School of Thought

School of Thought is an intensive 12-week training programme for creatives and creative thinkers of all backgrounds. During the 12 weeks, those who participate get to take part in sessions hosted by some of the hottest agencies in the North (School of Thought’s words, not ours) and learn how to develop big pitch ideas for real brands – sounds awesome right! Oh and did we mention it’s a competition? Yep, the creative with the wining idea at the end of the 12-weeks gets an all-expenses paid trip to the infamous Cannes Lions.

We have been lucky enough to take part in School of Thought for the past two years and meet some amazing creatives along the way – so amazing we hired one! Today, we are sitting down with our Creative Director, Ben, and our Art Director/School of Thought Leeds winner 2020, Alison, to chat all about the programme and how it led Alison HOME…

Ben, tell us a bit about how HOME came to get involved in School of Thought?

So, my first ever job was with an agency called Tequila in Manchester, where I worked with a creative called Julian Gratton. Julian was part of the School of Thought team and asked if HOME would like to take part when they came to Leeds.

Alison, how did you hear about it and what made you apply?

I heard about School of Thought at a ‘Chicks in Advertising’ meetup, where I bumped into my friend and previous contestant, Issy Howard. She described it as “the advertising equivalent of Bake Off” which sounded to me like the perfect opportunity to flex my creative muscles.

What was the process like for you?

Ben – Really enjoyable and very interesting! As a student I’d done things like this before, where you go into agencies who’ve set a brief, so it was fun to be on the other side. Also, it’s great to see how lots of different minds approach the brief you set and the ideas they come up with.

Alison – It was a challenge but incredibly rewarding. Each week is fast paced and is designed to push you out of your comfort zone, meaning I quickly learnt to trust my gut. But what truly made it all worthwhile, was having the chance to pitch my ideas to some of the top creatives in Leeds.

What was your highlight of 2020’s School of Thought?

Ben – It’s always the ideas. Just seeing how people think and interpret briefs in different ways – when an idea gets presented and makes you think “I did not see that coming”…

Alison – It’d have to be the big finale showcase, where we each presented the best creative campaign we had worked on. It was great to celebrate how far every one of us had come over the 12 weeks (possibly with a tad too much wine).

How did School of Thought 2021 go?

Ben – Very well. Some great ideas, interesting takes on the brief and great to see everyone present their work.

Alison – Brilliant! Despite the lockdown causing us to go virtual part way through, we quickly adapted and managed to come out of it with some smashing creative work.

How did you connect after last years’ programme?

Ben – So, whenever I see students or graduates with their portfolio or they present work, I always tell them to keep working on their ideas and if they want to come and see me, I’ll always make time to go through it with them. Nine times out of 10 no one does (maybe it’s me?), but Alison did.

About a week after School of Thought, she asked if she could come in and show me her portfolio. She had some great ideas! We chatted through the work, what was great, what wasn’t, what I’d work at to it make better and so on. She then came in again to show more ideas and how she progressed what we’d talked about.

Around the time of our first meeting, we were thinking about getting a new Art Director in creative, so I mentioned to Don, our Executive Creative Director, that I thought Alison would be a great fit based on her work, enthusiasm for advertising and great ideas. A few meet ups later and a signing on the dotted line, we hired Alison as our new Art Director.

Alison – As a creative eager to grow, I found Ben’s to-the-point and honest feedback super constructive. So naturally, after School of Thought, I reached out to further pick his brains.

A lot of work later, my passion had clearly shone through, and I was lucky enough to be offered a job at HOME as an Art Director. To any budding creatives out-there, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation, you never know where it might take you.

Alison, did you know much about HOME before taking part in School of Thought?

I’ve known about HOME since I began my studies at Leeds Arts University back in 2016, and always admired the agency for their truly creative campaigns. To add to the wow-factor was the portfolio of incredible clients and of course the lure of HOME Fest! It’s safe to say, I was thoroughly thrilled to become a Homie myself.

Alison, how did it feel to win and what did you win?

It felt great to have my work recognised by a group of talented creatives in the Leeds ad scene. I couldn’t have imagined just how much it would progress my career.

If I wasn’t honoured enough, I also won a trip to Cannes Lions next year, an event which, like any creative, has always been on my bucket list.

Why would you recommend School of Thought to any budding creatives out there? 

Ben – Well, I guess one, it can get you a job or your next move. As you get to show your skills in front of a range of Creative Directors, they can see how you interpret real client briefs and how you could fit in their agency.

Two, it’s a good way (if you haven’t already) of building a portfolio of work.

Three, it’s a good opportunity to see how different Creative Directors asses yours and other peoples work.

Four, it gets you in the groove of presenting work and selling your ideas in.

And finally, I guess what’s really good about School of Thought is that we brief the creatives on the Monday and they have to come present back on the Thursday – so the deadlines and time scales are real world.

Alison – If you’re looking to get your foot in the industry door and have exhausted every cold email subject line, School of Thought gives you the rare opportunity to put a face to your name and show off your work to top Creative Directors.

You’ll get such a buzz from the creative challenge. For me, it was so refreshing to shift focus from the final execution and instead focus on the idea at the core. By the end of the 12 weeks, I can guarantee you’ll see a huge boost in your skills and your confidence as a creative.

Written by:

Georgia.Preston Senior Marketing Executive


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