A view from Jeremy Lee

Jeremy Lee: Adland is making good progress in shaking up recruitment

There's a chance that the UK ad industry can look back on 2016 with a degree of satisfaction on progress made in recruitment.

Another week, another laudable effort by the advertising industry to improve the depth of its talent pool. Sarah Golding, the Cambridge-educated chief executive of CHI & Partners, has launched "Spark" – a non-graduate entry-level scheme that relies on the applicants’ responses to a set of questions rather than their CVs and photos (or presumably old school ties). 

CHI & Partners isn’t the first agency to attempt to shake up its recruitment process. Chris Hirst, the Oxford-educated European and UK chief executive of Havas Creative Group, can be credited as one of the first pioneers of blind recruitment when he was chief executive of Grey London.

J Walter Thompson followed suit with its Pioneers Programme initiative, spearheaded by Kate Bruges, its Cambridge-educated co-director of talent. Its sister WPP agency Ogilvy & Mather subsequently launched The Pipe – a scheme named in honour of the Oxford-educated David Ogilvy’s smoking accoutrement – to encourage creatives of all ages and backgrounds to find internships. Among others, it is being championed by Matt Jordan, the University of Plymouth-educated (phew, got there at last) head of talent acquisition at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. 

It is credit to Tom Knox, the Oxford-educated president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, that his mission to make the advertising industry more representative of wider society has not fallen on deaf ears.

This is tongue in cheek, of course. It would be mealy mouthed indeed (and incorrect) to criticise these well-meaning and long overdue actions as examples of some sort of educational noblesse oblige – or to knock the educational attainment of those who are pioneering this much needed change. But to outsiders perhaps it does seem to show how far the upper echelons of the industry still remains the preserve of an Oxbridge elite akin to David Cameron’s cabinet. Nonetheless it’s heartening at least to see something being done about it – as much as it is about the efforts with gender diversity – even if we must be conscious to avoid the censoriousness that Rory Sutherland wrote about so powerfully in Campaign last week. 

With the UK ad industry getting its house in order over the way it recruits and treats its staff and shoulders the societal responsibility it has a force for good, there’s a chance that it can look back on 2016 with a degree of satisfaction – but not complacency – on progress made as a positive force.

What a pity that this great (and public) moral endeavour is in danger of being undone by the likes of Facebook and Twitter, which continue to minimise their tax exposure by (entirely legally) routing their advertising sales via Ireland. Facebook paid just £4 million corporation tax last year while Twitter paid a paltry £1.24 million. Not many hospitals, roads – or indeed students at schools or universities wherever they may be – will gain much funding from that. Shame on them.