Unpaid placements an “abhorrent abuse” says D&AD’s Tim Lindsay as charity launches WPP tie-up

D&AD CEO Tim Lindsay has vehemently attacked unpaid internships in the industry as WPP partners with the charity to back its New Blood Academy programme, which will now include a number of paid apprenticeships for young creatives…

D&AD CEO Tim Lindsay has vehemently attacked unpaid internships in the creative industries as WPP partners with the charity to back its New Blood Academy programme, which will now include a number of paid apprenticeships for young creatives…

“Unpaid placements are an abhorrent abuse of a desperation [by graduates] to get into the industry,” says Lindsay. “Agencies that do that are beyond the pale.”

With the D&AD-WPP scheme, he continues, “if you’re doing work, you’re going to get paid”. The partnership sees WPP make a significant contribution to the D&AD Foundation to open up industry opportunities for graduates. As well as backing the New Blood Academy – a two-week programme of talks, discussions and workshops designed to help graduates make the leap into the industry – WPP will offer a number (the exact amount is yet to be confirmed) of three-month paid apprenticeships at its agencies, which include Ogilvy, JWT, CHI & Partners, Y&R, Grey, AKQA, The Partners, Landor, The Brand Union, Coley Porter Bell, Fitch and Digit.

This link up comes at a time when unpaid internships within the industry are under renewed scrutiny, not least because of comments reportedly made by D&AD chairman Dick Powell during a speech at the New Designers exhibition in London in July. Dezeen reported that Powell had said that graduates should be prepared to “work for nothing” in order to break into the industry. Powell subsequently refuted this and sought to clarify his position on the D&AD website and on Dezeen after reporting of the speech had resulted in a great deal of criticism. Lindsay’s comments today emphasise D&AD’s official stance on internships (detailed here).

The partnership with WPP follows an earlier sponsorship package between D&AD and Unilever, who supported the inaugural White Pencil award in 2012. Lindsay is keen for the charity to continue such connections with major businesses relevant to the industry. “Talent is the lifeblood of our industry,” he says. “It makes good business sense for agencies, networks and groups to invest in our future creative leaders. We hope that WPP’s backing will encourage others in the industry to follow their lead and help drive change in creative departments across the country.”

  • Name

    What’s D&AD’s role in the partnership?

  • IIt’s a popular industry to work in so why not let people work for free :P, great initiative though

  • This all seems rather strange.

    A couple of months ago they said graduates SHOULD “work for nothing”.


    Maybe graduates should avoid internships at SeymourPowell then. I for one agree student should get paid, expenses is simply not enough. Given these poor people (literally) have just forked out around £30k for an education into an industry that demands free labour when their qualified.

  • So happy about this! I hope D&AD and WPP will set a benchmark for the industry to follow. For too long has the creative industries got away with getting free labour. How can you expect clients to justify spending their money on your organisation’s work, when you don’t even value your own workforce? I’ve heard of entire companies being run by unpaid interns working until 1AM in the morning, the sheer scale of it has got out-of-hand over the last few years.

    I graduated 2 years ago, and while I’m extremely lucky to have got a job after 6 months of on-and-off freelancing, it was unbelievable how many people thought they could try it on to get me to work for them for free. I decided I was worth more than that and refused all of them. Thank goodness I did, otherwise I might not have got my first job at all, had it clashed with yet another unpaid gig.

    It’s not just bad for the workers, but the economy in general if money isn’t flowing around like it should do.

    On this note, I’d like to remind everyone to continue reporting any unpaid internships to HMRC. It’s time to put an end to ‘free labour’.

  • Jamie

    The hypocrisy of this is laughable. CEO and Chairman of the same organisation seem to have differing opinions. Bet they have been working like mad the last 2 months in sorting this scheme out to try to limit the damage Mr Powell had caused previously.

    Too little, too late.

  • Rich S

    The fact is that this is a totally unworkable model, many of the small, independent agencies can in no way afford to pay graduates anything resembling a wage. I do agree that a good days work equals a good days pay, but from my own experience graduates require a great deal of mentoring from senior professionals. On the whole, i believe that the industry needs to reassess how graduates approach those first formative steps of their career as, inevitably, working for free will all to often be the remedy to secure placements at the more prestigious studios. Interns should never be treated as employees or be ’employed’ under anything resembling this pretence. The role should simply afford them the opportunity to learn from spending valuable time in a professional studio environment, as well as the ability to gain vital knowledge, connections and a greater understanding of how the profession operates.

