What do you do if you struggle to find the right talent to work within your agency? If your agency is highly collaborative, agile, prioritises speed and innovation, and frowns on egos? But identifying talent to fit with that culture is a challenge – and the portfolios coming out of creative schools are all looking rather samey?
Design and advertising agency 72andSunny faced this problem and decided to take matters into its own hands, launching its own educational programme, 72U, at its California HQ. “Our working style took some learning for anyone coming from more traditional agencies and we were investing a lot into those folks,” says John Boiler, 72andSunny CEO. “So we figured another smart investment would be in creating a programme to train a range of talent – strategy, brand and creative – from the ground up.”
The programme started two years ago as a 10-month course, with participants asked to pay $10,000. But the agency realised the programme needed to be streamlined, and this year it launched its second iteration – 12 weeks, running three times a year, and free for participants, with all funding provided by 72andSunny. The agency also appointed Maria Scileppi, artist and former director of the Chicago Portfolio School, to ‘curate’ the learning experience. “We didn’t feel we were really showing our commitment and trust when we were charging money,” she explains. “I was very impressed with this organisation [in its decision] to make it as easy for people to be part of as possible.”
The new curriculum was shaped by Scileppi, and even though the agency learned a lot from the first version, “we kept the logo and that was pretty much it”, she says. It is project-based, with students tackling a new theme every week (‘collaboration’, ‘community’, ‘strategic thinking’ and so on) and speakers from within and outside the agency setting various practical assignments. In addition there is a schedule of workshops with high-profile guest teachers.
These range from ‘making a documentary’ with 72andSunny producer Becca Purice, 3D printing with creative technologist Scott Blew and ‘designing transformation’ with Rashid Owoyele of the Office of Social Innovation in New York, to ‘participatory narratives’ with production company B-Reel and ‘improv and brand communication’ with Tim Leake, global creative innovation director at Hyper Island.
In addition, the adviser element of the programme pairs each participant with two advisers – one junior and one senior – to lend support in real-world situations such as the vetting of a director, client calls or shoots. “A lot of the programme is very collaborative, and the goal is to focus on developing strategic leaders and problem solvers – for the agency and the industry in general,” says Scileppi.
72U is aimed predominantly at those looking to develop their skills and career, people “at a pivot point in their career, who have an idea of what they want to do but don’t know how they can do it – this is the space to provide them with an exploration into that”, she adds. When assessing applications, 72andSunny looks for “people who are intrinsically motivated – people who are makers in their heart”. This approach has made for a colourful list of participants on the new course. The inaugural intake of seven includes a writer/filmmaker from New Zealand (who is also a 1980s dance film expert and was a puppet maker); Albert Einstein’s great-great-grandson, who is a writer/artist currently in law school on his way to getting an MBA; an architecture graduate who built a reception desk out of 33,000 pieces of Lego and a competitive badminton player and ballroom dancer-come-UX designer. Such diversity is exactly what the agency was hoping for, says Scileppi, “it’s been encouraging for us and we’re thinking about how we can be even more diverse”.
The participants – currently halfway through the programme – certainly appreciate the variety their peers and the schedule offers. Natalie Sun thinks the course is invaluable in the way it encourages personal development, which goes hand-in-hand with professional development. 2 3 “The more you know your personal goals and what you want to accomplish, the easier it will be to pave your professional career,” she says. Sun spotted a post about the programme on Behance and was particularly interested in its focus on being a ‘maker’ and experimenting with different media, she adds. “You don’t get an opportunity like that every day.”
For Shachar Aylon from Tel Aviv that hands-on experience was also a revelation. “The main challenges for me, aside from the cultural difference, were not only trying to understand what makes an idea great, but also how to make it happen,” he explains. “Up until now now I’ve focused on the idea and not executing it myself. This is a great opportunity to learn how to create and experiment with different mediums.”
Fellow participant Bob Leduc picks out the course’s focus on producing hybrid talent and creative leaders. “The latter is something that makes the programme unique. It’s not difficult to teach people to build a perfect deck or create stunning design work, but teaching them to see an idea through and to help lead a group from conception to execution is something that no-one bothers to teach,” he argues.
