IPG's Jed Hallam is leading a new industry forum for working-class people in adland. The group, called Common People, aims to reduce barriers to entry for people from working-class backgrounds, assist with career development and be a space where people can share their career journeys as a source of inspiration.
Hallam who attended a comprehensive school in the ex-mining village of Swanwick in Derbyshire has been engaging in private conversations about his journey into the creative industry, where he now works as head of IPG Mediabrands' creative practice, Mediabrands Content Studio.
His desire to take the conversation public has been supported by a core group comprising Emma Hopkins, creative solutions UK lead at Spotify; Lisa Thompson, planning director at Wavemaker North; Louise Richardson, director of marketing, Europe at Pinterest; Sarah Sutton, global media director at Oatly; and Tom Armstrong, founder and editor of The Move. The founding team is keen to expand to ensure it provides a voice to black and ethnic minority creatives.
Common People has now established a Whatsapp group and Slack and amassed more than 150 members in 24 hours. Many participants have said they feel like they have "found their people". Hallam believes people are keen to make connections with the group as, due to the stigma sometimes associated with being from a working-class background, it is something people don't openly share.
He said: "People have hidden it, me included. My accent is nowhere near what my accent was when I was growing up. It's difficult for people to see there are people like them. Looking for someone that sounds like them, maybe drops their Hs. And I think that's really important that people can hear from people like them. We want creatives to share their stories and keep the ladder down."
Thompson, author of I Believe, a 2019-20 IPA Excellence Diploma essay examining social mobility in ad land, said it was important that Common People forms connections with experts from outside the industry, such as the Ideas Foundation, Commercial Break and the Social Mobility Foundation.
Thompson said: "I think there are some brilliant charities that I've spoken to in regards to my essay that are chomping at the bit to work with our industry and in the past have really struggled to get any traction.
"I'm really hoping that Common People can give those companies who have expertise in this area a way in. Hopefully, the collective approach can really help."
Sutton feels she has always been mindful to help others from a similar background and has embraced hearing all the stories that have been unfolding in the past 24 hours.
"You kind of knew you weren't alone, I knew a handful of people. But I do wonder how my career might have progressed quicker, potentially, than it did if I did have the right people to speak to. When I look back and I take off the rose-tinted glasses, there were 10 years of struggle in this industry where I was held back because of the way I speak, the way I act and because of the awkwardness that I would bring to a lot of professional occasions because I didn't ever feel like I fit in."
The group hopes it will be a force for continued conversation about promoting diversity within the creative industries. Richardson commented that there have been stories about the lack of understanding of audiences.
She said: "We can make marketing better by understanding our audiences better, everybody knows that and yet still we're ignoring it. There have been toxic opinions about the working class. In marketing we have a lack of understanding of 50% of the population, yet we are controlling millions of pounds worth of budgets to market to this audience."
When it comes to changing the face of advertising, Armstrong believes that it is not just about diversity hiring but also creating a working environment that allows people from working-class backgrounds to fulfil their potential. Sentiments that were echoed by Hallam who also expressed that hiring processes looking for a good cultural fit are destructive.
He said: "'Good cultural fit' are three of the most destructive words in our industry because what it means is 'I'm looking for people who are like me'. The best thing that you can do when hiring in people is to find people who stand out and then give them the platform and confidence to continue to stand out."
Message for my younger self
Jed Hallam, head of Mediabrands Content Studio UK, IPG Mediabrands
While it might feel like it, the first job you get won't be the best one you'll ever have – it will be a great stepping stone, but don't be shy, and don't cap your ambition.
Sarah Sutton, global media director, Oatly
There will be many times when you try to be someone you are not. You'll dress differently and try to speak differently and it doesn't work. in fact, it's terrible. So keep being you, remind yourself that you are funny, smart and kind and that people actually value you, and your perspective. Anything else makes you anxious.
PS Keep your AirJordan IV (1990) and your 12-inch American import hip hop collection.
Lisa Thompson, planning director, Wavemaker
Be yourself... you are always at your best when you're not trying to be someone different, and being emotional isn't a bad thing. In fact it can be your super power.
Tom Armstrong, founder of The Move mag and creative strategist
I'd tell my younger self that it's never too late to make a new start, stay true to your convictions, I've always got your back.