Jo Arscott On advertising

Described by the Design Council as Britain’s first black female advertising creative director, Jo Arscott has worked in the industry since the late 1980s for the likes of Coca-Cola, Huawei and Proctor & Gamble. She has built her career around understanding the personal and political challenges of the global consumer and the emotional and authentic brand connections needed to bridge that gap. Jo mentors and lectures at UAL, Central Saint Martins and The University of Gloucester and also advises on creative diversity within the industry.

“I grew up in Cheltenham where jobs like advertising didn’t really come up in the careers guide books”
Careers people don’t tell you to go into the creative industries: it’s always sensible jobs like banking or secretarial but I knew I had a vivid imagination and wanted to tell stories. That’s as much as I knew. ‘Look at this product and imagine a story for it’, ‘how do you bring it to life?’ – that’s why I chose working in the media.

“The industry at the time was full of white northern lads”
Everyone worked hard through the night, got paid peanuts to work 24 hours a day and played hard too. It was all based around pool, snooker and the pub at lunchtime. Women creators didn’t really fit in. I just went in knowing I was good at it and that I had to deliver. I didn’t think about my colour once.

“Change has to start at the education stage. It has to start in school.”
People in the industry have to go out and educate people about what they do. I take afternoons off and teach people who are 8 and 9 years old about advertising. People don’t necessarily see all these creative industries as a viable career so we need to make them aware of them and make this part of the syllabus.

“To be creative in advertising you have to have an open mind”
You have to be able to speak to everybody of all groups. Of course, to do that well you have to have people from all cultures as part of the mix – whether on accounts side, client side or creative side.

“The standard has risen when it comes to diversity. The industry is really going in the right direction.”
When I started if there were people of colour in ads, they tended to be the bus conductor or someone who worked in a shop. Now you see commercials for gravy and it’s families around the table of all races and ages. You see disability and LGBT characters. So we’re definitely getting there. However some brands have got things seriously wrong so there’s been a period in the last couple of years of tip-toeing, which is why we’re now seeing, dare I say it, charity-esque hiring sprees. I see that calming down and a naturalness coming.

“Advertising is great because you can be yourself”
That’s why I love it. The best creatives are the one who can be themselves. Put them in a box and restrain them and you’re fucked.