4A's 'IAM' program is a model of how to foster equality early
Today’s graduation of the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media marks the ninth year of the 4A’s foray into helping build the next diverse generation of talent in marketing and advertising through its high school student initiative.
The 4A’s partnered with the New York City Department of Education in 2008 to form the first four-year high school in the nation dedicated exclusively to preparing students for careers in the advertising and media industry. That school in Brooklyn, known as IAM, is helping to train the future practitioners in our industry.
We’ve all heard the lament expressed across our industry in recent years about our talent pipeline drying up—young people weren’t learning the right skills to enter advertising or marketing positions, other fields were attracting students who previously would have considered advertising and marketing, and the diversity of the talent didn’t jibe with the diversity of the country’s population.
Those conversations, to be honest, are still occurring because we haven’t done enough to fix the underlying issues—yet. For example, still only 19 percent of people represented in advertisements are minorities, despite the fact that 30 percent of the voting-age population is a minority. That’s just one example of where we still have lots of room for improvement.
Diversity leads to marketing messages that are far more effective because they reflect the reality of the society and marketplace.
Industries of every type—and advertising and marketing stand out because of the cultural visibility of our work—grow when they tap into the varied thinking only possible with a diverse workforce. Diversity leads to marketing messages that are far more effective because they reflect the reality of the society and marketplace. And in our view, diversity has to begin with education and access, which was one of the core issues we addressed with our school programs.
This initiative builds on the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program, or MAIP, which has connected aspiring diverse entry-level advertising professionals with prestigious advertising agencies for the last 44 years. But while we have been addressing the diversity issue long before it became a common theme, we know that it’s an ongoing challenge that requires additional solutions.
As we look to the 2017 class at IAM—graduating today—we can see that the program has been a success—and not just for those of us in the field of communications who want to see a more prepared and diverse pool of prospects making their way to our offices. It has been a success for the students.
What has, to me, been the most exciting development of our programs—which includes partnering with the City University of New York in 2014 to launch the first P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) of its kind and the Manhattan Early College School for Advertising, or MECA—is that the kids are the biggest winners.
How do we know that our multipronged approach is reaching these students? Some 25 percent to 30 percent of IAM and MECA graduates are entering the advertising field—a generation of students who might otherwise never have even considered the possibility of advertising and marketing. While we can look on those recruitment numbers with pride, it’s also true that the graduation rate at our schools, which is trending at 78 percent, compared with about 64 percent at the average NYC public school, is the best reward.
It would be a dream to see 100 percent of the students enter our business, but by showing the thousands of students who have passed through the halls of the schools that creativity matters, that you can take your passions and turn them into careers, that there are myriad ways to do more in life, that is a reward that we can all celebrate.
By partnering with these schools, we are in effect expanding our society’s creative class—helping more people understand what a career in creativity is all about, inspiring more of them to consider advertising as a promising career opportunity and to understand all the ways they can be a part of a creative industry. Showing a student that his passion for social media can lead to a career or that the gamer playing video games could turn her interest into a life of building digital experiences for others is one of the most important aspects of these programs.
By next year, almost 1,000 ninth through 12th grade students will be studying advertising and marketing. At the same time, the MECA students will also be entering the community college part of their six-year program. They follow a regular high school curriculum—yes, with algebra, English and science—along with an additional specialty in marketing, advertising and design. Their curriculum includes soft skills such as presenting and storytelling; by their junior year, they are certified in Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative. For six years, the students will study not only every part of the agency and advertising ecosystem, but skills that will serve them in any creative field.
While a handful of individual companies have supported some schools, IAM and MECA are the first public schools in the U.S. to earn the support of an entire industry. The 4A’s uniquely offers this support by helping to create the advertising curriculum, teaching the classes, bringing students to agencies and creating mentorship and internship programs. Additionally, we are bringing in marketing clients such as Spotify and Reebok to introduce real-world briefs for the students to solve. This reinforces that the opportunity in our industry is to create work alongside brands that people love and impact our popular culture on a daily basis.
The students who chose to come to these schools have an interest in what we do, and we have a vested interest in keeping them engaged, sharing the excitement of our field and sharing our experiences. They matter more than ever—either as our future communications colleagues or our future customer population—and the more we can connect with them now, the better we will all be for it.
Chris Weil (@chrisweil) is the CEO of Momentum Worldwide; he sits on the 4A’s board of directors and serves as chairman of the 4A’s High School Initiative Advisory Board.