How to nurture creativity in the next generation

sarah jenkins
How to nurture creativity in the next generationCourtesy

After nearly a quarter of a decade working in the advertising industry, Sarah Jenkins is still just as excited as when she first started out. “It’s creativity on steroids,” she says. “You get to sit with people who write and produce amazing stories and content every day.”

Jenkins, who joined Saatchi & Saatchi as its managing director just before the pandemic hit, says that she came in with a mission to “turbocharge the culture and make this a genuine destination for brilliant talent”. To kickstart this process, she spent plenty of time talking to the team, scoping out opportunities and leading accounts in a hands-on way. “The best way to learn is to roll your sleeves up and become part of the rhythm and cadence of the company,” she says. Then she worked hard to define and strengthen the culture, which meant “being really clear about what our values are and what we stand for, and calling out any behaviours that didn’t fit with that vision”.

a wall mural in the saatchi saatchi offices on chancery lane
A wall mural in the Saatchi & Saatchi offices on Chancery LaneCourtesy

Part of her remit was about showing the next generation of creative thinkers that they could have a place in a company like Saatchi & Saatchi, regardless of their background, ethnicity, age or experience. Hence the Upriser programme, which has seen the brand partner with a secondary school in south-east London, Harris Academy Greenwich, to inspire innovation through problem-solving and demonstrate to pupils that they can have a successful career in the creative industries. The seven-year long commitment with partner schools involves three main pillars: educating and energising a generation of students with an inspiring curriculum; mentoring and career coaching; and building character by instilling self-belief, particularly in students from working-class backgrounds. “We need to work harder to make these amazing kids realise we exist as an industry with all these beautiful, intricate jobs,” says Jenkins, whose current focus is on scaling up the programme to more schools through a free, open-source platform that includes recommended lesson plans.

Here, Jenkins breaks down the key skills and qualities needed to run a company that has creativity at its core…

1/ Always aim high

“Having super-high standards has helped me get to where I am today. To be a leader, you’ve got to be able to really step up to the highest level and make it clear to everyone around you where that bar is.”

2/ Difficult decisions are easier with a strong team around you

“We cannot do any of this on our own. You have to have your crew – people you can lean on and have candid conversations with. You are always going to work better when you have the right people around you.”

3/ Spread your net wide when recruiting

“Ad agencies need great people – that’s the only differentiator we have, so doubling down on our people and talent strategy is critical. You can't do that without thinking about the widest possible talent pool to call from, otherwise you’re ignoring at least 50 per cent of the amazing people out there. That’s why diversity shouldn’t just be an HR remit, it has to be hardwired into the business strategy as a commercial imperative.”

4/ A little support goes a long way

“Your kindness is a superpower. Ensure that people feel confident, boost them and don’t make them feel stupid. That gets the best out of a team, and everyone rises. Kindness has definitely helped me build my brand, because I knew the importance of bringing that warmth and energy to a team.”

5/ Tell everyone what you’re going to do – and then do it

“The best way to make things happen is to tell people that’s what you are doing. We identified what we were bad at and what we needed to get better at. The more people you tell, the more you’ll feel you have to do it. We said we needed to change this, this and this, and you can hold us accountable for it.”

6/ And finally…

“Don’t forget to get your Weetabix in!”

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