‘Just do something’: The Guardian on its mission to recruit diverse talent

Urging other brands to get moving on plans to create opportunities for diverse talent, the Guardian believes its new marketing internship is a step towards bridging the socio-economic divide.

Diverse talent
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On a mission to make recruiting diverse talent as “barrier-free as possible”, the Guardian believes the creation of its first internship in marketing and communications is an important step in the right direction.

“Even though we’ve got better at working with HR at advertising roles on diverse seeking jobs boards and developing relationships, we realised the real impact for us is to build a pipeline of more diverse candidates coming in at a junior level, getting the experience at that stage so that we can broaden out the voices we have in the industry,” explains head of global brand marketing Joel Midgley.

Starting in September, the six-month paid internship will see the new recruit work with the brand team on understanding the Guardian’s identity and editorial mission, supporting on marketing campaigns and digging into customer insights.

The intern, who requires neither a degree nor previous experience, will also help develop internal comms for the Guardian’s 1,500 plus employees, manage media enquiries and learn how to improve the user experience of internal platforms. Crucially, the intern will receive the equivalent of a £27,000 annual salary pro-rated to a six-month contract, a move taken to ensure the internship is open to as diverse a talent pool as possible.

The Guardian is actively encouraging applications from candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, sexual and gender orientation.

It’s a passion point for many of us that we want to make sure that the opportunities we’ve found and been given are handed down to as many people as possible.

Joel Midgley, the Guardian

Class is another key area of focus for Midgley, who points out how important socio-economic diversity is in the context of a media brand. He argues class is often an “unseen thing” in the media, where brands like the Guardian can feel too aspirational a destination for young talent from diverse backgrounds.

“We wanted to make sure that somebody looking at the ad would think: ‘This looks like a really interesting, exciting opportunity’. We want them to have as few moments of self-doubt that they wouldn’t stand a chance,” Midgley explains.

“I’m a person from a working-class background and had aspirations of working here, and my journey wasn’t necessarily straightforward. Essentially, it’s a passion point for many of us that we want to make sure the opportunities we’ve found and been given are handed down to as many people as possible.”

In a bid to make the internship fully accessible, the job ad calls for candidates to submit their CV and a short supporting statement outlining why they are eligible, as well as a description of their favourite (non-Guardian) ad campaign of the past year.

Midgley calls this question a “test of instinct” and sees it as the fairest way to get a handle on the interns’ feel for marketing. The team aren’t, for example, expecting analysis about the marketing objectives or any specifics around the creative.

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“The two areas we would expect anyone to be able to articulate their response would be hearts and minds. If you select an ad campaign, we’re hoping people will be able to talk to us about how it makes them feel and how their perceptions have shifted, why they think it works, why they think it was powerful,” he explains.

“It could be a pure brand campaign, or content, or something more performance driven. We’ll be interested to see the full range.”

Leaving off the need for a degree is another important move, says Midgley, who explains the Guardian had already done away with the prerequisite of degree education for marketing executive roles. The business believes stipulating the need for a degree on entry level positions is potentially prohibitive to attracting the most diverse range of candidates.

“When you think it’s become more and more expensive, and probably less attractive to young people across the board to be doing degrees, it’s kind of a sensible move more than anything to not demand your applicants have got degrees these days,” he adds.

Added benefits

Since the advert for the internship was posted earlier this month, Midgley says the response has been “absolutely staggering”. He describes it as a brilliant exercise in ensuring a job advert is pushed out in as many places as possible to reach diverse talent.

When it comes to assessing who will be selected, the idea is to whittle the hundreds of applications down to a manageable shortlist. This process will be carried out in collaboration with HR and a representative group of people from a variety of backgrounds.

A similar mixed panel will be involved in the selection day. While plans are still being finalised, Midgely hopes to get down to between 10 and 20 applicants who will be invited to a day at the Guardian. They will receive a tour of the building and introduction to the business, with presentations from people across the organisation about their roles in marketing and beyond.

Next will likely be a group exercise to observe the interns working together and then in the afternoon interviews, although the candidates won’t be expected to prepare anything specific such as a presentation. By having sessions in the morning and interviews in the afternoon, Midgley hopes the applicants will get something out of the day even if they’re not selected.

“There is clearly a job to be done on educating young people specifically about the intricacies of jobs in the communications industry,” he notes.

“Like what’s the difference between PR, marketing and advertising? And what are the specific roles within marketing? To a certain extent it’s fine to suss that out as you go, but if we can do a bit of an education piece, even if it’s just for 20 people who are interested in the role, that’s just an added benefit.”

While it might feel like offering one internship is “small beginnings” for a brand like the Guardian, Midgley sees this as a step in the right direction.

The vision is for this programme to become a six-month rolling internship. The new recruit will join the Guardian from September until March and in January the team will start recruiting for the next intern to arrive in the spring. This will mean two interns coming through the marketing and communications function each year.

Many months in the creation, the internship is the “opposite of the old school ‘get the intern in to do some photocopying’ mentality”, says Midgley. The intention is to build a curriculum, based on two-to-four-week periods supporting people in the marketing and comms teams on specific projects.

The intern will sit in the brand team for a month, as well as working with the performance marketing team, internal communications and the supporter strategy team, who look after all the messaging encouraging readers to support the Guardian financially. In the sixth month, the intern will be set a task to cement all the learning they’ve acquired over the previous five months.

This marketing specific content will be augmented with an in-house learning and development curriculum, covering soft skills such as presenting and communicating with impact. Midgely also hopes to get the Guardian’s creative and media agencies involved, holding specific sessions outlining how brand/agency relationships work.

Getting the first marketing intern through the door is not the end of the story as far as the Guardian is concerned. Midgely describes it as an “important public facing, galvanising moment” that runs alongside wider objectives around improving the employee experience, development and progression, and regularly monitoring gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

When it comes to advice for other organisations looking to bring in a marketing intern, Midgley urges brands to “just do something”, even on a small scale. There is no rulebook to follow and instead companies need to find a formula that works best for their business and push ahead.

“Everybody is kind of feeling their way through, but if it works for a business to start small, and that’s how you convince stakeholders that it’s something you can get off the ground, then it’s better to be doing that and testing and learning as you go, which is very much our approach,” he adds.

“No one’s saying the process will turn out perfectly, but we felt like the time had come that we needed to stop thinking about it and put our money where our mouth is.”

Opening Up brandingMarketing Week’s Opening Up campaign is pushing for the democratisation of marketing careers. Follow our coverage of the challenges and opportunities over the coming weeks. Read all the articles from the series so far here