Spotify Creative Director Starts Free Ad School Exclusively for Black Students

The One Club is supporting the 16-week portfolio program

The One School began with a LinkedIn post by Spotify creative director Oriel Davis-Lyons. Oriel Davis-Lyons
Headshot of Minda Smiley

Key insight:

Three weeks ago, Oriel Davis-Lyons, a creative director at Spotify, wrote a LinkedIn post about how he got into advertising.

While living in Auckland, New Zealand 10 years ago, he enrolled in Award School, a 12-week crash course in advertising that he paid for with a “one part-time paycheck.” He was able to attend college during the day, take the course at night and eventually go on to land jobs at agencies including Colenso BBDO.

Upon moving to New York in 2015 to join Droga5 as a senior copywriter, he was dismayed to learn there’s not much akin to Award School in the U.S.

“Something I’ve seen, having been here in the States for five years and looked at a lot of books from young creatives, is that they generally seem to come from the same few [schools],” he told Adweek. “When you look at those places, they cost a lot of money.”

That’s why Davis-Lyons is starting One School, a free, 16-week portfolio school for Black creatives that he’s running in partnership with The One Club for Creativity. The online program, which will initially accept 15 students for its first class, begins in early September. Applications are currently open.

Davis-Lyons said he’s creating the school to remove some of the barriers that often prevent Black talent from breaking into advertising. For instance, Miami Ad School charges $38,800 for its two-year portfolio program. Denver Ad School’s $16,000 tuition for its 14-month program is cheaper, but still significant. Earlier this month, Denver Ad School partnered with local agencies to form a scholarship fund for Black creatives so they can attend the program tuition-free.

Considering agencies frequently recruit from ad schools, he said this explains why creative departments are often lacking in diverse talent.

“One of the best things about the industry is that it’s about being creative. You don’t need a certificate to prove that,” he said. “You just need the opportunity. That’s something that we’re hoping to address. There is so much creativity out there that we as an industry could benefit from if we can rethink what it takes to get into the industry in the first place.”

A number of agencies and holding companies—McCann Worldgroup (Adweek’s Global Agency of the Year for 2019), Ogilvy, R/GA and WPP—have signed on as sponsors to help cover costs for each student. Spotify is serving as the program’s principal sponsor. So far, 10 of this year’s students are covered, meaning five still need funding. The One Club did not share how much money each sponsor is committing.

Bob Isherwood, professional development director at The One Club, said he contacted Davis-Lyons shortly after seeing his LinkedIn post. In the weeks since, they’ve managed to pull together a plan for One School. Davis-Lyons said he was interested in partnering with The One Club since the organization, best known for its annual awards shows and events like Here Are All the Black People, helps give the school some name recognition and credibility.

“I was just blown away by Oriel’s post, and I thought we could give him the tools to do this. We can make this happen,” Isherwood said. “After the George Floyd tragedy, lots of companies and organizations wanted to do something meaningful, but they didn’t know how. For our industry, I think this is the ‘how.’”

Davis-Lyons said the majority of The One School’s instructors will be Black, a decision he made to ensure students see themselves represented in the industry from the get-go. The faculty roster has not yet been shared, but Davis-Lyons said the initial staff will be made up of people he knows personally who believe in the school’s mission and want to help.

“It’s about representation—being able to see yourself in five, 10, or 15 years and see a path that you can follow. That’s something that I personally never had,” he said. Plus, he wants to create an environment where Black students feel comfortable creating a book that’s an expression of who they are.

“Black culture has a different take on creativity, and for me, it’s very important to not take Black creative students and make them fit in to the industry,” he explained. Instead, Davis-Lyons wants The One School to “celebrate the creativity that is inherent in the Black community and that the industry already recognizes, because we reference it so often and benefit from it so often.”

Classes will take place twice a week, with students getting 10 briefs that cover different aspects of the industry, ranging from out-of-home advertising to data-driven storytelling. One night of the week will be dedicated to guest lectures from top Black creatives, while the other will focus on a tutorial run by Davis-Lyons in which students will learn about different channels, disciplines and processes. Each student will be paired with a mentor as well. Students will spend the final weeks of the program finishing their portfolios.

Black creatives interested in applying are asked to make a 60-second video that explains why they’re interested in advertising, as well as answer the following brief: Get Gen-Z to vote by mail. Applications close on Aug. 16.


@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.
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