How Marcus Thomas is providing greater access to the industry for diverse high schoolers
In a greater effort to provide a path into advertising for young Black and Brown students, Marcus Thomas has introduced a robust eight-week program for juniors and seniors at its local Warrensville Heights High School, located just east of Cleveland, Ohio, where the independent agency is based.
The agency’s Joy Smith, inclusion and talent manager, and Joanne Kim, former chief diversity officer, initially kicked off the partnership with Warrensville Heights High School more than a year ago, at the time providing opportunities for students to shadow employees. Elise James-Decruise, who joined Marcus Thomas last July as chief diversity and inclusion officer, has since taken over the partnership and is overseeing it as it adapts into an eight-week, internship-type program for 12 students in either their junior or senior years. The program kicks off this month.
James-Decruise says the agency originally intended to launch the program last year but the pandemic delayed it. Marcus Thomas has since figured out how to adapt it to work virtually, even committing $5,500 toward giving students the laptops and software they will need to participate.
“In late 2019, we decided to embark on this new formalized, eight-week program,” James-Decruise says. “Marcus Thomas has been in a section of Cleveland with a primarily Black and Brown community for about a decade. We realized awhile back that our commitment to DE&I should extend beyond our walls and into the community. When we began looking at the talent pipeline, we saw an opportunity within Warrensville Heights, which is in a predominantly Black and Brown district.”
The introduction of the program comes in the wake of the social injustice movement that has prompted agencies to rethink their practices and efforts to diversify the predominantly white industry. Many agencies have, among other commitments, said they will do a better job in reaching students from underrepresented groups at a younger age to provide them with greater access to the industry.
Through its program, Marcus Thomas will give students the opportunity to work on real client briefs the agency completed in the past, says James-Decruise. Students will complete a mock pitch from start to finish, working in teams to identify challenges and propose solutions. Marcus Thomas employees will act as mentors to the students, who will eventually present their final pitch to a panel of senior leaders.
James-Decruise says the mentors not only will help guide students in their work but provide them with information on what opportunities may be available to them for a career in advertising. She says all of this will be done via Google Hangouts.
She adds that the program could open the door for full-time positions for students who then go on to pursue a career in the industry. “The earlier we can tap into these underrepresented groups, the better. The numbers speak for themselves. For some underrepresented groups, if they can’t see it, they think they can’t be it,” James-Decruise says.