BFS Class of 2021
Brixton Finishing School Class of 2021
Last week, the class of 2021 graduated from Brixton Finishing School, the disruptor scheme that aims to diversify the talent pipeline coming into adland. Creative Salon met up with founder Ally Owen
16 September 2021
How have things changed in the last 18 months?
Young people were disproportionately affected by the global pandemic - around 45 per cent of our 2020 graduates went into employment within the first two months of graduation and it was a slower set of gains to reach an end figure of 80 per cent employment (a number returned to education). In a typical year, we’d expect to see at least 60 per cent in roles within the first few weeks of graduating, as the majority of graduates join our partners, but Covid-19 disrupted that path.
We can’t forget that while Covid affected us all, it had a more profound impact on some. The drop in employment last year to September 2020 was 26 times higher for those non-white than for white workers, according to statistics reported in The Guardian. Whilst there has been a surge in interest from new supporters, largely due to BLM, it comes coupled with a concern we have around tokenism.
Young Black men in London are up to three times more likely to be unemployed as young white men. For graduates the disparity is even starker; young Black male graduates are up to four times more likely to be unemployed than young white male graduates (Source: Trust for London).
Communities that were ‘challenged’ prior to C19 are now experiencing incredible stress. The news narrative around race in the last 18 months has also created an opportunity for a better understanding of the experiences of our Black colleagues and entry level talent. It’s a call to arms to drive positive progress and change. Rather than performative statements we need deeds that create an equitable legacy for all our communities.
How have agencies responded to the changes?
There is a tacit acknowledgement that this industry needs to resolve its D&I problem and needs to invest in planning the future pipeline now. The reliance on ‘traditional’ talent pipelines and the current and the poor retention and promotion of diverse talent has helped to create the current ‘talent crunch’.
Agencies need to make the commitment at leadership level and take the time to do the work that is needed to truly foster an inclusive culture that is fit for purpose and ready to receive new talent. Those that don’t risk hiring and then seeing that talent bounce quickly out of the ecosystem.
Where is all the talent going?
Our recent grads have gone on to secure jobs at leading agencies including adam&eveddb, Grey, R/GA, Rapp, Iris, WPP, CDM and PHD, brands such as Amazon, Lego and KFC, media giants like Clear Channel, Mail Metro and News UK and tech innovators like Blis, Magnite, Trade Desk and ADYoulike.
And so they are building up a considerable network and presence across the industry. BFS will be five years old next year,120 will have graduated and our original cohort are now being promoted and rising through the ranks, supported by the fierce mentor network that advocated for them.
Are there any themes you observed from the grads?
One of the key themes is their disbelief at how different the make up of our workplaces are from their educational experiences. Especially if you go to school in London - it’s so bad that all of our graduates - irrespective of their colour - could not believe how white the offices we visited were. It’s an alien world to the one they’ve experienced up to the age of 18.
It’s like a sucker punch when you first enter a space that looks so unlike the world around you. You work hard and may still retain a sense of belief in meritocracy and then you see how hard for those with your characteristics (whatever you may be blessed with - race/class/age/ability) to ‘cross over’ . In our annual survey, all of the students who entered the industry ranked it as less diverse than those still trying to break in.
There is disbelief at how things are the way they are, then an internalisation of the burden of having to be a pioneer from your community.
How do you feel about the future?
There’s many reasons to be positive. We’ve seen the launch of The Alliance, a group of changemakers including BFS, Create Not Hate, Commercial Break and others that are dedicated to making 2021 the year of change for entry-level talent from groups traditionally underserved by the industry. As we approach the fifth year of BFS, our alumni are building their own network and the AD-Cademy will only further boost the talent pipeline.
Our supporters have grown and we are grateful to each of them for working with us to ensure that we have a diverse and representative industry. And finally, the talent that are finding their way through to the courses are reason enough to feel excited about the future.
So there are many reasons to feel positive while also acknowledging that we have a lot of work to do. If the industry invests in long term, systemic change with us then we can make this positivity a reality and build a better legacy for the next generation.
From the Class of 2021
Selin Clayton, future strategist
When I applied for BFS I was sofa surfing, my future felt insecure and unreachable. My furlough wouldn't cover even the cheapest of rent, I was hospitalised for my mental health, and I had no hope about achieving a better life.
The previous year I found out about the course just after the deadline (not that it stopped me from applying anyway). I thought 'what have I got to lose?'. When the chance to apply for this cohort came up, I knew I had to try again. What we found was a community, a team, a network. We got to work with people just as hungry as each other, each looking for opportunities to grow. If the people on this course have taught me one thing, it is that the future of this industry is bright.
