Want to Expand Your Talent Pool? Go Back to School

Tips to Starting a Youth Program for Your Agency -- and Its Future

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Tom Coston, president of the Light Bringer Project, has figured out a way to help agencies tackle the industry's talent shortage: by finding potential in today's youth. Since 1997, the Light Bringer Project has created exhibits exposing people to the Los Angeles/Pasadena art scene. In 2000, the Project advanced its purpose: It teamed with TBWA/Chiat/Day to create the Ad & Design Academy, a vehicle to expose high-school students to the advertising industry. And in so doing, it is building a pipeline of skilled advertising talent.
Tom Coston, president of the Light Bringer Project
Tom Coston, president of the Light Bringer Project

"It's creating an interest among kids when they can't even imagine a career in advertising," said Neal Grossman, TBWA's chief operating officer.

With the help of the Academy, both students and agencies stand to benefit. "This is an opportunity [for an agency to draw] from their own backyards instead of exporting somebody for a specific role," Mr. Coston said.

Making an impression
The program unites an agency with a neighboring high school for one semester. "[The agencies] feel like they can't press their own mission, but we want them to do that," Mr. Coston said. "Put their arms around the kids and bring them into the culture. We want the kids to know what it's really like in the workplace."

During one semester, 15 to 20 high-school juniors and seniors "join" an agency and are exposed to the creative and technical roles within advertising. As they're taught by agency professionals, students hear about experiences from each department and create their own campaigns to present to the agency at the end of the term.

RPA recently adopted the program. After working with the kids during their spring semester, the agency was so impressed with the students' professionalism that each of them was offered internship opportunities at the agency.

Diversity pool
Another program making waves in the industry, and particularly in Los Angeles, is the Multicultural Advertising Training Program. Formerly known as the Minority Advertising Program, it provides minority college juniors, seniors and recent graduates with internship opportunities in agencies, print and broadcast media. Started in 1992, the program is a coalition of the Los Angeles Advertising Agencies Association, the Advertising Club of Los Angeles and TBWA/Chiat/Day.

Light Bringer is working on creating a skeletal curriculum that could be applied to other agencies and schools in California.

Some may argue the programs prematurely expose students to such strict career paths; others think there's no time like the present.

"Not only are they potential full-time hires, but they could be future interns, adding immediate value to the agency," said Alex Salazar, recruiting manager of RPA.

How to start a youth program

  • Be committed to the project. "It's not just signing on to something but because you're really there and are willing to have a long-term commitment," said Tom Coston, president of the Light Bringer Project.

  • Learn from other agencies and organizations. Contact a group like Light Bringer for ideas.

  • Each agency is different; mold the program to fit the agency's culture.

  • Expect problems. Anything can happen: Conflicting schedules; troubles with transportation to and from the agency. Be flexible enough to work with them.

  • When looking for instructors, choose employees who have a heart for teaching and to whom students can relate.

  • Keep an eye toward the future. The students you teach today could be tomorrow's employees at your agency.

  • Don't underestimate students' abilities. Challenge them with projects that enable them to practice new principles and allow them to explore creative outlets.
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