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2019 marked the first year of AWARD School’s Indigenous Scholarship program. In this article, we chat with Peter Kirk, founder of Pluto Media and a major driving force behind the program’s creation (pictured above left), as well as our two inaugural Indigenous Scholars: Alysha Menzel and Brad Cooke.

It’s no secret that Australia’s First Nations peoples are vastly under-represented in the advertising industry. In fact, less than one per cent of ad industry players identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

That’s a statistic that Peter Kirk has long wanted to change. Peter is an Indigenous creative and CEO of Pluto Media, a content platform that brings together creative storytelling and artist discovery across multiple genres. “We work with brands and agencies to assist in crafting strategies that underpin the value of working with Indigenous Creatives,” Peter says.

Last year, Peter met with The Communications Council CEO Tony Hale who shared his view that the ad industry needed to be proactive to attract Indigenous talent.

Many discussions and planning sessions later, the AWARD School Indigenous Scholarship program was born, in October 2018.

The Scholarship includes acceptance into the AWARD School Application Workshop and then, if selected, entry into the AWARD School course itself.

“We wanted to identify where the best suitability for Indigenous people was and we recognised that it was AWARD School,” Peter says. “However the demographic and entry point for AWARD School tended to exclude Indigenous people, so the Scholarship was a way of addressing that.”

It’s an understatement to say the program in its inaugural year has been a success.

One 2019 Scholar, Alysha Menzel, was named as the AWARD School Top Student for South Australia/Northern Territory at the AWARD School graduation celebrations on 31 July.

An absolutely thrilled Alysha, a Torres Strait Islander whose mob hails from Queensland, shared her thoughts about the program with us.

“AWARD School pushed me to challenge and expand my creative thought processes. It has taught me how to approach briefs, taking them from insight, to idea, to distilling an execution down to its simplest form. I’ve also been able to make invaluable industry connections. Even though I don’t know what the future holds, my career looks brighter than ever,” Alysha says.
Peter says he’s ‘stoked’ at Alysha’s success.

“Indigenous people are storytellers and are creative in the way we communicate, and Alysha’s win really validates that,” Peter says.

The other inaugural AWARD School Indigenous Scholar, Brad Cooke, says the Scholarship program has great potential for expanding the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ad industry.

“AWARD School was certainly as overwhelming as everyone said it would be. And I probably grossly underestimated the time it took to execute the briefs, Brad says.

Brad is a Bidjigal man from the La Perouse Aboriginal community in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, and is an experienced broadcaster/producer in television and radio, with a sports and community focus.

He says that the capacity of AWARD School to teach ‘resilience’ made it an effective platform for Indigenous people to get into advertising.

“At my age and in my career I’ve learned resilience but for younger people in our communities that’s not the general case. AWARD School can be about creating a safe environment, [and students] can learn that people will say negative stuff about your ideas, they will even dismiss them, so this can teach our people that it’s nothing personal. The ad industry doesn’t need people to feel like they’re not good enough when so many have been told they’re not good enough all their life,” Brad says.

As for the future of the Scholarship program, Peter says it’s bright.

“[The program] has shown the skills that Indigenous people can bring to advertising, not to mention the pride it brings to their mob.”

Alysha has no hesitation in encouraging other Indigenous applicants for the Scholarship program.

“AWARD School is not just a course about advertising, but about creative ideas and storytelling,’ she says.

“It is an intensive course that’s tough, but 100% worth it. It is important to push through those moments of self-doubt, because this is an incredibly rewarding and unique opportunity that is achievable. There is also always support from the network of tutors and peers when times become challenging. If you’re interested in creative thinking then there is absolutely no downside. Just go for it!”

The Communications Council wishes to thank official AWARD School sponsor Facebook Australia for its ongoing support of the Indigneous Scholarship program.

Information about 2020 AWARD School Indigenous Scholarships will be available later this year.