Shift Disturbers: Tosin Adeniyi helps Black youth find their place in ad land

The Nigerian-born account coordinator's networking efforts bloomed into a mentorship program geared towards giving talent exposure they might not otherwise get.

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This story is part of Shift Disturbers, a profile series exploring the successes, creative contributions and hard work underrepresented talent are doing to challenge the status quo in the industry.

Tosin Adeniyi probably wouldn’t be in advertising today were it not for her many mentors, a group that includes Richard Bingham, the Bachelor of Creative Advertising program coordinator at Humber College in Toronto. “I don’t think he realizes how much of an influence he’s had on me and my career,” says Adeniyi, now an account coordinator at FCB in Toronto.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Adeniyi moved to Canada in 2015 to study visual culture and communication at the University of Toronto before ending up in the advertising program at Humber. She arrived in Canada feeling like a “superstar who could do anything,” she says. “But, all of sudden, my race became a thing.”

Observing the lack of Black talent in her field of interest, she began to feel she would struggle to find a place in it, she says. But Bingham encouraged her to stick it out, telling her, “The industry needs you more than you need it.”

Bingham spent hours reviewing her resume and helped Adeniyi network and connect with agency folk, ultimately helping her land a coveted internship with the McDonald’s team at Cossette – a role she says she “genuinely didn’t think [she] could get.”

“There are a lot of people who are extremely qualified, but don’t necessarily speak the speak,” Adeniyi says of the importance of mentorship more generally. “During the interview process, a lot of times people are looking for who feels like a good fit. If you don’t know the words… if you haven’t really been exposed, it can be really tricky to come across as someone who’s a good fit.”

Coming off her internship last spring, Adeniyi resolved to help fix the issue she had identified from her earliest days in school and channeled her desire for change into launching the All Things Ad mentorship program, designed to help other Black talent find their place in ad land.

“I had gotten a bit of exposure to industry, and it was quite alarming to me just how lonely my experience was so far, from the lens of always being the only African immigrant in the room or, many times, being the only Black person or Black woman in the room,” she says. “I knew people who are Black, who have a similar background as me, who had tried to get into advertising and had no luck. And I realized what made me different… was that I was in a program that gave me a lot of exposure to people in the industry. Not a lot of Black people have that privilege.”

Now in its second year, All Things Ad is a 10-week program exclusively for Black youth under the age of 30 that caters to an array of disciplines: art direction, copywriting, account management, media planning and social media. Mentors give one hour of their time per week to their mentees, sharing industry insights, providing portfolio critiques and reviewing resumes.

Though the program has now been formalized and is receiving support this year from FCB Toronto and FCB/Six, it was informally launched based on a promise from Adeniyi to casually play “matchmaker” between young ad people who were looking for guidance and more experienced volunteers who were able to provide it.

It was only when the idea “blew up,” with 35 mentees signing up to participate, that she realized her side-hustle would benefit from a more structured approach. She connected with Dami Eluyera, a brand strategist at A Brand New Thing, founder of the IMDOINGIT business mentorship for Black youth launched in 2020 and someone Adeniyi also considers a mentor. Now, All Things Ad sits under the broader IMDOINGIT umbrella.

“I still can’t say how long this [program] is going to go on for,” Adeniyi says, adding she never expected it to last more than one year. “But it was clear that the work wasn’t finished.”

All Things Ad is currently in the process of tracking down where each of the participants of the first cohort ended up. Through the process, a few people have found clarity and decided agency life wasn’t for them, says Adeniyi. But a handful of others have already found homes within agencies.

For instance, in a social media post thanking her mentor Glenesha Grant (a strategist at Juniper Park/TBWA) for assisting her through the job hunt, Zainab Raji recently announced having joined Cossette as an account coordinator on the TD account. Another person is now working as a marketing coordinator at an NGO. From their recent conversations, Adeniyi says Raji feels her mentor “played a key role in terms of connecting her with different people, and helping her.”

This year’s cohort of 30-plus young talent began their mentorships earlier this month. However, the All Things Ad program continues to accept applications on a waitlist basis for next year.

To nominate someone for Shift Disturbers, please contact Associate Editor Justin Dallaire.