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Diverse talent is at the heart of creative commerce

With creativity firmly at the centre of commerce, creative talent in all its diversities is the differentiator, say Laura Jordan Bambach of WPP’s Grey and Laurent Simon of WPP’s VMLY&R

When brands are diverse and inclusive, when they appeal across all communities (from minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ to neurodivergent and baby boomer), when they leverage culture, and when they are truly relevant – that is when the magic happens.

But diverse storytelling requires diverse talent. “Diverse input always leads to a more diverse outcome and I hire people with this in mind,” says Simon of VMLY&R. “There’s a real business imperative for diversity. But why wouldn’t you improve the journey you are on by bringing together people from different backgrounds? Our UK President Karen Blackett OBE often talks about Modern Britain being this beautiful fruit salad of people. And if we don't make sure that all types of people, from all backgrounds, with different opinions and voices, are involved in the creative process, we won't build brand affinity and sales will suffer," says Grey's Jordan Bambach.

Creative teams – when they are truly diverse – are about individuals, not just their work. The quality of their work is a given; it is people in all their complexities as both individuals and team members that matter to the success of a campaign.

“This is why it's so important to be looking for talent in different places. We hire people on their potential and on who they are as a person, not just the work because often the work is reflective of a lot more than just their talent,” says Jordan Bambach.

And the WPP pool of talent is both deep and wide. “This is how creativity works,” says Simon. “And it is how we avoid groupthink. It’s important to have representation in all our thinking and all our making.” And it goes beyond creative departments to tech and data too.

How is WPP building a diverse talent pipeline?

Initiatives to attract and retain a diverse range of talent are top of WPP’s agenda.

ONE School UK is a new 16-week programme – funded by WPP’s Racial Equity Programme and led by the One Club for Creativity – to help more Black talent enjoy top careers in the advertising industry. The results-oriented school has already made a tangible difference in the US. It has achieved an 80% hire rate at top agencies and brands for its 128 graduates to date, 65% of whom are women. The virtual ONE School UK will welcome its first cohort in March 2023. Black creatives from all walks of life are encouraged to apply.

Initiatives to attract and retain a diverse range of talent are top of WPP’s agenda. The Visible Start programme – a free, WPP-backed training initiative that aims to support midlife women’s influence on, and careers in, the marketing and advertising industry – is a case in point.

WPP’s NextGen Leaders' programme for early career talent welcomed 2,700 participants from diverse backgrounds across 70 countries. Without any educational threshold requirement – it opened the industry to entry-level talent from wider socio-economic backgrounds.

In 2020, WPP announced a set of commitments and actions to help combat racial injustice and support Black and minority ethnic talent. Part of our commitment was to set up the Racial Equity Programme which has funded 18 inclusion projects so far across the world to advance racial equity.

How do you create a safe diverse environment?

“To get the best out of diverse teams, you need to create the right environment,” says Jordan Bambach. “The right support must be in place for individuals to thrive. We need those different points of view – that is how we know we are being representative.”

“Teams also need role models and to see themselves reflected through every layer of an organisation, including leadership,” says Simon. It helps to ensure there are no barriers to success when getting the best out of diverse teams. “Diverse teams need space for their different opinions,” Jordan Bambach adds. “Leaders must be enablers. They must help those teams come together and find clarity. But, at the same time, team members need the space to find their own answers.”

And it is this ability to think differently that enables all the different interactions with all communities of consumer along all the touchpoints of the customer journey; and it provides the ability to address the pain points and fuel change too.