One of my weekly highlights is attending the Pimento fortnightly meet ups with like-minded folk from c200 agencies. Today we were looking at diversity in the marketing and communications industry, and we heard from the maverick Marc Lewis, Dean of the multi award winning School of Communication Arts (SCA) and newly appointed CEO of the same Tom Crossley.

Inclusion and diversity are essential for our future success, but how can we drive diversity in our agencies when there is a lack of it in our own industry?

Tom first… 

It is important to think of diversity in a much broader sense than simply different social, ethnic, different genders and sexual orientations. Diversity in the widest sense encompasses disability, age, ex-offenders, neurodiversity such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD.  

1. Why is diversity important and why should it be top of our agendas? 

Our belief at the School is that if you have different people with different experiences contributing to a creative brief you will more likely see better, relevant strategies, leading to better work and thus fanning the flames of a virtuous circle benefitting the agency, your clients and the sustainability and future success of your business. This success allows you to then invest in more diverse talent and so the loop continues.

How can WPP target and speak authentically and with relevance to the over sixties, when only 1% of their workforce is over 60? Creatives from a minority ethnic group will have much more relevant experience and empathy to target those traditionally hard to reach groups. Likewise, for youth marketing, the average 40 something will not be as in touch as someone in their late teens or early twenties.

Put simply the agency model needs three components – to attract talent, to do great work and to turn a profit. Our view is that the more diverse work force you have, the better the work will be. We see success after success on creative briefs our students are involved in via agency relationships, due to creative melting pot of diverse voices.

Aside from the clear benefit to a business – driving the diversity and inclusion agenda is the right thing to do. We have an opportunity to upskill people.  Creativity is highly valued in UK businesses and are arguably the most important skill to be able to communicate and raise awareness of the challenges we face as a human race.

It is important to reflect the world we live in and the make-up of our populations.  Agencies such as LIVITY in Brixton truly reflect their locality. LIVITY is a creative business that works hand in hand with brands and the next generation to build the future better. They do this by hiring and upskilling a diverse work force and have an enviable client list including This Girl Can to Nike, Google and BBC.

Geography can throw up its own challenges i.e. not many ethnic minorities in York! This is why it is key to look at the wider definition of diversity e.g women returners and neurodiversity to ensure you are incorporating and learning from a range of perspectives.

2. Why as a sector do we do so badly at it?

The book, The Glass Ceiling, (2019) – reviewed here in The Guardian looks at verticals and showed that the creative industry is the 5th least diverse sector. Most focus is placed on gender and ethnic groups – and so some way to go, with white and male still persisting as the norm at senior level. Sigh!

It is clear the whole industry needs a reboot.  We talk to agencies with well-meaning initiatives such as placement scheme, but this is not enough.

If we really want to change things, we need to focus on three points:

1. Education from school up – demonstrating that a career in the creative sector exists and it is attainable

2. Training – finding rough diamonds and polishing them and then launching into the workplace

3. Funding to train the rough diamonds – this comes through agencies developing partnerships with our School

Next up Marc… 

It is plain to see. Diversity helps dial up the creativity. Let’s be clear – we are in the people business and we really need to have empathy with our audiences. In 2010 following a breakdown, I along with two governors re-opened the SCA. Our North Star was Reciprocity – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organisation to another or in our case, the relationship between our people at the School and agencies in the creative sector.

Note that 1 in 3 of our students are educated with the support of financial aid, scholarships and bursaries funded through grants and private sector support. We run a programme called Heroes and Legends in which the industry gives us money, knowledge and/or access to people.

Money to fund scholarships and bursaries – agencies we partner with get early access to our talent. 

Knowledge – sponsor and communicate feedback on what our students need to learn, so that content is refreshed and current.  

People – we have an amazing faculty with over 1000 mentors. We run NPR score (no. of people divided by no. of days given to mentoring x 100). A high NPR score given first access to students for placements. Agencies consistently say SCA students are A1.

And finally, Marc’s advice on how to attract diverse talent?

  • Network and establish reciprocal relationships with aligned organisations who have links/reach into diverse groups
  • Be good at what you do and encourage your diverse range of ambassadors within your business to share the case studies
  • Encourage Word of Mouth – it’s your most valuable and cost-effective tool

And I would add…

  • Reassess ‘must have’ criteria on job advertisements. 
  • Engage in a specialist recruitment firm or use consultants with EDI experience. 
  • Increase time frame to hire. 
  • Change your interview practices and processes. 
  • Hold your suppliers and hiring managers to account.
  • Measure your progress and check in against milestones. 

Annabel Dunstan, CEO and Founder, Q&R, comments: “A brilliant and heartfelt snapshot of D&I in the creative sector from two people who know their stuff. There is so much more to discuss on this topic. Q&R is currently receiving 2-3 briefs per month from organisations wanting to better understand how they are doing on the ED&I agenda and to hear from employees what is working well and what ideas they have to make improvements. There is hope.”