Cannes: lacking young blood, says Emma Nabridriyj
Cannes: lacking young blood, says Emma Nabridriyj
A view from Emma Nabridnyj

The ad industry is looking for creativity in the wrong places

The lack of young people at Cannes reminds us why the advertising industry needs to make more space for a diverse, next generation of talent.

I’ve just got back from Cannes and there was something lacking. Yes it was more low-key and business like, the atmosphere felt quieter as the award categories and week got shorter. But what stood out most to me was was the lack of young blood causing creative carnage along the Croisette.

It got me thinking, are we ignoring young talent, the lifeblood of the industry, in among the cut-backs? No wonder the festival lost some of its energy and passion…

Okay, why the hell should anyone listen to me? I’m not part of any C-Suite (yet). I’m not some industry legend (yet). And I’m probably young enough to be your daughter. But last week I got mad at this industry and the people in it.

I’m 23 and I’ve been working in advertising for five years. I’ve been exposed to a lot of stuff. Egos. Agendas. Politics. Magic. Creativity. Icons. Dickheads. Sass. I’ve seen a lot of frustrating decision making and also been ridiculously lucky enough to learn from the most inspiring teachers I’ve ever had. I understand what makes you tick. I know what you find exciting. I know how to impress you. Maybe I’m over all of that now. Maybe it’s time you started impressing me?

I joined the industry as an ambitious, no-shits-given kind of Northerner, just out the door from college at 18. I got into this trade through an internship, applying online while working three random jobs. I knew no one on the inside and honestly nothing about advertising.

I had no expectations or any desire to be in it either as I’d never been told about you guys at school. I just knew I was thirsty to make a difference and wanted to have some meaningful impact, fast.

I went against usual teen patterns. I sacked off university, defying most of my teachers’ "better judgement" in the process. I moved out and down to London, genuinely believing in myself enough to "make it" – whatever that means.

I followed my entrepreneurial intuition, which was pretty much introduced to me from birth with non-university going parents, who both set up their own businesses. They gave me something not many parents probably would for a daughter who wanted to go against what was been the norm, and apparently the best thing for your child’s future.

My parents gave me trust and respect. They let me go and encouraged me to "do it". No questions asked. And I love them for that. Everyone said not going to uni would be a huge mistake, one I’d regret for the rest of my life. "Well, fuck uni", I reply nicely to them now.

When I finally got in the door at my first agency gig (which I didn’t initially hear back from for six months), I was immediately under their spell. Allured by the presence of creative genius around every corner, the degree of confidence from everybody and the genuine talent I felt in awe of daily. It was infectious, unprofessional and addictive. I bloody loved it. The work, the grafting till the early hours, the party lifestyle and the sheer magnitude of it all.

I distinctly remember thinking after my first day, "I need to be here but why on earth would anyone give me a shot? Nobody’s Northern, I’m the youngest person I’ve met, I have no degree and I’m therefore screwed". And with that thought, I went to work at my evening job in a restaurant because living in London isn’t fairytale easy.

As the month went on, I stopped caring that I was "different" and started using it as my weapon to impress. I spoke extremely openly and like a normal human being to very senior staff. I tried absolutely everything and anything going. I drank a lot to be in the party circle (this was practically my freshers' year).

I consciously made an effort to build truthful relationships with everybody from the cleaners to the CEO, treating everyone with the same respect. I felt blessed to be there, to be trusted and given the opportunity. I never felt entitled, a trait which I have seen a lot of graduates show when they land their first job.

I fell into a role, which I knew nothing about. I thought on my feet, kept grafting and worked my secret second job in the evening. Until I got that approval I’d been hoping for... "you’re in". Every decision I made against the grain became worthwhile, and here I am, three jobs and three promotions later, still hired (hopefully).

So I’ve told you why you might listen to my generation’s voice, but I haven’t told you the point to writing this for you. Well here goes nothing…

The big buzzword – diversity. It feels like a PR initiative you’re all using to circle jerk your way into feeling better about your pay cheques or something? Sorry, not sorry. I think your hearts are in the right place but your actions simply aren’t bold or big enough. I get it. You’re big organisations. There are small budgets, hierarchical structures and fussy processes.

But why are you just talking about it? It’s like that really annoying friend who won’t shut up about her ex and won’t admit she still loves him but being proud, won’t do anything about it.

I visited a youth centre two weeks ago to take part in a panel discussion advising young people aged 18-24, on how to get into the industry and take their career to the next level. I was so honoured to be in that room, in their exciting presence. It made me sad to think I got a break and they still haven’t had theirs. They were all so intelligent and creative problem solvers. I was honestly blown away by their entrepreneurship. They had exactly what every account exec, production assistant or junior designer needed.

They're just not being seen by you

This youth centre was a few minutes down the road from several major agencies. The diversity you’ve all been talking about so much was in this room raring to go and would have honestly given Cannes the life that it needed…

‘Oh but we’ve taken CVs off our applications?’

Yep, great… but this is no longer good enough.

‘Oh but we have a fancy, new click-through on our website for our annual recruitment program’

I’m sorry, they’re not even looking at your website. Here’s the secret...they actually don’t know you exist. Shocking, I know.

‘We actually have this really great new global mentoring diversity initiative thing that helps people get into the creative industries?’

Oh does it? Amazing. Where are they all then?

As a CEO, can you honestly tell me you have a completely equal and diverse talent program? Across age, race, disability, gender, social economic background, nationality, higher education (or lack of it)?

I’m guessing the answer is no. Look, I know it’s hard. But the sooner we admit we’re not trying hard enough, we’re not looking and just talking, the better. Talent will rise once given the opportunity, no matter where it comes from.

I hope this bursts a few bubbles and I know it’s not that sexy PR story you all want, but getting diversity in, really could be a lot simpler for you. Look under your noses. Your local college, design school or youth centre is already running the programs. They just can’t offer the closing deal – the job. You can.

Here’s a head start. Some of the talent from the youth centre I visited…

Melissa Mensah, James Rogers-Oben, Joshua Street, Sophia Demetriades, Bimbola Fadairo and Raj Singh.

I feel frustrated. I don't have hiring responsibility so what what can I do? You have the power to make the changes. Perhaps before you pen your next diversity essay or collect your thoughts for that next diversity panel, you stop and really start looking. Because once you do, you’ll find those fighters – just like me. We’re here. We’re ready. What are you waiting for?

Emma Nabridnyj is global PR and editorial manager at Stink