2020 was a weird time for happy moments. It was also a time when the collective world needed every happy moment it could muster. Which is why when Charity Pourhabib’s email announcing the launch of the ADMagic program landed in employees’ inboxes at W+K Portland and W+K New York in November 2020, the monumental feat felt at once like wind for our sails and a sign that, as the 2020-born saying goes, nature was healing.
ADMagic invites students from historically black colleges and universities to apply for a stint at Wieden+Kennedy where they'll explore areas such as brand management, creative, strategy, design and more through mentorship, resources, and a real brief experience.
I met (virtually) to talk with Charity, brand executive at W+K Portland, about the program, which she had been dreaming up since her undergrad years at Hampton University. “During college, I initially became interested in advertising when one of my professors organized a weekend trip to NY to visit different agencies. This was the first time my passion and vision of my career became clear. While I was grateful for the experience to learn more about the field of advertising, I was left with so many unanswered questions. I was curious about the different roles, how commercials came to life, which departments handled what, and more.”
Charity’s affability shines through, even over Zoom, and I can’t help but notice that her waist-up sartorial choices, whether intentional or not, consist of black and purple, the ADMagic colors of record, as well as heaps of gold jewelry that tip her laid-back demeanor into the effortless cool of an LA-born, young 20-something.
She continues to tell me about the inspiration behind ADMagic: “While a large focus of this program is about access, exposure is also key for the agency and students. Once I entered the industry, I immediately realized there were very few people that looked like me and came from my community. Not only were there barriers with industry language and understanding the nuances of each department, there were very few people I could see myself in. It’s difficult to be what you can’t see and even more so when you are in a world you have no connection to. In an attempt to bridge the gap, I joined, participated in, and led diversity and inclusion programs at the agencies I worked at to expose my coworkers to different cultures and people.”
After only five years of conceiving the program, and ultimately finding a partner in Wieden+Kennedy, ADMagic welcomed its inaugural class of 13 students from Hampton, Howard, and Lincoln University. “I stepped into the recruitment process open and excited to see how the students represented themselves. As I read through the applications, I immediately felt the responsibility of what this program represented to the next generation.”
“Students and even newly graduated seniors applied from all over the world, and it was amazing to see the reach ADMagic had during the launch. I wish we could’ve accepted everyone that applied, but for those who weren’t selected, I’ve made myself available as a resource if they have questions and/or need guidance.”
Starting a program like ADMagic in the midst of a pandemic was never what Charity had planned, nor was it easy, but like many ventures that found their footing in 2020, there were some unexpected benefits from the timing. “Because we were all used to working remotely, I was able to work with other offices super seamlessly, involving people across the entire W+K network."
The fact that the students entered the program in the midst of a global pandemic didn’t seem to deter Charity, the ADMagic team, or the students one bit; in fact, it seemed more like one of those things that was able to happen precisely because of the pandemic. While future iterations will likely involve a mix of virtual and in-person experiences, this first year took place completely via Zoom sessions.
These Zoom sessions included one-on-one sessions with mentors hand-picked for the students based on their areas of interest and applications, as well as weekly info sessions with people from departments across the advertising spectrum, and ultimately, a client brief and presentation to the team at Old Spice.
The program also included fun interactive elements like having the incoming students record a video of themselves opening their welcome boxes, which included a personalized note, pens, pencils, chocolate, stickers, notebook, postcards, and other local Portland goodies. The students also recorded confessionals after each of the info sessions, shared moments from their mentorships, and helped create a final wrap video detailing their experience.
“Nothing in this program has been by accident. ADMagic has been in the works since 2016 when I first entered this industry.”
As we slowly inch toward something like normalcy, the sky’s the limit for ADMagic and where it goes from here. “I want to expand the agencies and brands I work with to provide students with a broader understanding of the advertising industry and beyond. I also want to provide experiences for students to travel around the world to different offices and agencies in order to experience ADMagic through different cultures, languages, and lifestyles.”
Jordan Griffin, one of ADMagic’s first graduates, explained to me, “Honestly, I can say after this program I am actually trying to pursue a career in advertising. I have never been interested in advertisements before or even thought about it, but ADMagic and Wieden have shown me that this is a career you can be very successful in, while also having fun and not always needing to be in the spotlight celebrities have to deal with.”
I also asked Jordan what it was like getting to work with Charity. “Working with Charity throughout this program has been amazing. You can clearly see she put a lot of effort [and] thought into not only the creation of the program but also making sure it goes in the right direction. She is a great person who you can see truly cared about us and did her best to get us all the best available resources to make sure we were in great spots to learn and succeed. She is very down to earth and was a great person to be the front runner and leader of the program.”
The 2021 class of ADMagic students graduated from the program this past April, closing out their time together with a Zoom party and box of farewell swag. Charity also put together a video with parting words from some of the folks that participated as a final toast to close out the program.
Charity likened the mix of emotions she’s feeling now that the first class has graduated to the feelings that come at the end of summer camp when everyone has to say their goodbyes.
“It’s a little bittersweet. It’s crazy to look back and see all that's happened. We did seven panel sessions, mentorships with three mentors per student, and real brief experience with Old Spice. I’m excited to think about next year and connecting with the next group of students. Our 2021 students will definitely be involved and we plan to continue nurturing the relationships of every student that comes through ADMagic."
With students from past sessions staying involved, it seems likely that the ADMagic will evolve from a monthslong program into a permanent system of support, mentorship, and accessibility for both HBCU students and the HBCU alumni that find themselves entering the industry post-graduation.
Ultimately, that aligns with Charity’s vision for the program. “My main goal for ADMagic is to create exposure and access for HBCU students to break into the advertising industry. It’s about showing the possibilities and creating the connections to help students reach their potential. I want students to walk out of this program with knowledge, mentors, sponsors, portfolio work, a stronger sense of self, and the resources to create the life they desire.”
ADMagic 2022 is slated to start accepting applications this fall.