One School, a free 16-week portfolio school for Black creatives, launched a year ago, aiming to bring more diversity into the ad industry. One year into its existence, the school, led by Spotify creative director Oriel Davis-Lyons and created in partnership with The One Club for Creativity, has graduated its first classes and has expanded to include four cities. The success it has had in helping Black creatives land jobs in prominent agencies and companies bodes well for an industry that has had difficulty finding diverse voices.
The programs in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York have prepared 84 Black creatives—65% of whom are women—to enter the industry in its first year. One School has an 80% hire rate so far, with many of the 30 inaugural graduates landing jobs at agencies and brands, including R/GA, Gut, Droga5, Translation, VMLY&R, Mojo Supermarket, Area 23, Spotify, Squarespace and others.
“It’s been an incredible first year,” Davis-Lyons told Adweek. “I think we’ve gained momentum. For the second semester, [we’ve] added two new schools and filled those, and we’re about to graduate close to 60 graduates who otherwise wouldn’t have been in the industry six months ago.”
After it launched in summer 2020, One School decided to expand to the West Coast with local Black industry veterans leading the classes and mentoring the next generation.
Tutors in the free program, paid by the support of agencies and brands, come from companies including VMLY&R, Burrell, ChowNow, Universal Music Group, The New York Times, TikTok and McCann. Brand sponsors include many agencies, plus big brands like Coca-Cola, Mailchimp, P&G, Squarespace, Walmart and Adobe.
Now that the first year is complete, some of the sponsors are doubling down on their commitments.
“The likes of Adobe and Google are so excited by what we’ve achieved in the first year [that] they are coming back in and actually doubling down on it—they want to make it more sustainable,” Kevin Swanepoel, CEO of The One Club, told Adweek. He added that the organizers are looking to grow One School and add new locations.
Building a nontraditional curriculum
While students are learning the traditional ad skills, like out of home, product design and experiential, One School isn’t afraid to address issues that more traditional schools might shy away from.
“One brief we had this year brought up a conversation around the appropriation of Black culture,” said Davis-Lyons. “It was the conversation that we actually needed to have, and we devoted about three hours not really talking about the brief, not really talking about the work, but actually talking about our role as Black creatives.”
To get the most effective mentoring, One School limits its class size to 15, but it also gives chances to those who didn’t make the program.
“We started a program where, for a six-week period, those agencies and their creatives could mentor an unsuccessful applicant,” Bob Isherwood, head of The One Club’s creative development department, told Adweek. That meant even more people benefitted from the program and were better prepared for the agency world.
What the students learned
One School isn’t looking for just traditional college students; it seeks diversity of thought and background, and its students range from poets and artists to retail and service workers. The students also break the trend of a male-dominated industry, as 65% of the graduates are female.
“We want people that are culturally rich, that can bring with them the authentic voice for their community,” said Swanepoel.
Recent graduates now work in the field and appreciate what One School allowed them to learn, including having the opportunity to work with other Black creatives in the industry.
“Each week, we got lectured by senior art directors, copywriters or creative directors who had been in the game, and they never sugarcoated their journey for us. They told us their hardships, their successes, and how they are navigating their career at the moment,” Jamal Parker told Adweek. He now works at agency Translation.
“That network and longstanding community with the students, tutors and lecturers was unlike anything I experienced in other academic settings.”
“One School and my current agency, Gut, changed my perception about the types of people who work in the ad industry. People who work at agencies are just as cool, weird and creative as the fine artists I worked with in my previous career,” added graduate Jasmine Williams.
One School helped me realize that’s why the industry is calling for people like me—to share my unique, awesomely dope, Black-ass ideas.—Asia Irvin, One School graduate
The school also gave them perspective on what it’s like to be Black in a predominately white industry.
“I view the ad industry like how it is—white male dominated. But One School helped me realize that’s why the industry is calling for people like me—to share my unique, awesomely dope, Black-ass ideas,” said Asia Irvin, who also works at Translation.
Some even offered advice to the next wave of One School students.
“Understand that taking this step is scary as hell. But you are doing it,” said Tarahgee Morris, who also now works for Gut. “When you step into these rooms that were not traditionally made for you, understand that folks like you have a different kind of voice that this industry and this world needs hear.”
One School is now accepting applications for its fall 2021 programs in Atlanta and Chicago. To be eligible to apply to One School, students cannot have attended a portfolio school. Applicants are selected based on their raw creativity, passion and commitment so as not to discourage those with no prior knowledge of advertising.