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The Influencers

So BAD it’s Good

INFLUENCER: Janey de Nordwall on how the British Arrows' BAD initiative is aiming to solve the diversity issue in the industry

So BAD it’s Good

For years, advertising has been perceived as a glamorous, creative industry, full of talented people doing fantastic things to astound, astonish and inspire. It brings together the best of art, culture, design and film, to create something new and awesome, often award-winning - and sometimes even iconic. Ultimately this is how we connect with and influence an audience on behalf of our clients. Most of us feel proud to be part of this brilliant industry… I know I am.

But something’s not quite right. The diversity on screen, which has finally begun to reflect the UK’s population, is not being replicated behind the scenes. There is definitely now a willingness across the industry to diversify but some real gaps still remain. There’s an urgent need to cut through all the white noise, exit the echo chamber and demystify our industry to let the next generation in. Pragmatically we need to deliver something tangible that connects with the brilliant under-represented talent out there, that benefits everyone, that actually works. So what’s stopping us?

Somewhere along the way our industry became a ‘club’, and the club became much harder to join. The joining fee went up, paid internships were thin on the ground, unpaid internships (which are now against the law) were becoming the norm. Everyone knew someone and doors closed to anyone who wasn’t in a position to afford to get on the right course. The results? It’s all gone a bit magnolia.

Advertising is about art, creativity, craftsmanship and selling – it’s about understanding and connecting with audiences. We seem to have the mainstream audience nailed but what about the rest of our wonderfully diverse population? Much of what we produce isn’t connecting with them so we’re in danger of losing great potential to other industries. We’re going to struggle to produce great advertising which is relevant to today’s youth, if the workplaces themselves aren’t more balanced.

In 2016, at the beginning of Charlie Crompton’s tenure at the British Arrows as Chairman; Charlie, the renewed board and I set out on a mission: We wanted to remove the perception that ‘If you’re not on the list you can’t come in’ and debunk the myths of advertising. Our aim is to use our contacts to open the door to under-represented creative talent - specifically BAME - but to also collaborate across our industry to promote inclusivity for all.  

The BAD initiative, British Arrows Doorway, looked in depth at what was preventing young creatives from seeing advertising as valid career. The answers were plenty - ironically, many didn’t even know that our industry existed let alone see us as a potential career - and therefore had no idea of the roles available, the earning potential, and that they could turn their passion into a pay cheque. Their teachers weren’t guiding them towards us and some parents were actively guiding them away. These young people had just blanked advertising  – they weren’t just skipping ads they were skipping opportunities too. We don’t just have to connect, we have to educate.

After 18 months of research, meeting community centres, youth led organisations, schools, hosting focus groups and developing an exclusive link with ERIC, the creative careers festival, we gained access to thousands of creatively minded 18 – 25 year olds (50:50 male:female and 60:40 BAME:white) who yearn for a creative career but didn’t have a clue where to look.

We started by demystifying advertising for them by creating PYXIS. A free online tool, that shows every role across agency, production, post and audio.  As well as giving them an idea of starting salaries, we’re populating PYXIS with filmed interviews with industry experts talking about their experiences, questioning whether qualifications are required and which qualities they’ll need. These industry professionals all jumped at the opportunity to help get the next generation a foot on the ladder - and from over 100 testimonials, ‘being kind’ was the most mentioned quality. Isn’t that nice?

We think making ads is the greatest job in the world, so why weren’t young people considering our industry? What are the real barriers? Our new series of podcasts recount stories that are surprising - and genuinely shocking. We wanted to give determined young people a voice so we asked senior industry figures to sit, question and listen to them in the hope that we can understand, learn and change.

Our measure of success for year one, is for 25 people to secure paid roles - but because young people don’t look at the industry websites for jobs it’s up to us to find them through their channels. The RECRUIT page on the BAD website is now being populated with young people looking and companies hiring. This is a fantastic start.

Find out more about Dahlia's story here.

The British Arrows is primarily known as the largest film advertising awards body in the UK, we now also want to be known as the Conduit. Across our board we have incredible industry knowledge and connections, it’s a pleasure and an absolute privilege to open our little black book and use it to create a tangible initiative benefiting advertising as a whole. The more jobs and success stories that are advertised on the BAD website will help encourage and engage more young creatives to see us as a real career.

BAD – British Arrows Doorway for young talent to connect with the industry and vice versa launches on 23rd April 2018. Young BAD contributors will be taking over the British Arrows website and social media channels for a week. Let’s listen to them. Let’s change. Let’s hire them.

Janey de Nordwall is managing director at the British Arrows

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Genre: Strategy/Insight