Winner of the inaugural Talent Trailblazer Award revealed

VCCP scoops the top prize as four other worthy projects make the shortlist. The Talent Trailblazer Award, created in partnership with the Advertising Association, celebrates the organisations and individuals in the industry opening up opportunities to new talent.

VCCP’s Stoke Academy has won Marketing Week and the Advertising Association’s inaugural Talent Trailblazer Award celebrating the organisations and individuals opening the industry up to new talent.

The Stoke Academy is designed to inspire, identify and unlock creative talent in Stoke, enabling young people to pursue successful careers in marketing and advertising without the need to relocate to London. The academy’s mission is to make the industry accessible and socially diverse through work-experience opportunities, skills training and career guidance.

VCCP started out by setting up an office in the city and recruiting 40 students from Stoke Sixth Form College to take part in an eight-week virtual work experience programme. The students worked on a live brief, receiving mentoring from across the agency.

Following the success of the pilot, the team adapted their recruitment processes ahead of launching an internship in partnership with Staffordshire University, so far completed by 20 students. The agency also developed an apprenticeship programme to offer routes into the industry for non-graduates. To date, VCCP has created four apprenticeships in its Stoke office – two in the data team, one in content production and one in account management.

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Crucially, the team have provided one-on-one mentoring opportunities to 30 people and nearly 50 teams have taken part in the Student Challenge.

Speaking on the award, VCCP Stoke Academy co-founders Jim Thornton and Michael Lee spoke about how in the “depths of lockdown” when setting up the academy they wondered what they could offer to the young people of Stoke-on-Trent. “The almost universal answer was belief,” they said. “Belief that they can achieve more than simply taking any old job, just to get some money in their pocket. Belief that they are just as worthy of a job in the creative industries as anyone else.”

They added: “We’d like to thank Charles and Adrian [Vallance and Coleman, chairman and CEO at VCCP] for believing in our vision and backing it, everyone at VCCP who has believed the project worthy of their time and energy, offering so much care and commitment to so many Stoke youngsters, and Marketing Week for believing it worthy of recognition.”

The judging panel, which included Richie Brooker from Hearst UK, Sharon Lloyd Barnes of the Advertising Association, Nicky Ivory-Chapman from Channel 4, Ewen MacPherson at Havas, and Sarah Skinner of the Grace Blue Partnership, as well as Marketing Week editor-in-chief Russell Parsons, described VCCP Stoke Academy as a: “Really impressive initiative and commitment to not just developing a team out of London, but raising awareness about the industry to attract diverse talent too.”

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Highly commended for the Talent Trailblazer Award was the Brixton Finishing School’s family of change making programmes, intended to break down the barriers for underrepresented groups looking to kickstart a career in the creative industries. As a result of the various programmes, more than 150 students have been placed into jobs, while 25,000 young people aged 14-18 have been engaged through Brixton Finishing School’s ADventure programme.

The judging panel described Brixton Finishing School as: “One of the most impactful organisations working in the industry today.”

Three other companies were shortlisted for the prize. These include Havas Platform, a six-month placement for young people looking for a route into advertising, communications and media. The placement is currently on track to offer permanent roles to 60% of participants in the 2023 scheme.

Also making the shortlist is London Metropolitan University’s marketing and communications team, which since overhauling its approach to recruitment has increased its representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic talent to 46% from just 8% in 2021.

The shortlist is rounded off by Shape Your Future from RockCorps/Apprentice Nation, which has offered 26 young people first-hand experience of the marketing department at drinks giant Lucozade.

Talent Trailblazer Award 2023

WINNER – VCCP, VCCP Stoke Academy

HIGHLY COMMENDED – Brixton Finishing School, Change Making Alliance 

SHORTLISTED – Havas, Havas Platform

SHORTLISTED – London Metropolitan University, LMU marketing and communications team

SHORTLISTED – RockCorps/Apprentice Nation, Shape Your Future

Marketing Week has been calling on the industry to act on democratising marketing careers, increasing access to more people, from more diverse backgrounds in its long-running Opening Up series.

Marketing Week editor-in-chief Russell Parsons describes the Talent Trailblazer Award as a source of inspiration for the wider industry to start thinking differently about recruitment. 

While Sharon Lloyd Barnes, commercial director and inclusion/talent lead at the Advertising Association, said she was “struck” by how much great work is being done at a business and individual level to attract and retain more diverse talent. “Seeing the detail of so many successful programmes and partnerships with third parties specialists with those objectives in action was reassuring – and at times really inspiring.”

The Advertising Association launched its Talent Plan in January highlighting the industry’s need to attract new talent, maximise the opportunities presented by the apprenticeship scheme and address how it retains and develops talent to truly compete with other industries. This followed its report that revealed the number of people working in marketing and advertising fell by 14% between 2019 and 2022.

Reflecting on the Talent Report statistics and the wider impact of the Talent Trailblazer Award, Advertising Association CEO Stephen Woodford is calling on the industry to maximise the opportunities presented by apprenticeships and embrace diverse talent.