Whereas companies take care of DEI, some lean in direction of studying and mentoring initiatives

The agencies have made countless commitments this year to make the advertising industry, which has long been predominantly white, more diverse.

Following the May 25 assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis, holding companies like Publicis and Omnicom shared plans to fight systemic racism in the industry while dozens of agencies took part in #CommitToChange, an advocacy initiative 600 & Rising.

Since then, agencies have tried to bring more black and under-represented talent into the group through learning and mentoring programs. Agencies claim that these free, virtual programs give these individuals the opportunity to acquire relevant skills and connections that can help them find a job, or at least get their feet in the door.

Elephant, an IPG brand experience agency, is one of those places. When the summer internships were all but canceled that year, Elephant was working on a six-week experience design program called the Elephant XD Academy, aimed at Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students.

The agency should host two interns from MAIP, the 4A Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, in the summer. However, since face-to-face internships weren't an issue, Elephant worked instead with the organizers of MAIP to find students interested in experience design and offer them the chance to participate in the virtual program.

Elephant eventually selected nine students for its first XD Academy, eight of which were found through its partnership with MAIP. Kevin Kearney, Elephant's executive creative director, said the agency was focused on attracting students least familiar with experience design.

"The first thing we did was shave the people who had the most experience and the most significant education," said Kearney.

Those who participated in the six-week “Design Bootcamp” not only learned how to use software programs, but also took a closer look at how Elephant solves business problems for customers, according to Kearney. He also noted that students can get out of the program and add something to their portfolio.

Kearney said the agency plans to continue and optimize the course. For example, he said the next would be eight weeks, not six. Regarding the first class of graduates, he said the majority are still in school, but one was recently interviewed at IBM.

Eric Moore, CEO of Elephant, said that while the agency may hire some participants in the program after graduation, the course was not created as a hiring mechanism for the shop.

"We all need to develop the next generation of talent," said Moore. "This talent is not necessarily going to end up in our agency, but we basically have to pay it forward."

Make the industry more accessible

Droga5 recently submitted applications for its third D5in10 Academy, a free 10-week crash course not aimed at college students and alumni in the industry. Instead, it hires people who work outside of advertising looking for a way into it.

Applicants who apply cannot have attended a portfolio school or worked as a creative in an agency. Kevin Brady, Executive Creative Director of Droga5 who runs the D5in10 Academy, said the evening class is an opportunity for people to learn from creative professionals and build a mini portfolio without committing to the portfolio school price.

Tiffany Edwards, Droga5's global director for diversity and inclusion, said the program, which normally takes place at its New York headquarters but will be virtual this year, has historically accepted everyone from nurses to poets. To date, 50 people have completed the program.

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