Grey's latest diversity move: Free portfolio school

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John Patroulis, worldwide chief creative officer at Grey.
John Patroulis, worldwide chief creative officer at Grey. Credit: BBH

Grey New York has been going full-force in its diversity efforts. Earlier this week at the 4A's Transformation Conference in Miami, it said it will devote 75 percent of its spending on talent and resources toward creative departments. Late last month, it partnered with the 3% Movement to try to ensure that all work the agency produces reflects diversity. Now Grey is debuting an initiative that aims to tackle both objectives: free ad school.

Last week, 20 creatives recruited from outside the industry began classes at the Famous Academy for Modern Effectiveness, an eight-week, tuition-free portfolio school co-founded by Grey and FindSpark, an inclusion-focused networking site for young professionals. Its goal is to train talented people who might otherwise have been overlooked, or who would have eschewed advertising due to cost or lack of opportunity.

"If we're honest about one of the barriers to diversity in creative departments, it's socioeconomic," says John Patroulis, worldwide chief creative officer at Grey. "College is expensive. Portfolio school is expensive. And then you get your first job, and it's not high-paying." Patroulis didn't go to ad school himself, but the industry is harder to break into now than it was when he began, he says.

Students at Fame, as the program is nicknamed, meet one day a week for a class at Grey's Manhattan office. The inaugural program is being taught by Deputy Chief Creative Officer Rob Lenois, accompanied by guest speakers from the agency. Students get assignments to work on throughout the week on topics like agency structure, campaign analysis, client collaboration skills and storytelling fundamentals. By the end of the program, they'll have a portfolio they can use in their job search. Grey is also pairing the students with agency mentors, with the aim of creating long-term bonds that will last beyond the two-month program.

Unlike an internship, classes are scheduled for the evenings to account for students with full-time employment. "These are people with their own lives, many of them with jobs in different fields," Patroulis says. "They've got other stuff to do, too."

Once the program is over, students will be invited to apply for—but won't be guaranteed—positions at Grey. And if they opt to pursue a job at a different agency? "There's no obligation for them to join us," says Patroulis. "Obviously, I'm hoping some of them do, but it's something that the industry needs, and if we can help be part of it, that's a great thing."

Grey worked with FindSpark to select Fame's first students by targeting the network's users "who have produced some sort of creative work, mostly through side hustles and independent projects, but have not gone through a formal portfolio program," says Emily Miethner, FindSpark's CEO and founder. "The students chosen to make it to the next round shared personal and professional stories that demonstrated hard-work, perseverance, a passion to create." They also offered thoughtful answers to the primary question: "In your opinion, what needs to change in the advertising industry?" From that initial pool of candidates, Grey narrowed it down to the final 20.

Fame students won't end up interacting with Grey interns, since the latter don't show up in force until the summer. But the agency is planning to retool its internship program with an eye towards diversity. While the portfolio school is focused on broadening recruitment in the creative department, the internships cross all disciplines.

"I think if the industry is going to survive, it needs to find ways to reach out," Patroulis says of the agency's varied diversity efforts. "Portfolio school is great, but it's not the only way. Part of it is having a commitment to diversity in general and diversity of all kinds. You have to try a lot of different things."

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