As Ad World Changes, Agencies Look Beyond Ad Schools For New Talent

“There is much, much more we should all be doing to broaden our creative talent,” says one agency exec. Here’s how some London shops are casting a wider net for new creatives.

As Ad World Changes, Agencies Look Beyond Ad Schools For New Talent

Fancy a job as a young creative at London ad agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay? Then make a date in your diary to be online on Thursday, November 22 to take part in a 24 hour-long webcam interview marathon–an attempt by the agency to broaden the pool from which it draws the next generation of young creative talent.

Andrew McGuinness

“The creative industries are in danger of fishing in an never narrower pond of people made smaller by the placement scheme system which virtually shuts out non-college graduates from outside of London without money to live on before they get a full-time job,” BMB cofounder Andrew McGuinness explains.

So, rather than focus solely on this summer’s advertising graduates, the agency is inviting anyone–“whether you’re a grad, non-grad, Martian or Womble,” to use its own words–to an interview. Those interested will be able to go online to spin a virtual roulette wheel dictating which senior executive calls back for a seven-minute phone interview via Skype.

The interview panel will change throughout the process with the line-up streamed online from an agency webcam. At the end of each call, every interviewee will be asked to send in their contact details and CV.

“There is much, much more we should all be doing to broaden our creative talent,” McGuinness believes. “A degree–an advertising degree, especially–is just one measure of an applicant’s potential. All of us should be looking at ways to democratize entry into this business.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many in the U.K.’s creative services business.

“The industry is still closing a lot of doors to those not coming up through the advertising course route,” according to Will Knox, Strategist at recruitment specialist The Talent Business. His company is the organizer of CREAM–the annual competition introducing the best aspiring creative talent to creative directors from a broad array of creative businesses–which took place earlier this month.


“For years, the cost of ad industry-related courses plus the expectation that an aspiring creative will work at first virtually for free has shut out people from less affluent backgrounds,” he says. But now, things are starting to change.

Growing competition for creative talent from a new generation of agencies–digital specialists, especially–has put pressure on all agencies to make their placement schemes for aspiring creative more transparent, and to more actively seek fresh talent in unexpected places.

A growing supply of advertising course graduates, meanwhile, means agencies must look harder to find the very best of each year’s crop.

“The traditional approach has always been taking on young teams who’ve formed straight of an advertising-related course, put them on placement then hire the best,” explains Caroline Pay, creative director at Mother London. “But though there are more courses and more students, it’s harder than ever to find the few who are truly exceptional as more agencies are now out there.”

In an effort to address this, Mother has introduced a new route in for people with creative spark but no formal advertising grounding.

As well as taking on placement teams and operating what it calls its “Runners Cage”–a group of young people who’ve joined the agency as a runner, from which senior executives pick individuals to train in different disciplines–it has introduced the role of “creative assistant,” which has just been filled by a fine artist.


BBH London’s creative department is also working to spread its net wider–in terms of gender balance, geographical origin, and creative specialism. Executive creative director Nick Gill explains: “Many digital hirings were made somewhat naively. But the key isn’t practical skill in isolation, but how a person approaches the world. You’ve got to ask: Is this person more comfortable building something digital or conceptualizing?” he says.

“Building is fine and there are lots of builders out there, but creative concepts and campaignable ideas are what’s key.”

In an attempt to identify and retain the best upcoming talent BBH London has recently introduced “BBH Barn,” an agency-within-the-agency concept first tried in its New York office (creatives in the New York Barn program were responsible for the lauded “Underheard in New York,” which gave a social media voice to the homeless, and to the more controversial “Homeless Hotspots”). Aspiring creatives working on placement in BBH Barn must compete for work across all agency’s briefs as well as conceive their own campaigns using social media to do good.

“Many other agencies would like to devote more resources to finding young talent but funding this is hard–especially in the current climate,” Knox points out. “Which perhaps explains why some of the greatest opportunities and lateral thinking can be found in agency startups.”

A case in point is Creature London which, at launch 18 months ago, opened its creative department with three placement teams who, as soon as work started to come in, were given permanent positions in the agency.

“As a young company we rely a lot on young talent because we haven’t the money for big, senior creatives,” creative Partner Ben Middleton explains. “Today, our agency staff work closely with colleges–feeding into coursework and developing relationships with students early on.”


Moving forward, the agency plans to more formally tap into its network of relationships with clients and other organizations to source the next generation of young creative talent.

One Creature client, Art Against Knives, is a youth charity founded by the friend of an art student confined to a wheelchair as a result of a knife attack in East London. The organization’s mission is to use arts initiatives to reduce the root causes of knife crime. “Working with groups like this is certainly one way to bring a more diverse mix of people into advertising,” Middleton explains.

[Lure Image: J. Helgason via Shutterstock]

About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.