New program aims to prepare Detroit teens for the advertising industry — and diversify the field

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Crain’s company in Detroit
November 2, 2022
Minna Arshad

A new creative training program for Detroit students aimed at inclusion and equity in advertising highlights DEI’s renewed efforts and pitfalls over the past two years.

VMLY&R, a New York-based advertising company and subsidiary of global communications firm WPP PLC, recently launched its first round of a 10-week advertising course open to Detroit high school students.

The free program, which has been in the works for two years, aims to bridge the racial divide in the advertising industry by fostering support for black and brown teens, a generation already leading the way in online trends and social media. , said the program’s executive director, Kapria Jenkins.

Through the Detroit Experience Studio program, students will have the chance to develop and pitch creative advertising ideas to Dearborn-based workwear company Carhartt Inc., one of VMLY&R’s client partners.

“We wanted to give students real-life experiences, but we also wanted to give them bragging rights,” Jenkins said. “It not only adds to their competence, but also to their confidence.”

In addition to free transportation, lunch, laptops and other digital devices, students will also receive a $600 stipend at the end of the course, averaging $15 per hour, to ensure they don’t have to choose between an income or the program, says Jenkins. All enrollees are people of color from Detroit Public Schools, selected through an online application process.

Along with sister agency Makerhouse, VMLY&R designed a space specifically for the Detroit Experience Studio with the age group in mind inside the WPP campus in the historic Marquette Building, which WPP companies moved in three years ago.

VMLY&R will run two cohorts per year, and Jenkins said the goal is to keep the program going for a while. There are about 20 students enrolled now, she said, and the cohort will meet for two hours after school twice a week.

Jenkins, who joined VMLY&R earlier this year after a decade of working in nonprofits, said inclusion was among her priorities when selecting her workplace as a black woman. .

“I wanted to present myself as myself,” Jenkins said. “So that’s what we show our students as well, is that you don’t need to change the way you look, you don’t need to change the way you speak, you don’t need to Minimize where you come from.These things are all assets…and we’re going to teach you how to take advantage of them.

The Association of National Advertisers, a member organization headquartered in New York, has published an annual diversity report since 2018, which tracks the demographics of the 61 member companies collectively, including WPP.

Companies increased racial diversity by about 1 percentage point in 2021 to 27.2%, according to the report. However, the ratio of African Americans to Blacks has remained stagnant in recent years at around 5.9%, lowest at the CMO level at 4.6%.

VMLY&R told Crain’s that 34% of people hired in the last three years identified as black, Indigenous or of color.

WPP has committed $30 million globally in 2020 to advancing racial equity, funding programs at its global offices in Brazil, the UK and the US. The total cost of Detroit Experience Studio is $1.5 million and WPP covers half of that, with VMLY&R covering most of the rest, said Nikeisha Beckford, group director of VMLY&R’s customer engagement and president of the board of directors of DES.

“This commitment is born out of the inequality that occurs in our industry,” Beckford said.

VMLY&R has worked with Ford Motor Co., Pfizer Inc., Coca-Cola Co,. Dell Technologies Inc. and other Fortune 500 companies. All DES instructors work at VMLY&R or its sister communications agencies, providing students with a variety of expertise, Beckford said.

Beckford also said everyone involved with the Detroit Experience Studio is required to complete an inclusive leadership training course, which focuses on uncovering personal biases and instruction on best practices for inclusion and accountability. equity. In addition to preparing instructors and others to interact with students for inclusiveness, the goal was also to equip team members with skills they could use in their own work.

After partnering with the Detroit Public Schools Community District on the program, the agency is also working to finalize a memorandum of understanding with the district for expansion and additional services, Jenkins said.

Crain requested a comment from DPSCD, but it did not make anyone available.

“My ultimate goal is that we have empowered these children to know that they can transform their lives and their communities,” Jenkins said. “Where these kids end up, I think, for us, it’s about grounding them in those foundational skills that will just be a launching pad for their future.”

Upon completion of the program, instructors will provide planning tailored to each student’s needs, from college preparation to recruitment and internship opportunities, Jenkins said.

“I think the investment in this program is definitely one of those signs that the tide is turning,” Beckford said, adding that corporate advertising agencies have increased their focus on inclusion and equity since then. 2020.

As the sixth black person in the VMLY&R Detroit office when she started two years ago, Beckford said she’s witnessed a shift in the industry with an increased focus on inclusion. and equity, from leadership change to industry conference topics.

“I think we definitely have a way to go,” she said.

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