Robin Wight has always been an ideas man. When he was 10 he would come up with snappy slogans like ‘Drive at 70, live ‘til 30, drive at 30, live ‘til 70’, write them down in a notebook but never tell anyone.
Later, in a career that took him from a copywriter at Collett Dickenson Pearce to presidency of creative agency Engine and a CBE, Wight increasingly noticed the lack of diverse faces and voices in the industry.
“I realised that all this creativity is going to waste,” he explains.
In 2000, Wight founded the Ideas Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds struggling to establish themselves within the academically-focused education system.
Hooking up with some big-hitting brands, the foundation works with schools to present projects, tasking pupils with a brief to come up with a campaign. Recently Nike picked up on idea from a school in Walthamstow, east London.
With the charity now working directly with the National Association for the Teaching of English, Wight is hopeful the concept will continue to develop within the curriculum.
“It’s brands as well as bards,” he says. “It’s about improving kids’ academic performances, because it’s about persuasive communication.”
Pupils come up with ideas, which are then screened by teachers and shortlisted by the foundation. Creative agency Adam&eveDDB, a long-term partner of the charity, then comes on board to help brush up the idea.
Over the past couple of decades, the foundation has helped young people on their way to careers with the likes of Apple and Unilever. The aim now is to roll the concept out and work with 20,000 to 30,000 schoolchildren.
Black Lives Matter was a real breakthrough moment, but diversity means so many different things, it can refer to sexuality or mental health.
Robin Wight, Ideas Foundation
As part of that process, Wight has been developing a project in Somerset, his local area. As he points out, the county has the lowest level of social mobility in the UK and rural regions can suffer just as much as urban ones when it comes to a lack of opportunities for young job hunters.
Working to a brief around health issues, and in particular tackling the obesity crisis, the project centres around the slogan ‘How do you persuade yourself to be healthier?’. The health of participants will be measured during the creative process, to see if thinking about ways of being healthier prompts changes in behaviour.
The project launches later on in the year and Wight is still on the lookout for funding from brands to support the initiative alongside longstanding partner Adam&eveDDB.
“The kids are going to get an iPhone as a prize, so we’re going to bribe them to do it,” says Wight.
“But even better than that, Clear Channel is going to give us poster sites for the best ideas, which we’ll put up around the local area. So, the idea that you came up with will be developed by Adam&Eve and on show everywhere thanks to Clear Channel. And so for a kid of 15 who might be in the slow stream but is creative, they can get on that ladder.”
Diversity, as Wight points out, is a broad church. “When we started up, nobody was interested in diversity. It was a background issue, not a foreground one. Black Lives Matter was a real breakthrough moment, but diversity means so many different things, it can refer to sexuality or mental health.”
The appointment of inclusion directors within advertising and marketing companies suggests at least a recognition that there’s a problem. Might we one day soon see a return to the 1970s and 1980s, when bright youngsters could work their way up from the postrooms? After all, the likes of Alan Parker and Frank Lowe didn’t have to run up massive student loan debts to leave their considerable marks on the industry.
“We could see something like those days, but in a different way,” Wight suggests. “Our programme will equip creative people with a toolkit of creative work that means they don’t need to go even to an art college. There are going to be all these new ways in, and a new lean, mean young group who don’t want to waste time. But the problem is that they’re fishing in a pool that they only find when they’re 18.”
Showing 12- and 13-year-olds that there is a potential pathway open to them is absolutely key. “The ultimate measure of success, which we haven’t achieved yet, is getting large numbers of people from challenged backgrounds into our industry,” says Wight. “At the moment we’re a small big idea, I want us to become a big good idea.”