Agencies Lean Into Learning and Mentoring to Foster DEI

By | December 21, 2020

Agencies have made countless pledges this year to make the advertising industry, which has long been overwhelmingly white, more diverse.

Following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, holding companies including Publicis and Omnicom shared plans for combatting systemic racism in the industry, while dozens of agencies shared their workforce diversity data as part of #CommitToChange, an initiative started by advocacy group 600 & Rising.

Since then, one way agencies have been trying to bring more Black and underrepresented talent into the fold is via learning and mentorship programs. Agencies claim these free, virtual programs are giving these individuals the chance to gain relevant skills and connections that can help them land a job, or at least get their foot in the door.

Elephant, a brand experience agency owned by IPG, is one of those places. When summer internships were all but canceled this year, Elephant worked to pull together a six-week experience design program called “Elephant XD Academy” geared towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students.

The agency was supposed to host two interns from MAIP, the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, over the summer, but since in-person internships were a no-go, Elephant instead worked with MAIP’s organizers to find students interested in experience design and offer them the chance to partake in the virtual program.

Elephant ended up selecting nine students for its inaugural XD Academy, eight of which it found via its partnership with MAIP. Kevin Kearney, executive creative director at Elephant, said the agency focused on bringing in students who had the least amount of exposure to the field of experience design.

“The first thing we did was shave off the people who had the most experience and the most significant education,” Kearney said.

Those who took part in the six-week “design bootcamp” not only learned how to use software programs, but also got a closer look at how Elephant solves business problems for clients, according to Kearney. He also noted that students come out of the program with something to add to their portfolio.

Kearney said the agency plans to continue the course and tweak it. For instance, he said the next one will be eight weeks, not six. As for its first class of graduates, he said the majority are still in school, but one recently interviewed at IBM.

Elephant’s CEO Eric Moore said that while the agency might hire some of the program’s participants once they graduate, the course was not created as a hiring mechanism for the shop.

“We all need to develop the next generation of talent,” Moore said. “That talent will not necessarily end up at our agency, but we need to basically pay it forward.”

Making the industry more accessible

Droga5 recently opened up applications for its third D5in10 Academy, a free, 10-week crash course that isn’t geared toward students and recent graduates in the industry, and instead recruiting people who work in jobs outside of advertising and are looking for a way in.

Candidates who apply cannot have attended portfolio school or worked as a creative at an agency. Kevin Brady, Droga5’s executive creative director who runs D5in10 Academy, said the evening course gives people the chance to learn from creative professionals and craft a mini portfolio without committing to the price tag of portfolio school.

Tiffany Edwards, Droga5’s global head of diversity and inclusion, said the program—which typically takes place at its New York headquarters, but will be virtual this year—has accepted everyone from nurses to poets in the past. So far, 50 people have completed the program.