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Advertising Week

Ad Leaders Start Push to Employ People With Intellectual Disabilities

By Published on .

As the ad industry tries to move forward with initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion, people with intellectual and development disabilities still tend to be forgotten.

Now a group of industry leaders have joined forces to open Creative Spirit, a nonprofit that's dedicated to matching people with disabilities like Down Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, autism and Asperger Syndrome with careers at creative companies. So far, the group says it has more than 50 companies interested and commitments to participate from Fallon, Deutsch, Colgate, Publicis, A&E, Independent Media, CMS, Joan Creative, Digital Foundation and the independent agency Rauxa.

Droga5 Creative Chairman David Nobay began an early iteration of Creative Spirit in Australia in 2008. Two years ago, Nobay started planning a U.S. version with Laurel Rossi, chief marketing officer of Rauxa and mother of a 16-year-old daughter with Williams Syndrome, and Ad Club New York President-CEO Gina Grillo. Publicis Groupe, especially Jeff Kling, chief creative officer at the Publicis agency Fallon, has also played a big role, says Rossi.

The goal, Rossi says, is to decrease the unemployment rate among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDDs, which is currently at 85 percent. Creative Spirit is looking to create 130,000 fair-wage jobs for those with IDDs by 2020, she says.

The initiative and a campaign to promote it are both set to roll out Tuesday during New York Advertising Week. The creative work focuses on "myth-busting around what these candidates can do," says Rossi, adding that there's a preconceived notion that people with IDDs should just be getting coffee.

This summer, Rauxa hired two candidates to work at the agency as part of a pilot program for Creative Spirit. One is working in the agency's legal and HR department, while the other is in the tech department helping to code websites, says Rossi. To make sure that a candidate is matched up with a job that suits his or skills, Creative Spirit has employment specialists on its team.

Creative Spirit will have about 30 volunteers with different IDDs working alongside industry peers during Advertising Week "in the hopes of networking and showing off their skills and doing interviews," Rossi says. The volunteers came through Creative Spirit's partnerships with National Down Syndrome Society, Williams Syndrome Association, National Autism Society and Best Buddies.

"This is an important initiative to add to the diversity and inclusion space," says Grillo. "We all need to take responsibility and do our part."

Grillo adds that she is going to challenge other companies, creative directors and members of The Ad Club of New York to step up and take on this opportunity.

Kling, who worked alongside Rossi's daughter on the campaign shoot, says everyone gains more with diversity of thinking and feeling. "Anyone challenged—in my experience—tends to have other clear gifts," he says. "I would like to encourage people to hire [those with IDDs] because they make us all better."

The campaign, called "The Pitch," which was created by Publicis New York, will debut at the D&AD Impact Awards Gala on Tuesday. A second installment will follow in November in national broadcast media. The Ad Club donated more than $200,000 in media to support the cause.

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