“It would be amazing if we could move off ad schools but, as an agency owner, you are paying the same for a trained person versus a person without that training and rigor,” Schoenberg said. “That requires a lot of teaching and patience. The ad schools give young people a lot of knowledge, time and tools to be successful in the industry.”
Sasha Martens, industry recruiter and president at talent firm Sasha the Mensch, said portfolio schools “have a great deal of value” in providing industry-specific training that makes graduates better prepared for a job.
“Agencies and companies hire from portfolio schools or universities with strong ad programs because they know these students will have a level of industry understanding,” he said.
One of the biggest reasons why ad agencies rely so heavily on portfolio schools appears to be because they are not internally equipped to mentor and train entry-level employees.
There are advertisers looking to find talent outside of portfolio schools, but actually doing so depends on whether they have the proper resources to support that talent, Martens said. “Most companies don’t make such an investment and have limited areas to train and mentor.”
This is the case despite efforts in the wake of the murder of George Floyd to introduce mentorship and training programs designed to attract and retain diverse employees.
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It’s unacceptable for agencies to use the excuse they don’t have the resources to train employees, said copy veteran and branding consultant Vikki Ross. Ross, who has always worked on the client side, said she was never hired at an agency because she didn’t have portfolio school experience and sees an underlying issue of—ad school background or not—agencies not doing enough to mentor juniors when they’re in the door.
“It’s the chicken and egg, isn’t it?” Ross said. “If you don’t have the resources to train people, then you’re not going to end up with good people doing good work. It’s an investment. You’re investing in your future by investing in who’s coming through; who’s going to take over when the senior people go. We’re going to end up with empty agencies or lackluster creative work. I mean, we’re already there in a lot of cases.”
Despite having introduced mentorship programs, some agencies may find difficulty hiring for entry-level creative roles right now because of the financial pressures that have them focused on profits, Pyle said.
Creating more affordable options
But some agencies are trying to rectify the issue by creating their own schools or internal programs to train the next generation of advertising creatives.
Dentsu has introduced various mentorship and internal training programs, such as Dentsu University, which has allowed the company to hire anyone from account management to dog walkers to photographers into its creative department, Pyle said. She said the holding company has programs for helping people understand how to manage a profitable business, for example, and “will identify talent that might need additional support; we do a lot of that through our diversity work,” she added.
Creative production agency Hook in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has found success with an internal, ongoing training series called “Education Sprints” that was created during the pandemic and is led by Executive Design Director Mikell Fine-Iles.
Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ The Academy has a year-long, tuition-free program that leverages the Omnicom Group shop’s resources and executives to train people. Anyone can apply online to The Academy—applicants will need to show creative they’ve done but, according to the site, “It can be as simple as art you’ve made, music you’ve created or photos you’ve taken.”
VMLY&R, which WPP is merging with Wunderman Thompson to form VML, has several educational and training resources, including a free, 10-week program specifically for “Black and brown youth in Detroit,” called Detroit Experience Studio. People can apply for the program online in a similar fashion to The Academy’s application process.
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Brands and agencies have also been increasingly partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to recruit more talent from those schools in the ad industry.
Mentorship is a critical component of the One School—a free, 16-week portfolio school for Black creatives that was launched in 2020 to improve diversity in the industry. Led by Mother New York Chief Creative Officer Oriel Davis-Lyons, it was created in partnership with The One Club for Creativity.
“We have teachers and mentors,” Davis-Lyons said. “That’s quite different, as well, because the traditional school just has a teacher.