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ONE School, One Year Later

By Alixandra Rutnik on Aug 23, 2021

Three Black creatives reflect on being inaugral ONE School grads


One year ago, in the midst of a summer of social unrest, we at The One Club for Creativity knew that we needed to do more than pay lip service to addressing the advertising industry's diversity issues. Already entering our milestone tenth year of Where Are All The Black People?, we came to the conclusion that in order to see for people of color within our favorite agencies, we would need to develop our own pipeline into the industry.

And with that, we launched ONE School, a totally free online portfolio program by and for Black creatives. From hundreds of applicants, 30 students were chosen, and after more than four months of hard work — many balancing professional and family commitments along the way — all 30 graduated.

After introducing a Spring program that just graduated last week — more on those students in the near future — we have recently opened up registration for our Fall 2021 program. Ahead of the September 10 application deadline, we had an opportunity to chat with three of that inaugural class of grads, who were in the exact same position that the current applicants are in right now, and today are making waves in the industry. Janay Cooper, Asia Irvin, and Jamal Parker are a VMLY&R Art Director, a Translation Art Director, and a Translation Copywriter respectively. They all gave us their honest and raw opinions about attending ONE School and entering the world of advertising.

It's hard to believe that it's been a year already since you applied to ONE School! What were you doing for work before you decided to apply?

Janay: A year ago, I was working as a Content Specialist - mainly pushing out visual and written communications, social media, as well as a weekly internal newsletter. The biggest attraction I had toward the ONE School program was the opportunity to transition into a role where I could do more of what I love - the aspect of visual arts in communication. Unfortunately, the role I was in didn’t provide the environment or the opportunity to move toward this career goal of mine. It really felt like an all-or-nothing, go big or go home, gut feeling decision. Proud to say I made the right one.

How has ONE School helped shape your career?

Like many of the other ONE School Alumni, I was lucky enough to already have a solid foundation of knowledge within my craft. The biggest learning curve was the advertising space and its language. Coming from a marketing background, I worked with a lot of numbers, analytics, trend forecasting, etc., and basically, I was shifting from being the brief giver to becoming the brief receiver. I went from presenting entire decks filled with information for one insight to having to learn how to explain one idea on half a slide.

And now you are at VMLY&R — were you recruited by the agency?

I reached out to the recruiter hiring for their Seattle office at VMLY&R (after hearing they were hiring for Art Director roles from a ONE School alumni who had already been swooped up by another agency). The process itself was as expected - personally, I had quite a number of interviews which gave me the ability to really feel out the bigger team I’d be working with – ultimately leading to my decision to take this offer.

How has the job been going for you?

Work is solid! It’s great to finally be in a place where everyone’s work is appreciated and there’s value and respect for our work lives AND our personal lives. As far as physical locations, like many other agencies right now, we’re being as safe as we can in times of COVID by working from home with the option to work in-office if you choose (meeting the proper health and office capacity standards of course). As far as project sharing, definitely check out @microsoft365 on TikTok to watch some of the rad (and pretty funny) work the team has produced. Other projects are under lock and key for now but stay tuned!

As a Black creative in a historically white industry, how would you define the importance of ONE School?

Here’s the raw and real deal. Yes, it’s important that you’re learning about the advertising world, especially if you are changing career paths or switching into a new role within advertising. And yes, you get to create a dope book that meets the brief head-on while also being true to you and the insights within the culture.

On the other hand, the biggest blessing to highlight is the community that gets built within the program and amongst each student. First and foremost, to reiterate, it’s so very important to acknowledge that ONE School is majority Black creatives that have already been through undergrad and/or graduate programs, worked in advertising adjacent roles at brands and/or agencies for 3-10+ years, worked in a completely different corporate level roles for that same amount of time, worked a lot of freelance gigs and have public-facing work in existence already. Yet, and sadly, we still are in many cases being outhired by fresh out of college non-BIPOC students.

It’s incredibly crucial for people to understand that ONE School allows for those of us with the skills, craft, accolades, talent, and cultural insight developed over the years of our careers to finally be given the tools and connections needed to enter in and navigate this biased space that is in desperate need of our footprint.

"It’s incredibly crucial for people to understand that ONE School allows for those of us with the skills, craft, accolades, talent, and cultural insight developed over the years of our careers to finally be given the tools and connections needed to enter in and navigate this biased space that is in desperate need of our footprint."

From day one to the last day of ONE School, how did your thoughts and expectations about the program change?

The beauty of being part of the first-ever ONE School class is that you don't necessarily have any huge expectations because, well... it's the first. It's new and your year is setting the standards. A lot of it was going with the flow for me. Of course, there were moments where we all might have expected a certain lecture, brief, and/or presentation to go a certain way, but even that didn't stop us from learning something new or adding on to something we already knew to the knowledge bank. At the end of the day, you can always ask questions to learn more. I knew it would be a learning experience all around, so the smartest move on my end was to sponge mode and absorb it all while I could.

What would you tell those considering registering for this fall's classes?

