'We saw an industry that didn't reflect society': How a new internship scheme is shaking up creative agencies

Interns from a new placement programme explain how the industry must move from talk to action on diversity.

'We saw an industry that didn't reflect society': How a new internship scheme is shaking up creative agencies

A new diversity internship scheme called JOLT has launched, aiming to drive diversity in creative departments, and its current interns are calling on the industry to break down the invisible walls of exlusion.

The JOLT scheme, which kicked off in September, has partnered with SheSays to help find female interns; NABS to find over-50 creatives; Scope to source creatives with disability; Creative Access to help find BAME creatives; Future Rising to help find creative graduates who don’t come from an advertising course; and D&AD New Blood Shift to provide non-graduate creatives. 

"If agencies want to future proof themselves, it really is time to shut up talking about diversity and start doing something about it instead"
Fiona Clark, co-founder of JOLT

Andy Knell, the co-founder of JOLT, says the scheme aims to grow and support all areas of diversity within agencies. He explains: "Creative diversity is so important for agencies to support and we always try to put a diverse range of creatives forward for roles. But the truth is that there is such a lack of creatives from different backgrounds out there.

"So that’s why we’ve come up with JOLT, which we believe is a unique sustainable and life changing programme that could really help change the face of the creative industry."

He hopes that by selecting and training people with the most creative potential but the least access to the creative industry, it "will broaden types of thinkers available to us all, then put these minds onto the most eclectic, long-term internship scheme in UK advertising history. We’re hoping that this will literally change the face of the industry from the ground up."

Fiona Clark, co-founder of JOLT, adds: "If agencies want to future proof themselves, it really is time to shut up talking about diversity and start doing something about it instead. JOLT is here to help agencies make that change.

"Unique ideas are at the heart of advertising and ultimately JOLT will uncover the unlike-minded to fuel these unique ideas. And who would say no to better creative work?"

The team plan to roll the programme out to all creative agencies in London.

In order to better understand how the programme can help open up access in the creative industries, Campaign asked six current placements to share their experiences.

Sophia Kossoski and Ayesha Brown

Currently on placement at Mother

We both come from visual design backgrounds – working with illustration, graphics and motion. In advertising, we saw an opportunity to apply our skills to bigger and bolder concepts; unfortunately we also saw barriers we weren’t quite sure how to get around.

There is a tendency to view diversity as a race, gender and disability issue which completely negates how financially demanding the first steps into the industry are. Relocating to London is a major cost if you have no family to fall back on or to live with. Intern pay packets have improved but placements, in general, remain a hugely insecure foundation to start from. We strongly feel a lot of hegemony we see is a result of these invisible walls.

There’s an assumption that if you are talented access will follow, however this industry still relies heavily on who you know. JOLT has connected us with people who can see this is no longer a sustainable model. From young creatives in the same position as us, to industry leaders who see diversity as an opportunity rather than a challenge, there’s a clear undercurrent that shows a shift is not only required but wanted.

Change is inevitable and we hope this program will give us the experience and network needed to help break down more barriers as we progress in our creative careers.

Gaytari Bhudia and Melody Adeniran

Currently on creative placement at DigitasLBi

Starting out, we were caught in a catch 22: we weren’t able to get first hand knowledge or experience about advertising, and it was extremely hard to get that experience because we didn’t have relevant portfolio or industry experience. You can imagine the frustration that we, and many others, feel. Adding to that, we’re from pretty eclectic backgrounds – we didn’t have personal or family contacts who could open doors for us and shortcut to a role.

JOLT has been our helping introduction, and given us the opportunity to get real experience in ad agencies, build out our professional network (that we’re quickly discovering is as important as the experience) while showcasing our creative approach across a range of live briefs.

From the outside, we saw an industry that didn’t reflect the society it seeks to serve all too accurately. It’s why we think JOLT is really key to broaden the circle of talent you’ve all got access to. Through our internships, we’re also finding out that it also works both ways. We get that experience and, we hope, agencies taking part are learning from the different ways we all think.

Diversity being a hot button issue oftentimes promotes the idea of filling quotas rather than seeking out diverse talent. JOLT turns that and pushes this in to a positive motivation, with the diversity of talent, experience and thinking something that JOLT views and embraces as an asset.

Going forward, the future looks bright! We’ve been given a chance to share and push our creativity with the support of JOLT. We’ll continue to go in positive every day of our internship, build our experience, knowledge and inspiration, and show that fishing beyond the usual pool of talent can really fuel creativity.

Yama Noorzad and Jack Clark

Currently on placement at Proximity

JOLT has given us the experience and know-how that most people would only normally get from a three-year degree and postgrad course. We’ve had a really intensive learning experience, which is probably getting better as we get more hands-on, gaining insight from actual creative professionals with years of experience. There’s a slight feeling of being thrown in at the deep end, but there’s also the support to fall back on.

From our time with JOLT, we’ve observed that all agencies could be better on diversity. For example disabled people are few and far between. Disabled people don’t even bother applying for jobs in advertising because they feel they won’t be hired. To really change the make up, more needs to be done to reach out to specific communities. For us, this isn’t just about representation and inclusion but it’s also about recognising that different perspectives lead to more informed creative. There’s a massive resource of talent that the entire industry could tap into. It could be a win/win situation.

What really held us back was having the right contacts – it is an industry where who you know outweighs the what. JOLT has stepped in with quality contacts, placing us with an eclectic range of people from all walks of life that we wouldn’t have had the chance to meet. It’s really important to celebrate the agencies that are doing things to change the mix of people – with things like JOLT. And it’s important that it’s not just out of compassion and sympathy, it’s because they can see the business case for diversity.

The difference between doing this internship with JOLT and doing a three-year course at university is like night and day. Being able to work in an agency has been infinitely more useful than any book or course. The practical, hands-on approach has meant that we have created real work with live briefs. With JOLT, we’re also getting together a decent book.