Marcus Graham Project to Transition to Year-Round Ad Incubator

Dan Wieden in Letter of Support for Locomotus: 'This Must Be Done'

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The Marcus Graham Project is transitioning from a summer-time boot camp to a year-round school in 2013. The announcement was made over the weekend at a gala celebrating MGP's fifth anniversary.

The new "advertising incubator" will be called Locomotus and its first location will likely be in Los Angeles. The entity is the outgrowth of the success of the Marcus Graham Project said co-founder Lincoln Stephens. "We've proven our concept for the last few years," he said.

As part of its five-year celebration, MGP unveiled a video featuring some of its alumni:

MGP, named for Eddie Murphy's character in the movie Boomerang, was founded in 2007 in an attempt, according to Mr. Stephens, to address the lack of diversity in the ad industry. Since then, it's grown in size and scope. "It's not really so much about diversity as it is about education," Mr. Stephens said in an interview, noting that the boot camps have been a place for networking, continuing education, portfolio building and even a place to learn what school can't teach student -- old-fashioned office politics, for example.

Part of MGP's role, he said, is to show participants, "Here's how the business works." And if participants, after working with real clients in real agencies, find they don't like what they've seen. "If you can't work in a company," added Mr. Stephens, "well, here's how you go and do you own thing."

Locotomus will expand upon what MGP has done so far.

"Locomotus takes the best of what portfolio programs and student-run agencies have and moves it to the next level," said Dan Wieden, co-founder and global executive creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, in a letter of support for the project. Mr. Wieden, a booster of MGP's efforts so far, didn't make the gala event but did send along a video congratulating the program.

Mr. Wieden's letter, addressed to the ad industry at large and calling the school a "model long-term solution," ends with the phrase: "Simply put: this must be done."

To do it will take money -- about $2.6 million for the first year of operation. While it seems like a money, it's a drop in the bucket for holding companies and other agencies who themselves have struggled with their own diversity issues.

Mr. Stephens, who's lived with his parents as he and others have worked on a volunteer basis to make MGP work, was quick to point out that they're "not looking for handouts."

It's 38 alumni so far have been placed at agencies including Wieden, Rapp, Commonground, Weber Shandwick, Richards Group, Tribal DDB and elsewhere. Other partners include the 4A's, Butler Shine Stern & Partners, Y&R and Omnicom.

"We want to return the investment," he said, noting that he and the program would rather steer well clear of anything resembling quotas or "target numbers." Past attendees and current and former ones "don't automatically get jobs. They have to earn them."

That said, there will still be a focus on diversity and that comes through in a promotional video for the next iteration of the program.

"We need to be mindful of the past," he said, "but we need to be narrowly focused on preparing our workforce for the future."

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