Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

“We’re Finding It Harder to Recruit from Outside of London or from Working Class Backgrounds”

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Lucky Generals CEO Katie Lee tells Laura Swinton why the industry is providing accommodation for interns with the recently-announced Barracks scheme

“Speaking personally, it was a tiny moment that spurred me on. When I was at a previous agency a young girl, who had just moved to London, kept bringing her hairdryer to work. When I asked her why, she said that everything gets stolen if she leaves it in the hostel she was living in.  I never forgot that and channelled it into this initiative,” says Katie Lee, CEO at Lucky Generals about what inspired the agency’s new paid internship scheme that provides safe accommodation for aspiring adlanders.

Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords beloved of the advertising industry, but agencies have been reluctant to tackle one of the biggest obstacles to access. Living in a advertising hub like London is expensive. Damn expensive. And it’s particularly expensive if you’re doing an unpaid internship. The result is that entrance to the industry has become self-selecting to those who come comfortable backgrounds.

Katie and her colleagues at London agency Lucky Generals have done something about it. Last week they announced the launch of The Barracks, a rolling three month internship for entry level talent who can’t afford to live in London. Successful applicants will be put up in a serviced apartment in East London, they’ll be paid and they’ll undertake a carefully thought out programme.

The Barracks was inspired by worrying statistics that show just how exclusive the creative industries have become. In the UK, only 8.1% of the jobs in the industry are filled by those from disadvantaged groups and rent costs in London have exploded by 21.7% since 2011, while wages have only increased by 9.1%.

But it was also inspired by the personal experience of the agency leadership. “This is an issue that is very close to our hearts.  One of our founders is from Scotland.  Another from Derbyshire.  Our people come from Northern Ireland, Liverpool, Essex and everywhere in between,” explains Katie.  “But we’re finding it harder and harder to recruit people from outside London - or from working-class backgrounds - because of the state of this city’s housing market.  And we got talking about how we might change this.”

Katie reveals that covering this rent is a ‘significant outgoing’ financially for the agency, but it was time for them to put their money where their mouth is. There were also several practical and ethical considerations to tackle. 

For one thing, security was of paramount importance. Thinking back to the young girl in a dodgy hostel, the team knew that they had to act responsibly. “We couldn’t have a young person from outside of London and put them in an unsafe position, that is why the flat is in a portered block,” says Katie.

Another question was how long the internship should be, three months or six? In the end they decided that three months would be long enough to give an intern an overview of the agency and experience with every department. It would also allow them to reach more people. And, as the agency hopes that The Barracks will act as a stepping stone to full time jobs, it’s also long enough to assess whether someone would make a good hire.

They’ve also thought long and hard about how to recruit. Lucky Generals wants to make sure they’re reaching the right people, so as well as sharing the scheme on social media and through PR, they’re also working with organisations like Princes Trust, Bryanston Square, the Creative Mentor Network. “Assessing eligibility was also key,” adds Katie. “We knew it needed to be handled sensitively but there is a big difference between someone who really needs it and someone who doesn't want to live with their Aunt in Wimbledon. So, again, we sought a lot of advice.” 

When the scheme was announced, there was a clamouring of support from industry publications and on social media. So, what advice would Katie give to agencies or industry bodies who are inspired by what you’ve done but are not sure whether or how to proceed?

“The prospect of it was way bigger than the reality. As soon as we thought, ‘we’re doing it’, it happened really quickly,” says Katie. “Also, don't let cost be a barrier. The cultural effect of something like this means you can spread the cost over multiple budget lines, not just an intern budget. It will be well worth it because something like this gives as much joy to the agency as the summer party. Everyone is proud to be part of it.” 

And it’s not just the team at the agency that is proud of The Barracks. Clients have been supportive and engaged – so much so that the flat will receive a food delivery from supermarket Co-op, the kitchen will be stocked with Yorkshire Tea and Taylors Coffee and the interns will receive an Amazon gift card. 

When it comes to inclusion the industry seems to have largely avoided the issue of money and affordability, as well as the socio-economic dimension of diversity. Katie maintains that it’s not that the industry doesn’t care.

“[It’s] Because we have big hearts and small budgets. Margins go down every year and sadly we don’t have the deep pockets we used to. So we attempt to do meaningful things without the money and it’s very difficult to do anything other than talk in those situations,” she says.

“Whether we like it or not we are a middle-class industry, on the whole, living in a bubble. Often we understand consumers, but forget that consumers are people. We have to learn to not separate who we’re talking to and who we’re working with.

“But we’re not oblivious to it, that’s why we are trying to remove those barriers to entry.” 

How to sign up

Go to the Lucky Generals website.

The initial approach is a blind recruitment process where interested applicants need to go to [include link] and register. They will then be asked one question. 

'If you had £1,000 to pursue a mission of your own, what would it be and who would you call in for backup?'

The application can take any form, from a word document, an image, a film or a presentation. Even a song. But the application will be based on the content of the answer, not on the execution. To ensure the process is then properly targeting those from the correct areas it will follow Government recommended questions for determining Socio-economic background. 

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