At the end of the 12-week stint, the aim is to finish up with seven exceptional specimens of hybrid talent. John Boiler would like to see the course shape a creative person “who is at once brave and generous, a rare combination in our industry, but qualities we now see in the best of the best, someone who’s committed to being both a student and teacher for life”.
The agency will of course benefit from this home-grown creative talent (as will other agencies, depending on where participants go next), but 72U’s impact on the agency as a whole goes beyond upping its head count. Not only do the students benefit from the experience and input of 72andSunny’s established talent, but the inspiration is reciprocal. “We’re learning just as much as they are,” says Scileppi. “It’s really energised the agency. It’s amazing to find out what people’s passion is and asking them to come and share it. So learning is going both ways.”
72andSunny seems to have come up with a formula – albeit one that will no doubt evolve – that works for all involved, and Scileppi reckons the industry will see more of these ventures. “I hope our programme inspires others to follow suit,” she says. “It does take huge commitment, not only financial but in terms of time as well.”
But Boiler is hesitant to extrapolate from this that the 72U model is one for the future of creative education. “I don’t know,” he says. “All we know is that it has created some promising successes for us. There are undoubtedly many who are far more experienced and successful than we are at creating an educational programme. Deciding the future of creative education hasn’t been so much the point as having the courage to try. If any piece of it works and can be used by anyone else, it’s all open source. If it works at all, you can call it enlightened self-interest.”
For those agencies looking to emulate the 72U approach, he has some simple advice: “Know your values. Know why. Then, the what and how will sort themselves out.”
A look at what other agencies are up to
Grey London launched its Grey Academy earlier this year to shake up its approach to professional development. The brain child of chief creative officer Nils Leonard, the programme turns the traditional, usually uninspiring approach to in-house training on its head with a curriculum of varied workshops and guest speakers. From comedy writing with Have I Got News For You’s Dave Cohen, to drawing at the Prince’s Drawing School and public speaking classes with The Spontaneity Shop, the schedule is designed to make training “properly relevant”.
When the topic of training comes up, usually “everybody bloody rolls their eyes, and no one sees the value in it”, says Leonard, “And then immediately everyone reaches for the same stuff.” This got him thinking, “How much cooler would it be to be talking to the screen writers of a couple of shows you are currently watching on a Friday night? Constantly we’re putting out our feelers for juniors or middle weight talent, and it just dawned on me – why don’t we just make the people that we wish worked with us instead of trying to hire them? Let’s just make them brilliant. They will be far more motivated and loyal.”
The programme launched in the creative department but has now become an agency-wide initiative. “It’s going to be more expensive but arguably in the long run it’s not, because I am going to have creatives who can edit, illustrate, screen write and so on. And by its nature you’re inspired by it.”
W+K Amsterdam unveiled its The Kennedys apprenticeship programme in 2011, creating a separate group of emerging talent to work on real assignments within the agency (see right for The Kennedys’ Mother Bucker interactive Christmas card). Every year, six young creatives join agency staff for a seven-month period, “mentored, herded and pep-talked” by creative director Alvaro Sotomayor. It is essentially an accelerator programme within the agency to bring it closer to emerging talent and new types
“At its best, The Kennedys should yield hungry, multidisciplinary creatives equipped with the requisite skills to tackle any business problem where creativity can help,” says Sotomayor, who adds that W+K staff “can’t help but be inspired by them. W+K is kept buzzing in odd places and at odd hours of the night. It keeps us all young.”
Havas Worldwide London recently launched a training course in positive psychology, happiness and resilience for its staff across all disciplines. The Positive Psychology and Resilience course, similar to one run by the US Army, runs weekly modules over a four-week period, and is led by Professor Neil Frude, a leading UK figure in positive psychology. Its goal is to reinforce Havas as a positive workplace. Positive psychology uses ‘psychological theory, research and intervention techniques to understand the positive, creative and emotionally-fulfilling aspects of human behaviour’, apparently. According to Professor Frude, it can increase the well-being, resilience and creativity of employees.A look at what other agencies are up to