D&AD CEO Jo Jackson On Nurturing Global Creative Talent

D&AD CEO Jo Jackson On Nurturing Global Creative Talent

Diversity, inclusivity and social impact are gaining momentum at the front end of advertising. But behind the scenes, there’s a serious back-lag. Jo Jackson, CEO of D&AD, tells us about what her organisation is doing to bridge that gap.

Tsunami CostabirUpdated: Wednesday, June 05, 2024, 10:19 AM IST
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D&AD is a British non-profit organisation that works on promoting excellence in design and advertising. Created in 1962, they aim to build a comprehensive framework to celebrate, promote and encourage talent and excellence in advertising. They also give out the sought-after ‘Pencil’ awards annually. 

We spoke to their CEO, Jo Jackson, to get insight into the work D&AD does, the state of the industry and her take on the campaigns we see…

How has D&AD’s vision and work evolved over the years? 

D&AD is most famous for its awards, which it has been running since 1962. It was originally created to celebrate creative excellence, and since, it has evolved. Now we're a charity. It's not just about self-congratulation, which is, of course, important to champion talent, but all of the money that we raise through doing the awards goes back into the industry.

We're an official charity in the UK, and our mission is to educate. Right now, one of our key programs is a program called D&AD Shift, which has been running for seven years and is designed to help underrepresented talents get into the creative industry.

Whatever the barriers are in a particular market, we aim to break down those barriers and give young talent insight, access, network and support with their portfolios and mentorship. So far, it's been running in five countries and the success rate for employment is about 74%. Of the talent who goes through this program, 74% get a job in the creative industry after the program. The program is a five-month free evening school. And we get support from agencies and brands to make that happen.

While this is not something D&AD is really famous for, it's one of the main ways we celebrate excellence around the world. We want to do our part and make the industry better. 

D&AD Shift has been running in London and New York the longest because those are our most established markets. We also have it running in Berlin and Sydney, and we just launched in Sao Paulo. We also want to do it in Mumbai.

 What are some key things D&AD works on inculcating in the participants that enrol in the program?

In our Shifters, which is what we call them, I have found, from my experience in the markets that we've worked with, that motivation is not what we need to teach them. They've got buckets of it. They are self-driven and enthusiastic; they just haven't had the same opportunities that others have had that have gone through conventional educational groups, or maybe weren't born into the part of society that enabled them to get into a network. 

We want to open the doors for the talent that maybe didn't have many opportunities. It's about helping to enable the talent and to help them build a network. We tell them about expectations from portfolios and also provide mentors.

We rely on the goodwill of the industry who live and breathe D&AD, and most of them are award winners, to be mentors for these Shifters. 

We also focus on giving them partners that they can relate to. There's no point in having as a mentor someone who you don't recognise or think you can aspire to be. 

Of the 350 members who have graduated from Shift, some of them are directing videos for huge music stars or are working at Apple or Spotify. Some of the biggest agencies in the world are now hiring talent that has graduated from Shift, which is amazing.

We’re talking about a generation who's teaching themselves various tools. So we’re not going to teach them Photoshop. It's more about mentorship, guidance and real-life experiences.

The way that we structure the programme is we'll get brands to give us a real life brief. So, for example, Beats by Dre in America will give us a real-life brief. Shifters will then put themselves into teams where they'll be their own mini agency. Then they'll answer the brief and present it back to the brand.

From an awards perspective, what are some of the key elements in choosing an award-winning advertisement?

At D&AD, we have no quotas where we need to give out a certain amount of Pencils each year. 

The criteria is really simple. It's beautiful work, brilliantly executed, that's fit for purpose. So it's all about the work, it's all about the idea. A genius idea that's beautifully done and is relevant.

We select our jury, which is composed of people from around the world, to make sure we're getting as representative a jury in our categories as we possibly can. Not just by gender but culturally as well. Because, you can't expect to understand a Chinese advert that's got a really beautiful, traditional story by reading it in a brief.

Is there a medium of advertising that is more focussed on or preferred?

The best campaigns, or the ones that I love the most, are the ones that really consider the medium really well and tell a story across all of the mediums. There's no point trying to sell some new headphones to a Gen Z audience with print ads because they're just not consuming that media. But if you're trying to get a global message out for something way more universal, then yes, you might be doing that. So, it's just about the context and the relevance.

How does D&AD treat good ads that come from not-so-good brands?

Within the judging criteria with D&AD, we enable the jury to award as they wish. We have debated long and hard about ethics and sustainable issues. We highlight and flag the things that we believe they should look out for.  But at the end of the day, it's their choice to award it or not. So it's left down to the integrity of the jury, whether they think it deserves it.

There is a business that has been happening for a long time where agencies will create pro bono projects to win awards. They'll make a great case study on it, and it'll be a beautifully crafted piece of content, but it's either not a real product or never launched, or it's a PR stunt that lasted for an hour. 

In reaction to that, we created a category this year called ‘sustained impact’, because we were seeing a lot of these projects coming through that felt like they were a really good cause, but they were literally there for like half-an-hour and disappeared.  

With sustained impact, we’re looking at work that has been done by agencies and brands together for a longer period of time to make real change. People see through the fluff, particularly the younger generation. It's got to be genuine with intentions.

What is D&AD’s focus for India?

In India, we're running our masterclasses in person. Alongside the Shift and the new blood programs, our remit is also continued professional development for people already within the industry. 

We're launching a new program called the leadership program. It is specifically designed for creative directors and ECD-levels to move up to the C-suites where the challenge is going from being in a creative role into a C-suite leadership role. If given the opportunity, we want to bring that to Mumbai. 

Our masterclasses here seem to be quite sold out, so we should be doing more of those too. We have a bunch of free masterclasses online that people can check out.  I would love to launch Shift in Mumbai, and we’ve already started to have conversations with brands, agencies and mentors who would like to come on board. 

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