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Why the APA Launched Action on Diversity – and How You Can Get Involved

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APA Action on Diversity partnerships with Westminster and Hackney Councils announced

Advertising in the 21st century is not, it’s fair to say, as diverse or as open an industry as it could be. But while issues around women’s prospects in the business and female leadership are discussed at length in industry publications and at conferences (though, remain largely unaddressed in any practical way), there is less attention directed to socio-economic barriers that prevent many creative talents from varying backgrounds finding a foothold in the industry.

Last week the Advertising Producers Association announced its Action of Diversity programme. The APA wanted to do more than just ‘talk’ about the issue, they wanted to do something that could make a tangible difference to both the industry and young people’s lives. With that in mind, they’ve partnered with Westminster and Hackney Councils in London to help production companies reach out to and mentor young people in these areas. Below, APA Chief Executive Steve Davies outlines the scheme and explains how to get involved…

We organised a Diversity Forum in Cannes this year. The speakers explored different aspects of diversity and they were:

- Tom Knox, the Chairman of DLKW and President of the IPA, whose agenda as IPA President is about advertising’s responsibilities to society.

- Sally Campbell, Co-founder of Somesuch, who gave us her experiences as a woman from overseas entering the industry.

- Henrik Erickson, Founder of Henrik & Henrik Film, who told us about a Swedish initiative to have one female director on every commercials pitch.

- Kat Gordon, the founder of the 3% Conference, spoke about her mission to increase the number of women in creative roles in advertising.

- Michelle Matherson, Production Talent Executive at Shiver at ITV, from her perspective as a black woman, shared her insights into recruiting a diverse work force.

- Trevor Robinson, Founder and ECD at Quiet Storm, gave us a personal perspective as a black man who has had a long and successful career in the industry.

As well as being interesting, they helped us develop our ideas on the issues and to start to formulate an action plan.

We also held a panel at Ciclope 2016, where we got more international perspectives on the issues and how it is being addressed in other countries.

- Sally Campbell of Somesuch was part of that panel too and we also heard from:

- Kirsten Emhoff, Co-Founder EP at Prettybird USA, who told us about an excellent initiative in LA, to help create ethnic diversity in the entertainment industry, called Streetlights ( 

- Janette De Villiers, EP at Groundglass South Africa, who gave us a South African view, which is unique in that there are sophisticated positive discrimination laws in place there.

- Preethi Mariappan, ECD at Razorfish Germany, gave us her perspective as an Indian woman who has achieved success in the German advertising industry. Almost unique – Preethi could think of one other.

These events helped because to solve or act on any issue effectively, it is critical to understand what the problem is.

Identifying the issue

The advertising industry – including commercials production industry – in the UK is very predominantly white and middle class. People in the industry are, in general, liberal in their views and do not discriminate on any grounds but that is not sufficient to effect change because the people who apply to be interviewed nearly all fit the same profile.

Does this matter?

It is good for society if everyone has a prospect of succeeding in achieving their goals. That is a liberal view of society that I and many other people in advertising – I would venture most – ascribe to, but there are substantial business reasons too:

1. The industry must benefit the greater the competition is to enter it, so a wider pool of talent seeking to enter it would help the ad industry.

2.  Diverse backgrounds are likely to produce new and diverse thinking, which for an industry that thrives on new approaches, must be welcome.

3.  We are advertising to a diverse population and the insights that a diverse work force will be able to offer will be of value in doing that.

What are the different issues?

The issue that has been top of the agenda for sometime has been that of women in creative roles – or the lack of them – as creative directors and commercials directors. This issue has been articulated extremely well by people such as Lindsey Clay, the CEO of Thinkbox and President of WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications London) and Kat Gordon.

1. The lack of people from ethnic minorities in the advertising industry.

2. The lack of people from different social backgrounds – 7 per cent of Britons are privately educated yet 44 per cent of people working in the media are. Working class people and people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are underrepresented. 

3. Geography: It is a very London centric business and with the prevalence of internships and low starting salaries, people whose parents don't live in London and can support them as they start their careers are disadvantaged.

Sexuality and disability may be issues too but we haven’t examined those at this stage.

The issue we are focusing on

We are focussing on issues of social background. We think ethnic minorities are underrepresented because they are disproportionally working class or poor. 

If we call those people non-middle class for ease of reference, what are the reasons they are poorly represented in advertising employment?

Why are non middle class people under represented in employment in advertising and production?

1. They don't know the industry or anyone in it. 

2. They don't have an expectation that opportunities exist for them (low expectations/confidence).

3. They don't have access to advice from anyone knowledgeable about the industry.

4. They can’t afford to do long unpaid internships.

How do we address the issue?

Some of these issues have causes deep rooted in society. We can’t fix those, but we can make real improvements, particularly with the support of organisations already doing good work.

We will focus on the objective of giving young people who might not otherwise know of the industry:

1. Some knowledge of it – at its simplest that the commercials production industry exists.

2. Some confidence that they might be able to have a career within it, with aptitude and hard work.

Who are we partnering with and why?

One Education Business Partnership is Westminster Council’s department that endeavours to get all young people in the borough work ready. It has expertise in helping employers provide young people with the opportunity to learn about work. 

The person in charge is Satbinder Kooner, EBP Manager.

Inspire! Education Business Partnership provides similar services for London Borough of Hackney. The person in charge is Jonny Boux Director Inspire!

The practical steps

1. APA members will provide work experience for people identified by Westminster and Hackney’s One Education/Inspire! The work experience will be for one or two weeks. Satbinder and Jonny will provide APA members who express an interest in taking a young person on work experience under the scheme as to how to structure the work experience to maximise its value – to the student most importantly but also to the company. 

2. APA members to mentor young people.This might be three or four meetings over the course of a year, to provide guidance. This is separate to the work experience scheme. Again Satbinder and Jonny will provide advice as to how to manage this most effectively.

If you'd like to find out more or get involved, check out the APA website and please contact Steve (steve[at] or Kristyna (kristyna[at] 

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