The agency’s ADMagic program connects diverse students to the ad industry
Charity Pourhabib wants to make sure the students who come after her have an easier time breaking into the ad industry than she did.
“There are a lot of things that I wish I had and my peers wish they had,” said Pourhabib, a brand executive at Wieden+Kennedy and Hampton University alum. “I wish I knew what strategy was before I got into it—and I wish I had a mentor to review my portfolio before I sent it in.”
Black employees make up less than 6% of the advertising industry, and during her time at an HBCU, Pourhabib could certainly feel that divide—there was an overall lack of exposure to the space, as well as knowledge on how to break into it.
Wieden+Kennedy just welcomed its second class for ADMagic, an eight-week program that was the brainchild of Pourhabib. It works to “hack into a system of sameness” and address industry diversity by providing students from HBCUs—like Lincoln, Hampton and Howard—the opportunity to receive one-on-one mentorship, connect with industry leaders through panel sessions and work on a client brief. In a university environment where most assignments are hypothetical, Pourhabib said assigning students to a real-world project—in 2021 students worked on Old Spice—is a crucial part of the program.
But instead of just sponsoring the professional trajectory of a small group of students and moving on, she hopes to have a long-term impact on these universities and the career support that they offer.
“We want to have a continuous connection with the universities, so when internship opportunities pop up at different brands and agencies, we can share them and encourage students to apply,” she said. “We want to create a direct pipeline for talent.”
Making advertising an option
Pourhabib is certain that there are students who could thrive in an advertising career but don’t realize the opportunities are available due to a lack of representation. Joann Njeri, who graduated from ADMagic in 2021 and is now looking for a community management position at an agency, was once one of those candidates.
“If it wasn’t for Ad Magic, I wouldn’t know anything about advertising,” she said. “I had no idea how to get in the door or how the industry worked. The industry is pretty gatekept because of lack of awareness and resources.”
According to Njeri and Sydni Hatley, another ADMagic 2021 graduate and Hampton student, the highlight of the experience was being surrounded by other Black creatives, as well as the unlimited access to employees across the agency.
“We received everyone’s emails at the beginning of the program and had access to everyone across Wieden+Kennedy,” she said. “You don’t always get people who are going to welcome you with open arms. Being an HBCU student who had no prior exposure to ad work, it was the perfect introduction.”
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According to Pourhabib, it is easy for students to assume that they must be skilled at writing or design to succeed in advertising without understanding the full picture of the industry. When considering candidates, she isn’t in favor of a specific major, GPA or school of education, as a crucial aspect of creating a more diverse pipeline is tapping students from different areas of interest.
“Advertising is a huge industry with many departments that have to exist for great work to come out into the world, from business affairs to ad trafficking,” she said. “The talent is there. It’s just about not always looking in the same spaces.”
By Emmy Liederman