    Until we become properly unionised these issues will persist.

  • David

    Student should try and undertake work experience while at University (in their holidays). Universities and Colleges should play a bigger role in partnering with local agencies to help students get experience before they graduate – this will help them understand the basic workings of the studio environment and business and allow small business to benefit from young and eager talent (it’s a two way thing). Depending on the students experience, a unpaid or low paid work experience seems fair while still studying.

    Once graduated, companies should expect to pay graduates – they are qualified and ready to start an internship. An internship is a period of learning while working – graduates should be appropriately challenged with chargeable projects. Some agencies forget that graduates have all the same outgoings as as any other designer, rent, travel, food, living..etc.. so should respectfully treat them the same.

    It’s great that D&AD are partnering with WPP, but it needs to be bigger than this – this will only help a select few. But a good start that will hopefully set a standard for the industry!

  • Craig

    I think the greater issue here is are we talking about a placement or simply work experience?

    Being allowed into a working environment for a whistle-stop tour and some hands-on through the creative process would be a joy for a couple of weeks and would be absolutely fine to be an unpaid work experience as a taste of the industry.

    Asking someone to work a placement for 6 months, unpaid, sometimes without even so much as a travel allowance and without any guarantee of gainful employment afterwards? Disgusting.

    I started my design career as the studio admin monkey for a medium sized internal comms agency. The wages were poor but manageable and I gained invaluable experience before leaving to get my degree. I have managed a mixture of freelance and career moves to get to be a designer in a small boutique agency and it makes me proud that I never had to let someone take advantage of my skills because I was young and naive.

    There is a whole world of design outside of London…

  • David

    I remember that instead of feeling relief that I’d finished my degree, i felt terror and fear that i wound’t find a job. Not a good way to start your twenties that’s for sure. There’s a certain element of graft that has to go into it but in my eyes if you’re working on stuff that goes in front of a client that is paying, you should get paid too.

    in the US there is an economic model that is tracking the amount of debt that is stagnating due to all these unpaid internships and it will become a BIG problem in the future.

  • Tom B

    @Rich S

    I think you’d struggle to find any university course that fully prepares a graduate with 100% of the skills/knowledge/experience to effectively carry out the role they find themselves in, without the need for any more learning. Why should mentoring from senior proffesionals be considered as something that does not and should not take place inside of full employment? Most high street retail stores pay their employees during their training period, why should a creative employer be any different? Graduates needing a certain level of induction into the professional world isn’t something that’s going to disappear, perhaps companies should place a greater value on growing a graduate’s skills inside a paying role.

    Unpaid internships are thankfully becoming more and more scarce, but the sad fact is that even the paid ones are largely falling short of paying minimum wage, which is technically illegal. I graduated in June, and have been lucky enough to gain two paid, month long internships in that time; both at a rate less than minimum wage. Most of my peers, myself included, would be earning more money if we chose to continue the part time jobs we had during our time at university, despite investing £25,000 in an education that supposedly gave us opportunities to leave those retail/bar work jobs behind and move onto something far greater, with a wage that reflected the amount of time and effort invested to get to that point. So why are we having to choose between the career we want and having enough money for food and rent?

  • James

    Even once your in the industry you work far longer hours than you are paid for with little to know incentive apart from your own willingness to create. Things don’t get easier people.

  • balls

    @tom B

    There isn’t a need for the 20,000 odd creative graduates each year. ‘We’ ought to think about that when ‘we’ consider the ‘career we want’.

    There is a dumbfounded belief – and I suspect the universities’ marketing departments have a lot to do with this – that graduates, because they’ve paid a stupid amount to earn their degree, have a right to a career within their chosen subject.

  • Jonathan


    Some valid points made, however due to Government policy ALL students have to invest stupid amounts in their education regardless of their talent or passion. In fact for anyone graduating after 2014 this will be over £50,000, perhaps this is something ‘we’ should ponder on?

