How Ogilvy's graduate program helps retain top-tier talent

Ogilvy's Associate program class of 2019
Ogilvy's Associate program class of 2019

The associate training program has given the WPP shop a monopoly on the best and brightest straight out of the gate.

Ogilvy’s graduate trainee program - sometimes described as the "teaching hospital of advertising" - plans to continue to live up to that name with a continued commitment to its unique graduate trainee program.

The program, which launched nearly 15 years ago, has produced a steady flow of talent for Ogilvy, and cohorts who go through the training are much more likely to stay with the company longer than those hired through normal methods, according to Donna Pedro, Ogilvy’s chief diversity officer.

"Associates [from the program] stay at Ogilvy three or more years on average while people that joined normally average a year and a half. These experiences are a retention tool," said Pedro, who oversees the program.

Other training programs in the industry don’t really compare,  according to Pedro.

"I’m not sure that another as structured as this one exists at another agency," she said. 

One unique aspect of the program is its focus on diversity - in terms of people of color, gender and different parts of the country from which the 1,000-2,000 trainees apply.

After taking over as head of the program, Pedro was sure to instill diversity in hiring as a core proponent of the program when it hadn’t been before.

The program, which has been extended from a 12-month time span to 18 months, is designed to give every student that applies an opportunity while ensuring that the best of the best are chosen.

Recruiting is done at target schools, which can change year by year, but submissions are accepted from non-target schools, as well. 

The selection committees are also comprised of diverse individuals in order to ensure fairness across the board. 

"This program is unique because of the structures put in place to remove unconscious bias," Pedro said. 

"We also don’t just focus on advertising or marketing majors either. We’ve hired anthropology majors, psych majors, and others," she added. 

For example, Jay Kurahashi-Sofue, who joined through the program in 2015 and is now head of marketing at Fluidity, was originally a history major.

"As an art history major, I quickly saw that I wasn’t like most applicants for the program, primarily communications and marketing majors, but I believe that my less-common background and experience during my undergraduate years helped me differentiate myself within the competitive talent pool for the Program," he said. 

Sarah Garratt, currently strategist, customer engagement & commerce at Ogilvy who joined via the program in 2016, found it to be a great way to understand the ins-and-outs of the advertising world before jumping in.

"If I'm being honest I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I knew I wanted to explore the big universe of advertising, but I had no idea how many rooms were inside that realm, how many hats I could wear, or what any of that looked like from a day-to-day perspective," she said.

"But having so many experiences in such a short time frame accelerated how quickly I was able to learn my strengths and discover what I truly enjoyed," she added. 

According to Pedro, there are roughly 70 alumni of the program that are currently still employed at Ogilvy, with one 2011 alumni, Ben Levine, serving as a member of the worldwide global executive leadership team. 

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