Spread the word, and attract the talent

meteorite grabs whitson from WPPFive years ago my colleagues and I on the IPA Direct Marketing Group had an idea. Like most good ideas it seemed simple and, while in reality it may have been complex and time consuming to achieve, the results have more than made up for the effort.
Essentially, we wanted to promote our industry to an ever greater number of post-graduates from across the UK’s universities.
We had noticed a worrying trend; a great many talented students were not considering a role in the industry as something worth pursuing, instead plumping for the graduate schemes at the country’s biggest advertisers, management consultants or institutions that occupy London’s Square Mile (well it was 2005, we were two years away from the banking collapse). Perhaps this wasn’t all that surprising, given the average starting salary in an agency was about £12,000 – about £10,000 less than could be secured in those other industries.
We knew we had a bit of selling job to do.
The thinking went a bit like this: Wouldn’t it be great if we could create an environment where the best and brightest young undergraduates could try before they buy? What if we created a programme of tutorials and linked it to a sustained period of work experience, and what if we offered it to Year 2 and 3 students who would return to their studies after the programme had finished? Not only would that mean more young people get the chance to experience our industry first hand, and work out, without fear of repercussions, whether it’s what they want to do. But also, we’d have an advocating salesforce spreading the word about our industry, and what it can offer, back in the university environment.
And so the IPA Summer School was born. The school has grown from a one year experiment to a national competition, fully endorsed by professors and careers advisors and universities across the country. To date the school has been supported solely by the direct and digital communities at the IPA. As a result we’ve only managed to accommodate around 60 students over the last 3 years, but around 25 of those are now pursuing careers in agencies (and a few already have an award or two to their name).
Next year, as we celebrate the fifth school, we would like to offer a record number of students the same opportunity. So we’re asking all IPA member agencies to consider taking a student for either the Client Service and Strategy School or the Creative School that runs alongside it (or both). Just think of the effect it would have on future talent attraction if 50 or 60 students every year went back to their universities and sold on our behalf.
The final word should go to one of the greatest nurturers of young talent, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who once said: “Young players need freedom of expression to develop as creative players… they should be encouraged to try skills without fear of failure.” I couldn’t agree more.

Chris Whitson is chair of the IPA Direct Marketing Group and planning partner at Stephens Francis Whitson (part of the VCCP Partnership)

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