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To give a little recap, the way we work is: 

  1. Clients – charities, public sector organisations and ethical businesses – brief us on their campaign needs. 
  2. We work with (or on behalf of) the client, to locate and engage a group of young people with lived experience of the pertinent issue; and for whom the brief is important. 
  3. We work intensively with that group of young people to find the unique insight that powers the campaign, and a compelling creative idea to bring the campaign to life.  
  4. The group of young people work with us to choose specialist creatives who can realise their vision. For example, a group of young people hired Amy Whittingham, the glass artist, to make the ice and glass shoes for The Cold Truth; and auditioned free diver Camilla Argent to dance with the fish at the National Marine Aquarium for our Fish Hearted Bride show. 
  5. The young people work alongside our team and the specialist creatives to produce the campaign. 
  6. We collectively launch the campaign. 

A month into the pandemic lockdown, we were working with a group of young people on this year’s Lonely Not Alone campaign. At the same time we were hearing from our former student interns that they were graduating from creative arts degrees with no jobs in sight; undergraduates and young people were reporting that casual work they needed to live, or to top up student loans, was being lost – leaving them in dire financial positions.   

We already know that the creative industries are hard to enter.  In 2018 the Advertising Diversity Taskforce reported that 31% of senior leaders in advertising were privately educated – in contrast to 7% of the UK population. Young people from working class backgrounds, who can’t rely on their families or private wealth to support them, can’t wait out the pandemic whilst working on their portfolios from home; and they can’t intern on low or no wages to get that all important first creative job on their CV.   They have no choice but to get a job – any job – and so we are in danger of losing talented young creatives from the industry forever, unless we make a special effort right now to create opportunities for them.   

We saw an opportunity to help and our client agreed to prioritise young and emerging creatives when commissioning the production of this year’s Lonely Not Alone campaign.  It wasn’t a difficult pitch: Co-op Foundation is all about empowering young people to social action and to help themselves and each other – so it was a perfect opportunity for us allIn total, we collaborated with 58 young people in the production of this year’s campaign! 

“It was absolutely brilliant that we were able to commission young people to join us, create the campaign assets, and bring it to life. Young people are rarely given opportunities to show their talent or to show what they’re made of – we allowed them to do that. I’m really proud we were able to make a difference there. I worked with Sam Perry-Falvey (23) on the campaign film. It was nice to work with someone who is young: you can relate to them, you’re able to talk to them easily, and it was fun. It was actually really great to be a bunch of young people of similar ages all working together as a collective on the campaign. It was genuinely made by young people for young people and I’m so proud of that.” Elorm Fiavor, 16

We hired Media Arts graduate Dani, who worked on the campaign in 2019, for three months to support us in branding the campaign assets created by the freelance creatives, and support the young campaign producers with social media takeovers during the campaign launch. She feels it’s really important to give young creatives not only freelance opportunities, but short term contracts to help them make the jump from university to work: 

“Being taught how to make art or creative work in response to a brief is completely different in university to how it is in real life. In education everything is on your terms – it’s your project, you largely pick your own team, you make all the artistic choices based on your own aesthetic or what you can confidently achieve with your skill set, or what feels right for you as an artist. What I’ve learned from working in a creative agency is that sometimes you do work and it’s not ‘right’ for the client, or the brand, or the brief; and you have to completely change it. If you’re used to your value and self-esteem being tied up in your artwork, as lots of artists are, then to be told what you’ve done doesn’t work can be really emotional. Taking that critique without hearing it as criticism; learning that it’s not personal, that the work not being ‘right’ doesn’t mean you’re not right…that’s a huge difference between university and your first job.”

What we’ve learnt from the process

Some of our commissioned artists were school age, and some were at university or recent graduates.   

This is the first time we have worked entirely remotely with commissioned young artists on a campaign project.  Our usual approach has always been to work with artists in their studio or ours, working incredibly closely with the young people who devised the campaign so that everything stays coherent. This approach has meant that we have been able to have lots of conversations about quality, process, timelines and the fine details of the work on site, as part of the curator/commissioner artist process.  

Because of the pandemic we were unable to travel around, so we had to manage the process by phone, email and zoom. What we learned was:  

  1. We had around 60-70 applications from young artists across the country.  Some of the applications were brilliant ideas, but some young creatives struggled to present themselves and their work.  We are currently working on a blog and podcast with curators and producers from art galleries, theatres and dance on how to write great responses to briefs – look out for that, or subscribe to our mailing list to make sure you get a notification when it’s out.  
  2. Lots of young people on arts degrees and FE arts courses are trained as artists to make work to their own brief for galleries, theatres and festivals…and you can afford to be a little self-indulgent in those situations; in fact, a good programmer or curator will nurture you to work to your strengths and develop your unique voice.  When you make creative work for advertising you’re making something very targeted and specific, to have a very precise measurable impact – so it’s more about crafting to specification than being an artist, and it can mean being asked for revisions even though you feel you’ve met the brief.  In future we will try to be totally clear about this with our young creatives at contract stage both in writing and in a little introductory film, so they know what they’re getting in to. 
  3. Even when you think you have discussed things in detail and written it down, some things just get lost in translation or in the excitement of the creative process. In this case, one of our creatives lost sight of the need to include yellow socks on all characters in his shoot – leading to a whole lot of dashing around frantically trying to resolve that.  In the future we will programme time for our creative producers or creative directors to be on set the day before and the day of filming/photography to support young creatives, and to help catch those small but very significant details.  
  4. Our own young assistant producer, Dani, made us realise that we need to do more to target our commissions to young creatives and give them the confidence to apply.  It’s really hard to apply for things and never to get shortlisted, and its easy when you’re a recent graduate to start to believe you’re not good enough.  We are going to start working on developing a ‘hothousing’ scheme for talented young creatives in partnership with universities. Again, if you’re a recent creative graduate, or graduating this year and you’d like to help us shape this in response to what you need; if you’re an arts specialist university and you’d like to be a part of delivering better experiences into work for your graduates; or if you’re a creative agency and would like to be a partner in this; please get in touch.  

 

References 

Greg Petro (2020) Sustainable Retails: How Gen Z is Leading the Pack. https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregpetro/2020/01/31/sustainable-retail-how-gen-z-is-leading-the-pack/#318aef5b2ca3 

Rebels with a cause: Are young people being misrepresented by media? Digital Intelligence, (2019) https://www.digitalstrategyconsulting.com/online-advertising/rebels-with-a-cause-are-young-people-being-misrepresented-by-media/31239/  

 Adobe CMO: Despite 25 Years Of Ad Growth, Diversity Remains A Challenge https://blog.adobe.com/en/topics/cmo-by-adobe.html  

Generation Covid: Emerging work and education inequalities.  2020. http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/cepcovid-19-011.pdf  

Pioneering ‘Advertising Diversity Taskforce’ census find the industry still failing under-represented talent 2018. https://www.adforum.com/news/pioneering-advertising-diversity-taskforce-census-find-the-industry-still-failing-under-represented-talent