The experience of this course has been invaluable and given me the confidence to knock on the doors I wouldn't have before, to try my luck, to stop being so precious about ideas and start looking to solve problems in different ways.
And now I can breathe again, knowing I will be okay. I couldn't be more grateful for this course and all the opportunities that have come with it.
Larisa Wong, future creative strategist
Brixton Finishing School has been the most unique experience. This year's cohort has been full of talented, like-minded, beautiful individuals, it has been an inspiration to be a part of. It's pretty intense, you're put in agency teams (I was blessed with my team) and you're pitching weekly. You have so many companies and agencies come in to chat and share their knowledge. Along the way we've had the amazing BFS team supporting us. It's taught me so much about the industry, job roles, I've had a chance to develop my skills, and realise my potential. And most importantly I've found a light at the end of the tunnel into the industry. I have so much love for Brixton Finishing School and would recommend it to anyone wanting to break down those barriers into the industry.
Ana Tanase, future producer/strategist
BFS was a breath of fresh air and an amazing experience. I never thought I could get right in the middle of adland after spending my last 3 years trying to make a step through the door. BFS helped me achieve that and I will be endlessly grateful. My experience with the course this summer was amazing, I got to work on some great briefs set by Mother, adam&eveddb, CDM, Kurt Geiger, Amplify and many more, visited some agencies from where I left with an eagerness to go back soon and met so many great people with whom I will definitely stay in touch. I learnt so much and expanded my skills and knowledge much further than expected.
The biggest learning for me I think has to be networking. Ally Owen, on our first day, mentioned the power of networking and how important it is to know the right people. And I can’t stress this enough. The advertising world is big and the number of people working in advertising is even bigger. You have to build bridges and unlock many doors and it’s always harder doing that alone so make sure you have contacts and you make yourself noticeable!
Yasmin Amoako, future creative
My time at BFS has been intense, eye-opening and fun. I have learnt so many new skills in the world of advertising. BFS, made me more aware of how diverse the role of a creative is and the number of roles I could delve into. I think it is really important that I've had this experience, as I now know how to better approach creative agencies, and also how creating and presenting client briefs is like. Before that only knowledge I had was from graphics A level where we were able to maneuver around creative briefs. However, with BFS it made me aware that you won't always be working briefs that are intrinsically creative. However, it depends on you and your team to build an idea.
Tanvir Gani, future creative
BFS has been an amazing ten-week experience, I have learnt about an industry completely unknown to me. It’s personally given me an insight into what my strengths and weaknesses are. The talks given to us by partners were very concise and full of golden nuggets. It was also an extremely supportive environment, and the BFS team were so great at being there for us at any point. The students I’ve met are so brilliant with the amazing ideas they’ve presented and are all due to have fruitful careers. Throughout the course, it felt like we were each other’s cheerleaders with the support and praise we provided for one another.
My biggest learning experiences came during the various briefs we had to work on. One thing I’ve learnt is that as a creative it isn’t particularly useful to have these grand rich ideas that are difficult to articulate and can only exist in your head. As we were limited in resources and time, I realised that simple ideas with a strong strategic insight were just as powerful and could be effectively communicated to other people better.
Lily Barclay, future creative strategy hybrid
I was bored and going stir crazy in lockdown when I took to Google and came across Brixton Finishing School for the first time. I started on their Ad-Cademy course, then got invited onto the Ad-Celerate week, which was a great opportunity to work with likeminded people and develop key creative skills. I then applied for BFS and I am so grateful to have been accepted onto the course as previously, I had been looking at SCA 2.0 and got to the final stage of interviews for the Watford Course, but the fees were proving to be a huge obstacle on the career path I had chosen. Consequently, BFS was the light at the end of the tunnel and has been an absolute blessing.
Coming into the experience, I was focussed solely on the creative side of advertising. However, the course has opened my eyes to the importance of strategy and I’ve even had my head turned towards PR as well. It has given me a huge appreciation for the amount of work that goes into creating a successful campaign, beyond the creative bubble I had been previously focussing on. The best part of the course has definitely been the networking opportunities. Each week, I was finding myself face-to-face (or more accurately screen-to-screen) with people I have looked up to, read about and admired for years. For example, never in a million years would I have thought I would be on Zoom with the CCO of adam&eveddb, but lo and behold I was (numerous times)! Thank you BFS for a momentous springboard into adland!