GCA Open Call, and the Secret to Creative Innovation and Succession Planning

Aug 16, 2022 | Design and Production Support

Introducing GCA Open Call – an invitation to innovate and add value with design graduates

The GCA is delighted to be working again with GCA member and industry creative leader Geoff Sanderson. Geoff has held several senior roles – as Creative Director of Tigerprint/M&S, Group Creative Director of Hallmark UK and for several years Design Director at Moonpig.

Geoff has long recognized the opportunity for bringing new talent into the industry and has kindly given his time and expertise to work with the GCA to develop a graduate recruitment pathway that is a common and well established route to new talent in many other industries.

In my time, I’ve built and recruited creative teams for many studios and if you asked me what the common factors were about building and sustaining the creative success in all these business types, whatever the shape, size and budget, I’d say; being innovative and developing a consumer understanding alongside creativity.

These two factors are critical but having the right creative recruitment in place, from a graduate level upwards is essential for design innovation. Equally for larger creative teams this also offers the possibility of succession planning.

Geoff Sanderson

Geoff has worked around the world of cards, gifting and licensing as a consultant and advisor for many years, and has seen and worked in every shape and size of publisher from his own market stall to cash-strapped start-ups to corporate PLCs. Geoff also helped to bring about the wonderful 100 Year of Cards Exhibition developed to celebrate the GCA’s centenary in 2019.

The best and the most cost effective way of ensuring a successful creative pipeline

Geoff explains:

I’m here to tell you about one of my favourite things and maybe the most valuable secret in maintaining creative innovation and succession planning:

This is the development and nurturing of fresh graduate talent straight from degree shows, through offering placements, work experience, freelance commission which can then organically lead to contracts and full-time jobs.

The greeting card business is not just about creativity it’s a team game, where good commercial decisions and pricing, backed by great production quality, when coupled with relevant creative design is a winning combination. Whether it be a large in-house creative team, a loose freelance network or at your kitchen table, every creative process and person needs challenging as well as encouraging. The best and the most cost effective way of ensuring a successful creative pipeline is to be active in sourcing new talent in the graduate market to bring through year on year; rather like how an under 23s football team supports a first team. So building talent from the ground up is a practical as well as cost effective way of developing teams but critically, also an innovative way of developing creative ideas if you’re willing to invest time in development and imparting knowledge.

Promoting our wonderful industry to graduates

As an overarching concern, I also feel that the industry could visibly do more to open its doors and provide a pathway to graduates of illustration and graphic design in particular. Many graduates do not know the industry exists and if they do, they don’t know how to tap into it

Geoff Sanderson

Hallmark are doing an amazing job at keeping the flag flying but there’s room for many more. This is a wonderful industry for creative people to join; tell any senior lecturer about the scale and size of the industry and the opportunities that exist, and they’ll marvel at its potential for graduates, especially in the scary post Covid world where opportunity is scarce. There are thousands of willing entrants but no main doorway often leading to missed opportunity, misunderstanding and frustration.

The GCA realised this opportunity for our industry when they worked with University of Herts last year, see the GCA’s How to Get Into The Card Industry blog.

GCA Graduate Open Call

That’s why I’ve been so exciting about helping the GCA to develop this test project, continues Geoff, which we’ve called GCA Open Call.

This project was kick-started by a visit to the New Designers show where I sourced several graduates from three illustration courses to attend the conference. This curated sample is a taster of the talent available each year and this annual GCA conference is acting as a pilot to assess the potential and interest within the industry, whilst gathering opinions from all for future years.

BCU illustrations “Get Lost” degree show stand

If “Open Call” works there is the potential to scale this up quickly, so in coming years we can annually bring the industry ‘the best’ of the creative degree shows in the Open Call showcase. This not only builds the pathway to more placements and work experience, but potentially saves many hours in the talent sourcing process, by focusing on those interested in the card industry (similar to the publisher/retailer GCA Dragons Speed Dating). This exercise also aims to make the GCA a credible point of call for information about the industry, graduate work placement opportunities, jobs etc.

In time this could lead to the development of a portal connecting publishers with graduates, and supporting graduates with access to industry information.

Let’s shout about what we’re doing!

I know many of you are already active in this field and investing in projects and placements already; and many come from graduate backgrounds so will know the issues, but after 35 years of being involved in this graduate sourcing process I still can’t believe that no centralised information point exists.

Whilst this is about openness, it still aims to respect confidences and boundaries in your creative process and is not intended to create issues. I know at times you need to keep your powder dry, but this also hides the positive work that can be shown to the wider world, academia and the news media.

Let’s shout about what we’re doing; I’d bet the industry already employs a high percentage of graduates and is maybe already a success story. PGBuzz recently shared what Hallmark are doing. I’d also bet that many of those successful graduates found a way in by default.

This graduate recruitment pathway is very common and well established in other industries so why not ours? Please contact us and let us know if you are able to share work you are already doing in this area.

Setting the Standards

I also think this formalisation should be led by the GCA (i.e. all of us) as we can set standards for future best practice and common ground across our amazing publisher base and make it all a little easier, clearer and more credible for both employer and employee as a whole, as it can be a bit of a maze.

You can spend as little or as much time or money as you want in this arena, but however much, I can guarantee it’s time and money well spent. For my money it’s a very satisfying, positive and rewarding process for all parties; you, your business and sales. Ultimately to those who you support in their fledgling careers, it’s priceless!

Graduate Talent Sourcing for GCA Open Call

This is my 35th year sourcing graduate talent and I’m delighted to be sourcing talent for the GCA on behalf of our industry.

I started this year at the New Designers graduate showcase at the Business Design Centre in Islington. New Designers is the UK’s leading graduate design showcase; featuring the best of all regional degree shows under one roof including many design disciplines and hundred of students.

The students short-listed for Open Call this year are from Birmingham City, Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham Trent Universities.

I have subsequently met with the short-listed students, and briefed them on our industry. I have asked them to start some research for pending projects. Ahead of the of Conference I will be mentoring them further.

At the GCA Conference I will be speaking more about this project and introducing some of the students and their work.

Next Steps

To meet our 2022 GCA Open Call Graduates click here! As well as the shortlisted graduates, this blog includes the views from academia on the opportunity, explaining more about Open Call and sharing more information about how you can get involved.

If you are interested in getting involved in this project please contact me through the GCA I’d love to hear from you.

Come to our Conference on 29th September to hear more, and meet our short-listed graduates, click on the link to book your ticket now.

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