Working with schools

Working with schools

Working with state schools is an absolute win/win. Every agency should be doing it.

Is everyone weird that works in an agency?

That must have to be one of the funniest and sharpest questions we’ve been asked through our work with the school over the past three years. The fact that the answer is probably yes makes it even more astute. That’s what happens when you work with students, they say something that gets you thinking. Gets you questioning what you thought you knew, or reframes something completely. Yes a frivolous example but we’ve learnt lots over the 3 years we’ve been working with the Anglo European School in Essex.

The AES is a state secondary school, with an ambitious language focus and a European outlook. It has a wide range of students who travel from across London each day. Normal, everyday, funny, mischievous, challenging students. They’re not all A-graders, they won’t all head off to Oxbridge, they’re certainly not all floating through life on the cushion of privilege. And for the past 3 years we’ve worked closely with AES, visiting them during their annual world of work day. We’ve tried to inspire the students by delivering keynote speeches about the future world they’ll enter in a few years’ time, whatever post-secondary pathway they choose. And in exchange for this the school have generously allowed us to work with their students to workshop and run research groups around specific client challenges we have.

What the school get out of this?

We tend to be constantly exposed to, and think about the future.

Let’s kick this section off with a clear fact. Schools and here we mean state schools specifically, are absolutely desperate for people to go and speak to their students. Remember, we do pretty interesting jobs in a pretty interesting sector, so to the students we are interesting people. We tend to be constantly exposed to, and think about the future. We are often pretty comfortable with public speaking. And yes, we can spin a decent yarn when we need to. So we are in a rather unique position to be able to give students a fresh, frank, honest and compelling perspective on the world. And it’s amazing how well the students respond. The number of times we hear that teachers are amazed we were able to maintain the students interest for the full 30 minutes of our talk. The number of questions we get after. And the great participation we get during the creative workshops we run. In short, the students seem to absolutely love hearing from us.

What do we get out of all this?

We’ve learnt a lot from these sessions. About being a teen today, about their lens on the world, about what worries them, what they’re excited about. About how gender defines them and their interactions with each other, across which platforms. Most importantly, through our work with them we’ve uncovered lots of whys. Why they do these things, why they behave the way they do, and why they think in such a specific way. These first hand insights, witnessed in person, have given us the confidence to recommend and create work for our brands that we never would have. So when we say that working with the school has helped shape our creative output as an agency, we’re not exaggerating, we’re just stating fact.

The pressure of having to stand up in front of 200 students certainly sharpens the mind – they can smell a weak presenter and wouldn’t cut them any slack

And that’s just from the workshops. The pressure of having to stand up in front of 200 students certainly sharpens the mind – they can smell a weak presenter and wouldn’t cut them any slack, we’re sure of that. Plus, the very process of preparing the talk each year forces us to clearly and quickly articulate trends and impacts on the future world. Making them relevant to the youngest and brightest, and to a certain extent most cynical generation yet. If you can keep a hall full of 200 students engaged for half an hour, then you’ve truly earned your presenting stripes, so it’s a fab way of talent development too.

The next step

This year we’ve taken the relationship further and agreed with AES that we’re going to offer them five work experience placements with us this summer. It’s an exciting opportunity for both the school and us. An opportunity that will see us handpick mentors from across our business and offer up a structured programme to five students. Through a fun and innovative application process we’ll make sure those students are the most creative in their year. And through the way we approach it, we’re very much hoping to identify students that might not have considered the opportunity to work in the creative industry before.

Why we do this

Doing this should be an absolute no-brainer for every agency out there. We could give you a hundred reasons as to why every agency should be doing this. Whether it’s the moral responsibility we have – as some of the luckiest people in the UK workplace - to inspire the next generation about their future. Or as a way to identify and nurture raw creative talent. Or for getting your head around what’s going on in young people’s lives right now. Or simply as a way to get to better creative work for your brands who want to sell to young people.

We agency folk have the skills, the passion and the flair to inspire students into the creative industries. Or at least open their eyes to the world of possibilities they’ll soon be entering post education. And they have the ability to show us what life is like today for them, better than desk research, better than research tools, better than white papers ever could. And that’s why we do it.

Another route to Diversity

For too long agency land has failed to recognise and engage talent from outside the same narrow band of institutions and same narrow band of qualifications. We believe that creative flair can go unrecognised in today’s state sponsored education system, a system that forces schools to focus on rather traditional skills in rather traditional subjects. And when it goes un-noticed and un-nurtured, it can wither on the vine before it’s had a chance to blossom. And in a world where the most privileged in our society are given the most opportunity and time to explore their creativity, it’s no surprise that agency land is filled with the privileged few, not the talented masses.

A major driver in this is about taking responsibility for what we want to look like in the future

Our humble effort is an attempt to try to rebalance the opportunities afforded those within our state schools. It’s not all completely selfless as mentioned earlier, we get a pretty good deal out of this too. But a major driver in this is about taking responsibility for what we want to look like in the future, and we want to look a little different to what we look like now.

A challenge to us all

So we challenge every agency out there to rack their brains and find a state school they have some sort of a connection with. Whether that’s through somebody employed at your agency, or that they’re simply the closest to your front door. It doesn’t really matter. Just find one, get in there and work with them, we guarantee they’ll pull your arm off as soon as you get in touch. And when you’re there, stand up and inspire the students about the world they’re about to inherit, and then ask them to inspire you about theirs.

We’re definitely not the only agency out there doing this. And we applaud every other shop out there that is. But for those of you that aren’t, you’re missing a trick. Get involved.