Publicis launches ‘This Is The Job’ to attract more racialized students to advertising

Scott Pinkney has worked on a lot of big campaigns and projects during a 35-year career in advertising, but says that launching feels like one of the most important and meaningful things he’s ever been a part of.

Publicis Groupe, where Pinkney is executive creative director at Publicis Hawkeye, officially launched This Is The Job last month. If successful, the initiative will start to change the face of the ad industry in Canada—making it as diverse as the country itself.

But those changes won’t be seen right away. In fact, the real effect could take years, because the intent behind This Is The Job is to connect with racialized students as young as 12 to introduce them to advertising.

A lot of young racialized kids don’t even consider advertising because they don’t have parents or role models in the industry, said Pinkney. He only considered the profession because his father, Jerry Pinkney, was an accomplished illustrator who showed him that a career in the commercial arts was possible.

But when Pinkney got his start in advertising in New York in the mid 1980s, he was the only Black person in the agency. He has seen and experienced a lot of racism over the years but, as it was for so many Black people in the industry, the murder of George Floyd in 2020 was a breaking point.

“There was just stuff you bottled away… and so when everything [with George Floyd’s murder] went down, the boxes blew open, all this stuff that you tried to pack away to keep plowing forward came out,” he said. Pinkney realized he wanted to do something to leverage the energy of moment to drive real and long-lasting change. “I needed to give back in a meaningful way.”

At the time, Publicis, like many businesses in the industry, was in the midst of a period of reflection to consider what could be done to address some of systemic reasons why the industry was so white, and break down barriers that prevented more BIPOC from joining the industry.

Publicis Canada already had a program in place called Driving Change, a formal framework for the organization to make internal improvements in terms of equality, community, health, and the environment. Jessica Carnegie, chair of the racial equality committee, Pinkney and a handful of others, started to talk about the potential to affect real long-term change by reaching young people of colour as they start to think about their future.

“We kind of came up with this huge idea of what happens if we can change the complexion of agencies—big mission, big goal,” said Pinkney. Could they make the industry look more like the country by connecting with young racialized people in their formative years, and get them thinking about advertising, marketing and media?

They put together a proposal and took it to the leadership team. “They just said ‘Build it,'” said Pinkney. The team went from idea to launch in just eight months (Pinkney credited the full team in a blog post here last month.)

The idea behind the new site is to introduce young people to the industry and show them how their passions—be it drawing, writing, editing, strategy or data—could align with jobs in advertising. It includes profiles and descriptions for 25 jobs in six different categories: Creative, account management, data and analytics, human resources/finance, strategy, and production. After students complete a “quiz” about themselves, they receive three to five job suggestions that fit their passions.

Kids in grades nine to 12 were kind of the sweet spot, said Pinkney. “In grades nine and 10 they are starting to think about it, [and] grades 11 and 12 they are making a decisions.” It’s a long-term solution, but its the kind of structural change that breaks down some of the systemic barriers to BIPOC that have plagued the industry for so long.

And while this is a program created by Publicis Groupe employees, it is intended to help the entire industry. “We could be driving people to work at Ogilvy and BBDO and so forth, but we go back to what our mission is, which is to change the complexion [of the industry] to match the country. That was a big, big north star for us,” said Pinkney.

In addition to launching the site, they’ve been talking to school boards and plan to run sessions introducing young people to This Is The Job, sharing stories about their journey, and talking about the wide range of jobs in the industry.

In the short term, the priority is to spread the word and connect with other groups with similar goals and amplify the message behind This Is The Job. They’ve met with four school boards already, and hope to connect with more soon. “Every time we go to the schools, they’re all saying the same things: ‘We have needed this,'” said Pinkney.

They’re also talking with Publicis in the U.S. and Australia, both of which have shown interest in the platform. It all gives Pinkney hope that ThisIsTheJob could lead to the kind of real and long-lasting change the industry needs so badly.  “Everybody is talking about the right things, [but] the key is action,” he said. “We think this is action.

This was something that wasn’t a campaign, this isn’t going to turn off. It’s a platform, and we’ve got to manage it now. We have all these plans for it, and it’s probably the most important project I’ve ever worked on in my career, by far.”

David Brown