Is affordable accommodation the key to talent diversity?
Tony Perkins, CEO of LHA London, and Sarah Jenkins, MD of Saatchi & Saatchi, speak to shots about how their innovative initiative, Saatchi Home, needs to be adopted by more figures in the industry to remove one of the key barriers for persons from under-represented communities, affordable housing.
It's all well and good for companies within the industry to be widening their search for a diverse talent base, but unless the people they are looking for are based near enough the office to commute, the net is hardly widened.
Such was the issue addressed by Saatchi & Saatchi London and charitable enterprise LHA London when they set up Saatchi Home; designed to help remove one of the key barriers to entry to the creative industries, affordable housing, for persons from under-represented communities across the country.
Buoyed by its success, LHA London CEO, Tony Perkins, and MD of Saatchi & Saatchi, Sarah Jenkins, sat down with shots to discuss how this blueprint for success which can be replicated, at scale, by partners and competitors alike.
Above: Sarah Jenkins, MD of Saatchi & Saatchi and Tony Perkins, CEO of LHA London.
How did this initiative start? What were the early incentives?
Tony Perkins, CEO of LHA London: LHA London’s belief is that the cost of accommodation shouldn’t be a barrier to young people whatever their background, chosen career or education path in the Capital. With this in mind (and pre the pandemic) we started reaching out to key sectors such as the creative industry and the performing arts.
Our mission was to gauge ways of working together through our affordable short-term accommodation offering and help young adults (especially those from under-represented communities) who would otherwise find it challenging finding quality accommodation when they begin their careers or training in London.
Our paths luckily crossed with Saatchi & Saatchi and we went from there…
Sarah Jenkins, Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi: Saatchi & Saatchi were on a diversity journey before last year, but our 50th gave us the opportunity to give our approach a steroid injection as we took that milestone to reflect on the type of agency we wanted to be for the next 50 years. As part of that, we launched a new roadmap designed to improve entry into the advertising industry for underrepresented communities and those from low social mobility backgrounds. These included Saatchi Ignite, our school outreach and education programme, Saatchi Open, for entry-level talent, and Saatchi Home.
We all know our industry has a diversity problem. Our industry is nothing if it doesn’t look and feel like the whole country we work in and market to.
Saatchi Home provides affordable accommodation in Zones 1-3 for interns, Saatchi Open candidates, and junior team members. Working in partnership with LHA, Saatchi Home was always designed to be a blueprint for the industry to copy and improve – we want to remove barriers to entry to the industry and this only works if we can do it at scale.
We all know our industry has a diversity problem. Our industry is nothing if it doesn’t look and feel like the whole country we work in and market to. We need to find innovative solutions that overcome the geographical challenge of being based and thriving in one of the most expensive cities in the world – accommodation costs as a barrier to entry must be eliminated.
What parameters were important to lock down from the beginning? How were they decided on?
TP: Our 14 properties accommodate nearly 2,000 people and mainly cater for young working people, apprentices, domestic and international students, graduates and interns. We were keen to support these types of individuals by housing them in properties in close proximity to Saatchi & Saatchi’s HQ is Chancery Lane and within an agreed spend.
SJ: We developed a tier system to make sure that we were helping those that needed it most – ranging from rent-free accommodation to preferential rates in Saatchi Home accommodation.
As an industry we are still opaque, and still led predominantly by people who come from very similar backgrounds and educations.
Having a partner in LHA meant that we could rely on their expertise in housing young people and students in London – what we need now, is for more agencies to get involved and follow suit.
I am very proud that despite a few setbacks due to COVID, our first cohort of Open candidates are now living in Saatchi Home accommodation, and the next wave of Open candidates will be offered spots too.
Who is this aimed to help? Why is this so needed?
TP: The partnership with Saatchi & Saatchi has created a blueprint for the industry and we now want to encourage other agencies across the sector to follow the lead and help young adults who would otherwise find it challenging finding affordable and quality accommodation – especially when arriving for the first time.
SJ: As an industry we are still opaque, and still led predominantly by people who come from very similar backgrounds and educations. It is still incredibly difficult for young talent to get a start in the industry, if you don’t know someone or have a foot in the door. Triple that challenge for people coming from ethnic minority backgrounds or low socio-economic groups. We hear the same things time and again from the students and young talent we work with at schools and in our Open programme – there is such little knowledge about the creative career opportunities available in the ad industry and little real support in breaking into our world.
We would love people to steal, hack, borrow and improve on our ideas.
These are the barriers we are trying to address. And there is a competitive advantage to getting this right. Diversifying our workforce is a business imperative and we owe it to our agencies, our industry and our clients to do better.
That’s why we created a blueprint for success that can be replicated, at scale, by partners and competitors alike. We would love people to steal, hack, borrow and improve on our ideas.
It’s not enough for our agency to change – we want the whole industry to change.
What is the process for candidates to the scheme? How can they apply and what are you looking for?
TP: From LHA London’s perspective, we are keen to engage across the whole of London’s creative sector and, where possible, assist with affordable accommodation for their young talent.
SJ: Saatchi Home is designed for interns, Saatchi Open candidates and anyone in our agency, under a certain salary threshold. LHA has been the most unbelievable partner with us on this but as I’ve said, change will only happen at scale and that’s why it’s so important for other agencies to get involved.
What do you hope this will bring to the industry?
TP: We are very much aligned with Saatchi & Saatchi’s spirit of nothing is impossible when it comes to finding affordable accommodation in central London. We want young people to know that the cost of living in London should not deter them from fulfilling their career ambitions or aspirations. If we can help, then we will. We also hope to see more diversity across the UK’s creative industries and representative of our country as a whole. If LHA London can help play a small part in this, then that’s brilliant.
We are very much aligned with Saatchi & Saatchi’s spirit of nothing is impossible when it comes to finding affordable accommodation in Central London.
SJ: We have to open up the industry, we have to remove barriers to entry and we have to better support and power up diverse talent. Bringing in more diverse perspectives, both in front of and behind the camera – will make our work better, make our industry stronger, and deliver better results for clients. If we can truly reflect modern Britain – which is at its best brilliantly and beautifully diverse - our agency and industry will be turbo-charged.
What do you hope to be the future of the initiative?
TP: We hope to see not only the creative industry, but other sectors, embrace a similar initiative to the Saatchi & Saatchi partnership and send out a clear message that all young people are welcome to live and work in London – regardless of who they are or where they come from.
SJ: More agencies working with LHA to provide affordable accommodation for their young talent. We want people to borrow and steal and copy any and all elements of the partnership we have with them in Saatchi Home.
We hope to see not only the creative industry, but other sectors, embrace a similar initiative to the Saatchi & Saatchi partnership.
We are already seeing the transformative effects of what a partnership with LHA can deliver, with our first candidates on Saatchi Home and Open joining in August. And we will be welcoming more candidates in 2022.