I always give this small but big piece of advice, because I think it still rings true yesterday, today, and tomorrow. "Don’t feed into the imposter syndrome - whether set in your own brain or by others." As we mentioned previously, not only is this industry predominantly white, it should be mentioned again that this industry is also very bias against BIPOC creatives when it comes to our abilities and our worth. You have to expect to come across people that will make it their side job to rationalize in their own brain that you don’t know what you’re doing nor do you deserve the opportunities you are given. Trust yourself and don't lose sight of the fact that you know what you know and you're here for a reason.

In what ways does fashion inspire you as an Art Director at VMLY&R?

I love this question in general but especially because my background (and first love) is in the fashion business. Contrary to what people might assume, there is a side of fashion that deals with a lot more research, data collecting, and math, and a lot less shopping and magazine page flipping.

Thankfully, advertising usually fuels my already existing interest in target market research. As an AD, I thoroughly enjoy getting to think up visual ideas of how to communicate a message - but who exactly is listening? That’s the question that inspires me daily to dig deeper. Just like in fashion and apparel, how a person is dressed has the ability to communicate any kind of message – a visual language (in addition to the one) that already exists. With my own personal style, I'd have to say it changes from year to year and from mood to mood. The only way to describe it, in this season of my life, would be "comfortably curated chaos" (for context: wearing sweaters in the summertime shade).

Any style tips?

Style tips:

1. Maybe don’t wear sweaters in the summer (unless you're in the shade).

2. Try to match your shoes with your shirt.

3. If you master the rule of fashion has no rules, you've won.

JANAYCOOPER.COM

Let's rewind to a year ago. What were you doing for work before attending ONE School?

Asia: A year ago I was a server at a brunch spot back in my hometown. I had just graduated college into a pandemic and had to navigate how to enter into the industry. Waitressing was a gig to make some money while I was trying to figure out my next move.

I first heard about ONE School through a Slack channel I had joined with Women Who Create. I was attracted to the program because its main mission was to fix the diversity problem in advertising, which I've witnessed firsthand. I was the only Black student in my college’s Ad Club and was discouraged from looking at multiple company's “Meet the Team” pages when I didn't see people of color there as well.

"I was the only Black student in my college’s Ad Club and was discouraged from looking at multiple companies' “Meet the Team” pages when I didn't see people of color there as well."

How has ONE School helped shape your career?

ONE School gave me the critical skill of conceptualizing ideas. It taught me how to not compromise my Blackness but use it as an advantage. ONE School taught me how to tell my truth and create good campaigns from it.

And now you are at Translation – were you recruited by the agency for this position?

I'm pretty sure my partner Jamal got scouted by Translation and threw me the alley-oop! The process was casual.

How has the job been going for you?

We’re still in crazy times, so I’ve been working remotely. The office has opened into a hybrid setting, but I chose to stay at home. I’ve been working on diversity projects with AT&T, the NBA 2021 series with State Farm, a vaccine campaign with Kaiser Permanente, some passion projects with Translation’s company StashedSF, and now I'm onboarding to work on Beats!

As a Black creative in a historically white industry, how would you define the importance of ONE School?

It's critical! I felt so discouraged when I graduated college and was doing agency visits and didn't see Black folks. At best, I would meet a Black person in HR with the title of Diversity Head. Being a Black creative, I felt like I would have to jump through hurdles to get into the same space as my white peers. ONE School is a listen-up call to the industry to let everyone know that we’re here and that we’re great!

From day one to the last day of ONE School, how did your thoughts and expectations about the program change?

I was expecting the program to partner us up so we could make work together, but instead, we worked and conceived our own ideas. I appreciated ONE School for that reason because it's truly a program that betters you as an individual creative without being dependent on others. We get the work, we think on it, and then we individually execute our own thoughts through our own perspectives. Seeing everyone’s unique perspectives on the brief every Thursday was also quite unexpected.

What would you tell those considering registering for this fall's classes?

Give this program all that you got! Show everyone who you are through your work. Shine the spotlight on how your brain works and then emphasize it with your unique talent. This book that you’ll create is the start of the rest of your career. Treat that baby with some love.

What are your favorite destinations you have traveled to and why?

My all-time favorite place I traveled to was Cape Town, South Africa. I actually visited an agency called King James while I was there and met some cool creatives. If anything, this influenced my side project “The Black Dollar Matters.” Seeing how this community was so supportive of small businesses, whether it was street vendors, markets, small black-owned restaurants, etc., made me appreciate the gesture to keep Black people in business.

ASIAMADEIT.COM

Let's rewind to a year ago. What were you doing for work before attending ONE School?

Jamal: Before ONE School, I had just wrapped up a college/university tour, performing spoken word poetry at colleges and universities and teaching poetic curriculum. COVID-19 halted further travel and future touring plans, but I still did some gigs virtually, and I also freelanced as a teaching artist for nonprofits and schools in Philadelphia.

