Why Amplify is backing Brixton Finishing School's AD-Cademy, and why you should too

Jonathan Emmins, Founder of Amplify on why the agency is supporting AD-Cademy, a new nationwide virtual school on a mission to rewrite the creative industries’ talent blueprint.

Jonathan Emmins

Founder Amplify


Last week AD-Cademy launched. Within 48 hours, there were already 306 young people actively engaging in its modules, developing their knowledge and skills. Whilst we’re massively proud to be one of its supporters, Amplify wasn’t the first and, thanks to the groundswell of support, we won't be the last.

AD-Cademy is a nationwide virtual school on a mission to rewrite the creative industries’ talent blueprint. Conceived by Ally Owen, Founder of Brixton Finishing School, AD-Cademy enhances the employability of talent from communities underserved by employers, enabling them to develop the skills, knowledge and network needed to kick down the doors to this industry.

Passing the baton on

As an agency, Amplify are lucky enough to work across a breadth of brands, sectors and audiences, but it’s as a youth marketing agency that we initially built our reputation and are probably best known. And it’s still the youth audience we firmly look to for inspiration, creativity, collaboration, cultural developments and to generally see what’s next.

As our Head of Strategy, Sophy Vanner Critoph, rightly points out: “We need to create marketing that truly reflects the world around us, but how you can you do that unless you have a team that reflects that rich, diverse and culturally exciting world?”. On a personal level, I count myself very lucky and recognise my privilege. I've not only been given guidance but people have been there for me and believed in me, critically at key times when my own belief was wavering. Belief is a powerful thing, and we all have a collective responsibility to ‘pass the baton on’.

We stand no chance of having the right levels of diversity in our industry leaders tomorrow unless we significantly ramp up the diversity in entry levels to the industry today.

Jonathan Emmins

On a mission

Amplify’s social mission is ‘to connect with, enable and champion young creative talent’ from all walks of life. This approach manifests itself in many forms, from how we behave as an agency to how we approach our work. Our Young Blood research platform was designed in part to make our work better but equally to give a voice to the youth audience who we find positive and pragmatic, despite the oftentimes negative legacy they’ve inherited, continually being described in the media as ‘snowflakes’, ‘robots’ or ‘enfeebled’ youth.

And through our Project New Wave initiative, we have a target of recruiting at least 75% of entry level talent from less privileged backgrounds. In fact, alongside BBD Perfect Storm, we were one of two agencies in Campaign’s 2020 School Reports to top the table with 100% Black, Asian and mixed ethnicities entry level recruits. Looks good on paper. But in reality, it was just two people. It barely touches the side and it’s simply not enough.

A collective responsibility

Unless we unite as an industry, we're not going to deliver the change necessary at either the required scale or speed. We stand no chance of having the right levels of diversity in our industry leaders tomorrow unless we significantly ramp up the diversity in entry levels to the industry today.

Case in point, as part of Amplify's internal Black Lives Matter commitment, we've set ourselves the not unreasonable target of a minimum of 20% Black and brown talent representation across the entire business within 24 months. Currently at 16%, we feel on track. We've also set ourselves the ambition of a minimum of 20% Black and brown representation at senior level within 36 months. This currently stands at 13% but is proving a far harder target to achieve due to less representation in the industry as a whole at this higher level.

And existing inequalities risk being entrenched post-pandemic if we don’t act now. In May 2020, the Resolution Foundation announced that three months into the pandemic, one third of employees aged 18-24, excluding students, lost their jobs or were furloughed, compared with one in six prime-age adults. By October 2020, the situation had worsened. Around one in five young people, and over one in five Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers who were furloughed during lockdown had since their lost jobs. What’s more, just one in three young people who have lost their jobs have been able to find new work.

If you genuinely believe in diversity and inclusion, you need to take real action.

Sairah Ashman

AD-Cademy’s vision, a win-win

As an industry, we need to actively support the talent pipeline by backing schemes designed to both accelerate young people’s learnings and, crucially, game change the blend of our industry at scale. Since its launch five years ago, 230 young talents from multicultural, socially mobile, neurodiverse and majority female backgrounds have passed through Brixton Finishing School, gaining roles at agencies including Global, R/GA, MediaCom and Gravity Road.

Now Ally Owen is building on that success with The Ad-Cademy. As she says, “Young people from Burnley to Liverpool to Glasgow and all across the country will have access to an awesome self-serve learning platform of lectures from some of the stars of the creative and media industries, as well as showcases and events that will enrich their knowledge of the advertising industry." 

Supporters to date include a cross-section of the industry from adam&EveDDB to KFC and Mother to Wolff Olins, with the strategic branding consultancy’s Global CEO Sairah Ashman commenting: “If you genuinely believe in diversity and inclusion, you need to take real action. No longer can it just be about talk or best intentions. That means supporting graduates from underrepresented communities, helping them not only get their foot in the door but thrive once they do so”.

Jessica Hargreaves, Group MD of PrettyGreen, agrees: “This isn’t about a one-way ‘charity’, this is about improving the marketing industry with previously untapped creative minds. We have found working with their student teams invaluable for delivering insight and ideas for client briefs and have enjoyed full day ideation sessions together”. 

Amina Folarin, Chief Inclusion Officer and Global People Director at Oliver adds: “I’m a big believer that, if you can see it then you can be it. The problem is, as Ally knows, these school-leavers simply don’t see it enough. We could have just signed a commitment pledge, like many businesses do. But pledges don’t give businesses anything actionable, and accountability is thin. The Brixton Finishing School has been an incredible partner in helping our business commit publicly to change; to inclusion in its broadest sense, socio-economic backgrounds, race, gender, sexual-orientation, and to giving people real opportunity.”

Get involved

As a partner to Brixton Finishing School and the AD-Cademy there’s lots of ways to get involved giving time, knowledge and investment. Amplify’s focus will be sharing our knowledge of brand experience, spending time getting to know this year's cohort and investing in AD-Cademy to ensure an inclusive talent pipeline for 2021. Other partners have given in kind too. Clear Channel, Mail Metro Media and Refinery 29, part of Vice Media Group, all supported the launch by giving media to aid awareness while Mother Design developed the launch campaign branding.

By collaborating to support the next wave of young talent, we can and will accelerate towards a more inclusive industry. 

Visit the AD-Cademy website via Brixton Finishing School for more information.