RAPP opens its doors to talent without college degrees

The agency’s “Emerging Leaders” program uses mentorship skills-based learning to groom creative talent that didn’t graduate from a four-year college or university.

On September 20, RAPP welcomed its first team member who doesn’t have a college degree. 

Christian Wimberly, a 2020 high school graduate based in L.A., joined the agency as the first participant in RAPP’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), a talent recruitment and retention initiative designed to help people without college degrees break into advertising. He joined the team as an assistant account executive. 

RAPP launched the program earlier this year to open its doors to talent from diverse backgrounds and disadvantaged circumstances. It was inspired by the talent gap, racial inequities in hiring practices and recent data that shows 60% of working Americans do not have a bachelor’s degree, said Mark Miller, SVP and client partner at RAPP.

“It's upsetting to see that our industry is predominantly white,” he said. “I thought it could be because of a lack of awareness from [multicultural groups] about opportunities. But then I started [realizing] the [barriers around] advanced education.” 

The program invites seniors in high school, recent graduates or other young talent without a degree to apply for a position on a microsite. Candidates are not required to have any prior experience in advertising, but are asked to select a “track” of interest, from options including  tech, business management and creative. 

After an interview, selected candidates are onboarded for 12 months as full-time salaried employees with benefits, vacation time, development training and mentorship from industry leaders. RAPP is also encouraging continuing education with a $5,000 tuition reimbursement for those that choose to return to school. 

The agency has tapped leadership from the American Advertising Federation (AAF) and hired coaches to provide mentorship and education to candidates. 

“We have commitment from all the discipline leads to make sure that we are dedicating the time to mentor and educate,” Miller said.

For Wimberly, who had to drop out of college for financial reasons, the job is a much-needed opportunity to advance his career without having to stress about an education, he said. 

While he has had several internships, including with Bank of America, marketing and advertising has always been an area of interest. 

“I briefly attended Cal State Northridge for my freshman year where I majored in marketing. I was always interested in the marketing/advertising space, I just didn’t know how to get there,” Wimberly said in an email. “This felt like the perfect opportunity to attain my dream job.” 

Wimberly hopes to make connections in the industry and use his experiences to progress his “Positive Vibez Only” side hustle, an outlet for people to express creativity and positivity. 

The Emerging Leaders program launched L.A., but RAPP expects to expand it to all its locations in the U.S. The agency is currently searching for a candidate in Dallas. It has not yet determined how many candidates it aims to hire.

In the meantime, Wimberly continues to learn the basics of marketing from his team. 

“I personally believe this is an innovation-led industry,” he said. “We have the opportunity to help the world through branding and create changes for future generations.” 

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