Rewriting the path into advertising.

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What’s wrong with portfolio schools, anyway? The traditional gateway to careers in advertising, they cater largely to privileged people from specific backgrounds. Their limitations are increasingly apparent, especially when fostering diversity and real-world skills.

Barkley creative leaders and long-time collaborators, Sam Bonds and Tom Demetriou, felt that something had to be done. “There was a conversation about doing a better job of recruiting BIPOC talent, diverse talent. And I remember my chief creative officer, Katy Hornaday, saying, yeah, but if we do that, we're not helping change the industry,” said Demetriou.

Spurred by the events of 2020, Bonds and Demetriou dreamed of solving the diversity issue in the advertising world. Their goal was not only to develop a program that would increase diversity at BarkleyOKRP, but to transform the industry by reimagining what portfolio school could be. They called their program the Creative Accelerator.

Not your typical hire

Combining the rigorous curriculum of portfolio school with real-world experience, the Creative Accelerator actively recruits talented creatives from underrepresented backgrounds. Bonds and Demetriou sought students with atypical portfolios, such as Aaron Denson. Now a graduate of the program and a designer at BarkleyOKRP, Aaron’s art form is shoes, which he designed, painted, and customized.

“We wanted to be able to bring young folks in with a creative passion, whatever that might be. Whether or not it was something that could blossom into advertising, we didn't know necessarily. We just wanted to have that passion and sense of excitement around the potential of advertising,” said Bonds.

Not your typical DEI initiative

Further disrupting the paradigm of paid secondary education, the Creative Accelerator is a one-year program offering competitive salaries and full benefits for its successful candidates. BarkleyOKRP green-lit the project with a significant financial commitment, and the program began to gather momentum. Across the BarkleyOKRP community, folks put up their hands to be mentors; HR worked tirelessly to get the project off the ground, and creative teams jumped in as teachers, advisors, and friends.

Open roads and an open invitation

The Creative Accelerator's results speak for themselves. It created new paths in the lives and careers of its graduates, who’ve won prestigious awards, including an AAF Mosaic award and a Bronze Clio. All four graduates — or Cadetz as they call themselves — are now BarkleyOKRP hires.

“In terms of helping change how things work, it's a different entry point. It’s a different way of helping young people branch out and establish a network you don’t get from portfolio school. You didn't get that in your first job. You didn't know who the head creative was. You didn't have access to that person. They did, and they do,” said Demetriou.

Bonds and Demetriou want more agencies to commit to a program like the Creative Accelerator. They’re extending an open invitation to any agency or individual who wants to create new inroads in the industry.

“It’s a standing offer from our chief creative officer, Katy Hornaday. We’ll share everything we've learned. We learned a lot of things, some of them the hard way. We were building the plane as we were flying it. But we’re happy to share the blueprint,” said Demetriou.

Contact Sam at or Tom at — they love to discuss their work. You can also read more about the Creative Accelerator program here. 

Watch the recorded video of Bonds and DeMetriou presenting at Creative Week's Morning Buzz in NYC here.

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