BITE Focus

“You don’t need to be making something right now, just making the best of it”

As Ogilvy’s Pipe Apprenticeship scheme begins recruitment for 2021, Helen Matthews, Chief People Officer and two previous Pipe apprentices, Lily James and Naomi Nicholl offer their advice.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


“I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of paying it forward.” Ogilvy’s Chief People Officer Helen Matthews is explaining the ethos behind the agency’s Pipe Apprenticeship programme, which  works to encourage the next generation of creative talent, not only giving them a leg up into the industry but also supporting them once they’re there.

The Pipe was named in homage to David Ogilvy’s ubiquitous smoking pipe and in reference to the pipeline of talent Ogilvy is forming. It was set up in 2016 to celebrate and champion diversity in creativity and provide more employment routes into the creative industries.

Unlike previous years, the 2021 programme will run for two years. It has no upper-age limit and applicants need no experience or degree. The application process is blind and open to everyone; the only quality people need is their creativity.

“I think in times when all the graduate programmes and internships are shrinking away, our apprenticeship The Pipe is bucking that trend and [we are] really putting our money where our mouths are,” Matthews explains. She acknowledges the stark difficulties that young creatives have experienced in attempting to join the industry, to find placements or just the odd bit of work in the current climate.

This year, to attract more talent to the Pipe, the agency created the ‘Nominate That Mate’ recruitment campaign, building on the idea that everyone knows someone who could be a brilliant creative or strategist if given the opportunity.

Don’t expect new talent to the industry to flourish if they’re put in the corner of the room with little support or pastoral care too.

Helen Matthews

Making the best of it 

Because that’s what getting into the industry fundamentally comes down to: opportunity. Opening the door for the next generation and creating the space they need to thrive. This is why Lily James and Naomi Nicholl, previous Pipe apprentices and current Campaign Faces to Watch, believe the Pipe is so vital, because it doesn’t just invite young creatives in for a few weeks to benevolently offer ‘experience.’ It genuinely places value on the individuals that are chosen.

“We were on the Pipe for nine months. The next group will be for two years, which makes it an education first and foremost,” James says. “This means there’s a reduction of stress, competitiveness and a focus on actually growing your talents,” adds Nicholl.

Treating people like individuals, like human beings rather than creative faucets to be switched on and off at an agency’s leisure, inevitably means people actually want to stay at the company. Because retention is an enormous industry-wide issue, as Matthews acknowledges, “I think one of the key challenges is that whilst we might be able to attract new diverse talent, it’s about how we keep them. Making sure everyone feels that they can belong.” This extends to ensuring that the apprentices feel entirely supported by the company. Because, as Matthews adds, “don’t expect new talent to the industry to flourish if they’re put in the corner of the room with little support or pastoral care too.”

It’s the differential between the Pipe and other placements that James says is so important, and why it makes it so invaluable as an initiative. “You have so much more time to learn, to experiment, to get noticed,” she adds.

Broadening the net

The problem the creative industries still face is that of hiring like for like. In looking to the pools that you're familiar with, the people who agree with you or indeed share your perspective on the world, to fill the empty slots you might have. This, believes Matthews, poses a serious challenge, not only to those starting out but also within the more senior ranks of business.

“We have a challenge at the more senior levels as the industry has possibly not always felt like a welcoming place, rife with nepotism or recruiting to a ‘type’ over and over again,” she explains. “We need to create opportunities for acceleration of development and learning too, so we can improve diversity and inclusion at board level,” she adds.

Because there’s no good in opening up your company to diversity and inclusion only at the bottom. Change has to be led from the top and also influenced from outside the industry. As Matthews explains, “we need to broaden our net and hire people from non-industry backgrounds.”

Nicholl says that one of the best things about the application process for the Pipe was that no expectation was placed on knowledge of the industry. With such an open application process, she explains, “you get to show yourself off to your very best advantage.” James’ application was in the form of a short story while Nicholl’s was a chair that she’d made.

This way of recruiting is, believes Matthews, a powerful one in which the industry can push for progress collectively. This also means not pointing blame when things don’t go to plan. “We need to be on the same side, not criticising each other when perhaps we don’t get it quite right, and to be more generous in allowing our talent to move around to grow their experience fast,” she adds.

You don’t need to be making something right now, just making the best of it.

Naomi Nicholl & Lily James

No one size fits all

Matthews explains that the ‘Nominate a Mate’ campaign for the Pipe was really about showing people that anyone can have a career in the creative industries. It’s just about showing them the way in. “It’s about looking in the right places and for this new talent to see us as a place they’d like to work, and to see a career path,” she explains. “There isn’t a one size fits all.”

For James and Nicholl, now both Junior Creatives, they believe that this difference of perspective and background is vital not only because it’s, “the right thing to do. It also makes the work so much better,” as Nicholl explains.

Creatively for them, this year has been one of pause, of taking stock and not berating themselves for doing so. As James explains: “From two Londoners, a farming analogy (apologies). Fields need a year of fallow, a year where nothing is planted, in order to replenish the soil (farming analogy done). This year feels like nothing is happening, but in fact everything you experience, watch, read, google is contributing to your practice in the future.”

Nicholl adds that, “You don’t need to be making something right now, just making the best of it. Part of being a good creative is having a healthy bank of references, writers you love, films you think have a perfect grade, even jokes that work really well.”

Ultimately schemes like the Pipe help to support the next generation, but they also benefit the agency as a whole. “Our approach is a clear action that will have a far-reaching impact on our existing emerging talent, and hopefully our future, diverse emerging talent,” explains Matthews.

The Pipe is an example of deeds not words, of driving tangible change by investing in the next generation, both financially and emotionally. The question is, have you got a mate who could apply?

Related Tags

Recruitment Inclusion