I had seen the ONE School graphic reshared by a mutual friend on LinkedIn, and what attracted me to the program was the fact that it was marketed particularly to Black creatives, and specifically, to those who never attended a portfolio school. I literally saw the graphic a couple of days after I applied for a copywriting job too! (Didn’t hear back from that job, but I’m here now!)

For me personally, I saw the program as a chance to grow as a creative and actually build a legitimate advertising portfolio. I wanted a change for my career at the time, and this was the perfect time to do it.

How has ONE school helped shape your career?

ONE School completely changed the trajectory of my career. A year ago, I was onboarding as a student, and now I’m a full-time copywriter working in New York City. The skills I picked up were how to write headlines, write scripts for TV ads, conceptualize ideas for 360 campaigns, and so much more. This question could genuinely take up the entire article.

And now you are at Translation– were you recruited by the agency for this position?

I was recruited by Translation a couple of weeks after I graduated from ONE School. I had finished interviewing with some other agencies and I was mulling over some offers. Then, Translation hit my email and it was a wrap from there. They had me talk to some senior creatives and the Executive Creative Director Jason Campbell. The overall enthusiasm and energy from the creative team and the passion to create really unique work stood out to me.

How has the job been going for you?

The job as a full-time creative is a daily exercise. I’m constantly thinking of how to challenge myself and grow. As a writer, I’ve done way more scriptwriting than I ever have before. Working on full campaigns has been a delight and it’s been a great time working alongside fellow creatives from all walks of life.

One of my first projects was writing a Juneteenth editorial piece highlighting Black Queer Creatives for StashedSF - Translation’s clothing brand in San Francisco. I’ve also done work for the State Farm - NBA / WNBA partnership which includes Chris Paul and Sabrina Ionescu. This past July we rolled out a vaccine campaign for Kaiser Permanente, and are continuing to do build out campaigns for AT&T, specifically for their Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.

There are definitely days where the workload can be high. Translation is still predominantly remote. We’re based in Brooklyn, but we have some team members out in LA, Boston, Texas, and elsewhere. We were supposed to be working towards a hybrid model later in the year, but the Delta variant has likely caused that to change.

As a Black creative in a historically white industry, how would you define the importance of ONE School?

I was catching up with a fellow ONE School Alumni of mine earlier, and he compared ONE School to an HBCU of sorts. I think ONE School is unique in the sense that you are seen represented in every facet, from the lead instructors to the lecturers to the mentors. Top to bottom it’s predominantly Black creatives who are instilling knowledge and helping you grow. That to me meant everything.

"I think ONE School is unique in the sense that you are seen represented in every facet, from the lead instructors to the lecturers to the mentors. Top to bottom it’s predominantly Black creatives who are instilling knowledge and helping you grow."

From day one to the last day of ONE School, how did your thoughts and expectations about the program change?

On day one I was just excited about the journey and the potential to create a portfolio. I think I was also coming off the high that I was a part of the inaugural class and we had a lot of eyes on us. But towards the end, it felt bittersweet departing from class for the last time. My expectations near graduation were about transitioning to the next part of my life, which was securing the bag and getting a creative job.

What would you tell those considering registering for this fall's classes?

1. Build a presence on LinkedIn! Connect with your classmates, lecturers, and potential creatives you would love to work with.

2. Be yourself, don’t emulate another person’s journey or style. If you have a hobby or passion outside of advertising/media, always include that in your portfolio, website, or LinkedIn bio. I had my poetry listed on my website.

3. Be ready to put in the work and be humble. I am still learning every single day, and there is much to learn and navigate in this industry. Trust your instructors and mentors, they have been through the ropes before, soaking in the information like a sponge is the route to go.

What do you love about writing poetry and performing slam poetry?

What I love about performing poetry aloud is the audience feedback and reception. I thrive off being a performer and I still do gigs from time to time. Being onstage is an enthralling feeling. Being a performer actually has helped me immensely at work, because I’m comfortable presenting to clients in meetings and presenting internally to my creative directors.

I believe writing poetry has influenced my writing at the job. Depending on the brief, I have the license to be more poetic. I actually just wrapped up writing an animated series for a client where most of the writing was more poetic in nature. Sometimes I find that writing voice-overs for TV are like writing short poems.

You also were named a finalist in our first ever COLORFUL competition, so a big congratulations to you! What made you want to enter?

Thank you for the congrats! I wanted to enter to test myself, honestly. Do I have a shot at this? I kept asking myself that and was like, “yeah I do!” The COLORFUL competition is a wonderful initiative for creatives of color and I wanted to hopefully rise to the occasion. I was really hype when they announced me as a finalist. I think I was on a high for the whole week– it definitely was really affirming.

I did submit my entry into Young Guns 19 as well. I did a lot of research on previous winners and spent time putting together my portfolio submission. I definitely waited until the final day (actually the final hour) to submit, but I feel like a lot of other people did as well… so procrastinators unite!

JAMALPARKER.COM


The last day for ONE School Fall 2021 applications is September 10.

APPLY NOW!

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