Verizon's CMO is launching a fellowship program to tackle the ad industry's diversity problem

Madison Avenue’s lack of diversity has been a growing concern for several big name marketers over the past year.

Take Verizon, whose chief marketing officer Diego Scotti sent out a letter to its agency partners a year ago, calling on them to improve the number of women and people of colour working for them.

On Monday, the telecom company took its efforts a step further by unveiling its very own diversity fellowship program.

Ad Fellows is an eight month-long fellowship program, in which 20 college graduates with diverse backgrounds will rotate across different positions at both Verizon and a handful of its partner agencies. The program aims at providing the participants valuable experience across Verizon’s several marketing functions, from creative and media to public relations.

“As one of the country’s top five advertisers, Verizon sees it as our responsibility to lead the conversation on diversity and take action to promote broader industry change,” Scotti told Business Insider. “We want our company, as well as our agency partners, to reflect our customers, and to make that happen we need a pipeline of diverse talent.”

The idea behind the rotational program is to give the recent graduates a chance to explore different parts of the marketing and advertising business, and find the areas they are passionate about and excel in. The hope is that at the end of the program, 90% of the fellows will score full-time jobs at one of the six companies participating in Ad Fellows.

Since calling on its agencies to disclose their progress last year, Scotti has led the charge in getting them to set up action plans as well as host regular check-in meetings. And Verizon is far from alone. Other big advertisers, including HP and General Mills, have also been at the forefront of calling for changes in the ad business.

Scotti added that the Ad Fellows program is just one pillar of his three-pronged approach to ensuring that Verizon and its partners embrace diversity. In addition, the company is also investing in broader industry and community efforts like The One Club and the Marcus Graham Project. The company has also been working to incorporate diversity into its creative output. Its recent Samsung S8 spot
, for example, featured an actual Verizon woman engineer called Ammara Bhaimeah.

The Ad Fellows program is fully paid and covers housing and expenses for all of the 20 fellows, ensuring that people of all backgrounds have the chance to participate. Apart from Verizon, agencies including McCann, Momentum, Rauxa, Zenith and Weber Shandwick are also participating in the program.

Ultimately, Scotti hopes to not only have multiple cycles of the program per year, but also to extend the program beyond Verizon.

“I would love it if our model can serve as inspiration and that every company in America and their agencies will offer a program like AdFellows,” he said. “Solving diversity issues is not an easy feat and it can’t be done alone.”

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