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Pablo: why UK adland needs to nurture diversity and young talent

By Pablo joint MDs Hannah Penn and Harriet Knight.

There are two major crises impacting the UK advertising industry right now – one is the well documented and current cost of living crisis, and the other is the longer term and endemic diversity crisis.

The average starting salary in the advertising sector today is £24k. That’s little more than entry level jobs offered 15 years ago. In real terms that means starting salaries have declined 35%. Furthermore, it means that those who can’t rely on the bank of Mum and Dad are de facto barred from pursuing a job in our industry. It’s totally out of touch with the realities of life today.

It’s no surprise then that last year, the UK advertising industry recorded the biggest annual rate of staff turnover in more than a decade, as issues including burnout and pay led to advertising losing its edge in the battle to attract and retain creative talent. Yet the beauty of advertising is that there is no need for any formal qualifications for it – it involves skills and experience that can be very much learned on the job. Which should make it the most inclusive and diverse sector. But cripplingly low starting salaries mean workers from lower-income backgrounds simply cannot afford to take a job in the industry. This is reflected in the fact that just 8.1% of the 1.9m jobs in the creative industries are filled by talent from underrepresented groups.

Data from the ONS also paints a bleak picture for the often forgotten DEI pillar – Access – showing that young people from privileged backgrounds are five times more likely to make it in the creative industries compared with their less privileged counterparts. The advertising industry is unique in that very few people move into the industry later in their career. So the pursuit of attracting and retaining diverse entry level talent to the industry is fundamental to its prosperity.

As advertisers, our core aim is to deliver work that is both memorable and meaningful. Without a varied range of perspectives, ideas and approaches from all walks of life, we cannot deliver on these expectations to the full. Put simply, access to the industry as it stands is stifling innovation.

All of this has led to a burning platform, which is why at Pablo we have introduced the ‘Pablo Living Wage’. We hope that by committing to raise our minimum annual salary for all full time staff to £30,000 we can act as a catalyst for change in the advertising industry. It’s a change we’re already inspired to see St Lukes and Neverland pledging to make as well.

The industry is crying out for new and diverse voices. And we believe it is our responsibility as business leaders to provide pathways which ensure advertising is a career option which is open to all, and is one which sees people not just surviving but thriving from day one.

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