    To correct your statement, the industry doesn’t need 20,000+ graduates per year, however it does need the much smaller number of passionate, committed and creative graduates who are the future of the industry, presumably those students who are being offered internships (unless they really are simply being used as cheap labour). Is it not reasonable to expect a living wage (no more) for an honest (and often long) days work delivering solutions for a brief that is chargeable to a client? Credit to WPP for taking the initiative.

    @David offers a practical solution in interning whilst studying when students have already (borrowed) the means to live.

    Perhaps this debate should be a catalyst to questioning the University graduate – intern – employee, progression model. As Design education becomes increasingly market driven and academic (despite the “Art / Design School” branding) perhaps it is time to challenge this precedent and develop new learning models to develop and support talent, both before and during employment?

  • Tom B


    I’m confused what you’re trying to convey, are you saying that every creative graduate should say to themselves “no one really needs me so I guess I’ll be happy with what I’m given”? What a sweeping, ridiciculous statement it is to say that there is ‘no need for the 20000+ graduates’. Yes, there is a surplus of people graduating with creative degrees, but, as Jonathan said, a certain amount of graduates have the potential to be the next Alan Fletchers, Jony Ives and Thomas Heatherwicks of our generation, and even more have the potential to become the core of outstanding creative talent that this country has become know for. But I guess it’s stupid for them to aim for the ‘career they want’ and also be able to afford basic living costs, right?

    My mention of the level of debt that a university degree incurs was mainly to show the imbalance when weighed up against an intern’s pay. But also, imagine a printer invested £25,000 in new equipment, and three years getting to grips with it. Surely he’d expect his rates of pay to reflect this considerable investment? For me its not so much the money but the time and effort that I, along with my classmates, put in to our degrees, only to be then treated with about the same level of respect as a sales assistant with a few hours training. I’m not talking about feeling like we have any sort of ‘right’ to a career, but I am talking about having an incredible desire and enthusiasm for a career in our chosen subject, and having the ‘right’ to be paid according to our abilities and efforts.

    Agencies don’t have to take interns. But if they choose to (and why wouldn’t they want fresh, hard working minds eager to do interesting work) then they can choose how many, and who they accept based on their work and personality, and they should take responsibility for paying them. A “happy worker is a productive worker” and it’s hard to stay happy and be enthusiastic when you’re earning less money than the person who sold you your coffee this morning. Interestingly, I worked at an Apple store in London during my degree, and the way they treat employees is second to none, and not just compared to other high street stores. They’re paid well, are continuously offered up to date training, and the week long initial training is fully paid for as well. Their employees are genuinely excited to go to work (when was the last time most creatives could 100% truthfully say this?) and work unbelievably hard as a result.

    I fully agree that amount of creative graduates leaving university is at a ridiculous level. But it is a disheartening and depressing thought to think that the individuals that are genuinely committed and talented enough to produce fantastic work are denied that chance because they cannot afford to work for free.

  • Jeff

    There seems to be some differing points of view in the above comments, I’ve recently graduated and I’m looking for work as an intern. On most of the job offers they say “will cover expenses” meaning travel and lunch, but that is only a very small portion of life’s expenses. What about rent, and food e.t.c why are interns expected to be wealthy enough to cover these costs themselves? Seems laughable really.

  • Unpaid internships must be destroyed.


  • I have an unpaid intern. He needs the work experience for credits for graduation. He doesn’t have enough skill or knowledge to get paid and I would never agree to the “hiring” him if I had to pay. We are training him and sometimes I think he should be paying us because it’s a lot of work and he doesn’t produce enough to help the company. He is getting better and if he improves enough I might actually hire him.

  • Jonathan

    if your intern is still a student (with access to loan funding) then I find your position perfectly reasonable, credit to you for giving him the opportunity and investing time and resources in him. Once a graduate it is a different story.

  • Anon

    @instalogic.com Any more details about your internship? We’d like to know if it’s purely work shadowing or whether he’s working on live briefs or doing ‘menial’ tasks such as photocopying.

    ‘I think he should be paying us’ wow that is cold! What ever happened to on-the-job training or an apprentice-style scheme? If you want to make your company look good and nurturing for the future of your industry, I’m not sure statements like that are going to reflect well on you.