Why a group of industry changemakers has united to form The Alliance

Ally Owen, Founder of the AD-Cademy and Brixton Finishing School introduces the Alliance and invites like-minded organisations to sign up, join in and make 2021 the year of change.

Ally Owen, Brixton Finishing School



It’s been a bruising 12 months for many in adland, but when it comes to young people, they’ve been dealt a blow that is disproportionate to the rest of us. Many of our talented young people were first in line for the furloughs of 2020 and urgently need our support as the pandemic has exacerbated existing trends and inequalities. 

Londoners and young people have borne the brunt of the C19 layoffs with around two-thirds of those coming off payroll being under 25. Within this top line figure, we can expect additional harm to the employment outcomes for those most at risk of systemic discrimination. In our C19 ‘Hopes and Fears’ survey in April 2020, Brixton Finishing School students and alumni cited class and race as key barriers to industry entry, with 31% believing their race would create a ‘barrier to entry’. We are seeing this dynamic being played out across the UK on a horrendous scale, as those from multicultural backgrounds are more likely to have their roles decimated by COVID job cuts. 

The drop in employment last year to September 2020 was 26 times higher for those non-white than for white workers, according to analysis reported in the Guardian. Just imagine the further damage that’s been wrecked upon these communities after the third lockdown with the entertainment, leisure and hospitality industries, traditionally ‘powered’ by the young among the most badly affected. But we have the chance to pivot these talents into our lane.

While our Alliance is new, our drive to disrupt adland with under-represented talent is not.

Ally Owen

The year of change

It was against this backdrop, conscious of the glacial pace of change in the industry, that the seeds were sown for what has become The Alliance, a group of changemakers that are dedicated to making 2021 the year of change for entry-level talent from groups traditionally underserved by the industry. 

While our Alliance is new, our drive to disrupt adland with under-represented talent is not. Collectively, we have been focusing on outreach for more than 30 years. We speak to young talent from under-represented groups every week; this isn’t a short-term project for us. 

Founding member Rob Jackson runs WYK, a digital marketing social enterprise focussed on youth development, running free 11-week accelerator programmes to young people. It’s third annual programme in collaboration with The Prince's Trust will give 50 young people aged 18-30, 68% from BAME backgrounds, 60% female and 12 % neurodiverse, the foundational knowledge, practical skills and confidence to launch their careers. On kicking off the conversation, Rob said: “It was clear there were some fantastic organisations in the UK with common goals working in isolation. By pooling our ideas and supporting each other in our common missions, we have an opportunity to affect change for as many young people as possible, just when the odds seem at their worst.” 

He isn’t alone in this belief. James Hillhouse co-founded Commercial Break in 2012 to create sustainable career opportunities for young people from working class backgrounds as well as helping agencies transform themselves so that diverse talent can thrive. James chaired a series of roundtables at the end of the year, where young talent from each of the organisations within the alliance, BFS, AD-Cademy, WYK, Commercial Break, Agent Academy and Create Not Hate, joined and candidly shared their experiences of their first year in adland. 

What he had to say on the process was stark, that agencies know they have to get more diverse talent in but what our talent is telling us is that they’re not giving enough thought to what happens once they’re there. “The opportunities to learn, grow, and be supported in that process just aren’t in place at the moment. Too often they’re left feeling that their role is to be a tick in the diversity box and nothing more. If agencies don’t address this then the current bounce rate out of the industry is only going to get worse,” James explained. 

We need a considered approach to this; there isn’t a quick fix. It is detailed and nuanced and it is only through working with a larger pool of young talent that we can identify at scale the opportunities to support them in that crucial first year in the industry and then identify opportunities to fast-track progression after they break into the creative industries.

Developing a checklist for change

Together with Zoe Wallace, Director of Agent Academy, Rania Robinson, Co-Director of Create Not Hate and Quiet Storm, Yasmin Arrigo, writer-in-residence of The AD-Cademy and Jan Gooding, Chair of Given agency, we collated the learnings from the roundtables alongside insights from previous graduates from our respective schemes. These points, relayed directly from the very talent that we need in order to help our industry remain relevant, form the backbone of our Checklist for Change.

It’s a checklist designed to support brands and agencies looking to create more inclusive organisations and retain diverse talent, which we will be releasing to both our talents and all of our partners as we roll this out across the industry. It is divided into key actions to be taken during the recruitment phase as well as core responsibilities that we believe organisations must deliver to ensure talent from underrepresented groups progress within the industry. Our aim is to create positive and lasting impact.

As Jan Gooding so eloquently explains, the environment for fledging creatives has always been tough and “to cope with alienating micro aggressions whilst simultaneously acting as cultural ‘change agents’ on top is asking a lot of them. Many brought in for their different take on the world may well simply give up and leave. That’s a waste of time, money and talent from everyone’s point of view.”

We believe that if we collectively pool our insights, which we will be doing on an ongoing basis and sharing through webinars and research, we can build momentum and form actions swiftly. We urge the key associations within the industry to support our checklist and back our activity. We need the industry to invest in the existing schemes across the country that have a proven track record of doing the work and crucially, the outreach.

Please back what we’ve already built; we need you to drive the change. 

Finally, we invite like-minded organisations to join us and help us evolve. Together we can deliver on our aim of making 2021 the year of change, which will in turn foster a more representative, and therefore relevant, industry.  

If you’re interested in joining The Alliance, please contact info@brixtonfinishingschool.org to find out more. 

The Alliance, founding members:

Rob Jackson, Founder, WYK Digital
Rania Robinson, Co-Director, Create Not Hate/Quiet Storm 
Zoe Wallace, Director, Agent Academy
Paul Corcoran, CEO, Agent 
Yasmin Arrigo, writer-in-residence, Brixton Finishing School
James Hillhouse, Co-Founder, Commercial Break
Jan Gooding, Chair, Given agency
Ally Owen, Founder, AD-Cademy and Brixton Finishing School

Guest Author

Ally Owen, Brixton Finishing School



Ally Owen founded Brixton Finishing School due to the need to create a diverse and equitable talent blueprint for our industry. By the end of 2020 230 talents from multicultural, socially mobile, neurodiverse, and majority female, backgrounds passed through this award-winning accelerator that finds, trains and places ‘under-represented’ talent in roles. Recognising the impact that COVID-19 will have on young people’s futures, Ally also launched the game-changing AD-Cademy programme which will give over 2000 students a year across the UK a fairer chance to succeed. She’s created a groundswell of support amongst leading agencies and brands and built an alliance of 400+ industry #Changemakers who are working together to change outcomes. Ally is using her platform to influence direct change, advising agencies on their recruitment policies and speaking on allyship at events with Omnicom, Facebook and Mediatel. Ally constantly pushes for platforms through which the voices her graduates can be heard and asks the industry to listen and change.