle?
Sam> We are bridging a gap between two needs - the industry needs more diverse talent in order to grow, and people entering the job market need access to the industry - especially at the moment. We have an incredible generation of talent coming through who have different career ambitions and want more flexibility, freedom and autonomy from their careers. They are also naturally more agile and entrepreneurial than the generation that came before them. We wanted to build an entry programme that celebrated a different way of thinking, and of creating new business ideas. We shouldn’t expect people to conform to the way it’s always been done in the past – it’s up to us to try and do things differently.
LBB> And why did you decide that was the right approach?
Sam> It’s the right approach because it’s the right thing to do, not just for our agency, but for businesses in general. Saatchi & Saatchi was founded by two brothers who thought differently. What they brought to the advertising industry in 1970 is needed now and needed always. Our industry needs more outsiders, people who think differently, who approach problems in unique ways. As with all our plans, Saatchi Open will be iterative and we are going to be learning a lot in our first year. A lot of consideration has gone into our inaugural programme, and feedback from the partners we will be working alongside, such as Brixton Finishing School and Commercial Break, has been positive. Our ambition is to evolve and grow our approach, along with the partners we work with, year on year.
LBB> Saatchi Home is a bold move that seems like it will make a tangible difference. Why is accommodation such a problem and how far will this go to solve it?
Sarah> The crippling cost of rent if you don’t have savings or the support of parents when you first move to London shouldn’t be a barrier to entry to our industry but it is. It means that entry level positions and internships are often given to those who are able to financially afford to live in London. It closes our industry off and often results in lots of people joining the industry, who all come from similar backgrounds and think in similar ways.
Sam> We are in a position to be able to help address a massive barrier to entry by looking at the lack of affordable accommodation in London. The partnership we have established with LHA (London Hostel Association, who own a big property footprint) has real intent and commitment behind it and is not just about providing subsidised rent, it’s about creating a proper community and feeling of belonging. We brought creativity and resources to the solution but LHA are the ones making it a reality.
LBB> You've said that you want this roadmap to be replicated at scale by partners and competitors alike. How will you help others to scale it up?
Sam> As a principle we’ll always be open on our plans, we’ll share what is working and what we are learning along the way. We have already had companies get in touch to share their plans with ours, and see how we can build on each other’s ideas and efforts. On a practical note, we’ll invite other industry partners in to directly work with us to bring their skills, experience and energy. We’ll be evolving the partners we work with and encouraging more of the industry to get involved in the work they do. For example, any agency or business can plug into the London Hostel Association.
Sarah> On schools specifically, we’re working hard on how we can help hardwire creativity into key parts of curriculum. Harris Academy and Saatchi’s both want those lesson plans open to all teachers, students and schools. We are already working on doing this via Publicis Groupe’s Open Apprenticeship platform and like all our initiatives, will be monitoring engagement and results, and evolving year on year to make sure we are creating the change we set out to achieve.