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Oriel Davis-Lyons

Creative Director | Spotify

New York, NY

by Mara Serdans

How ONE School is Changing the Advertising Industry One Black Creative at a Time

Spotify Creative Director, Oriel Davis-Lyons believes a “good idea is hard to argue with and a book full of good ideas is the best way to get your foot in the door.” But what if those ideas can never see the light of day because of a lack of resources or privilege? Well, Oriel is on a mission to change that, one Black creative at a time.

With more than 100 major awards under his belt and a decade of experience working at some of the world’s top agencies including Droga5, R/GA, and Colenso BBDO, you’d think advertising was in Oriel’s blood. Surprisingly, Oriel did not consider advertising as a career until his mid-twenties after realizing that he no longer wanted to pursue a career as a chef.

Oriel stumbled into advertising via a ten-week portfolio program while living in New Zealand. With a newfound love for this craft and a book full of good ideas, Oriel landed an internship, setting the stage for his successful career.

“When I got to the United States, I was really surprised to not see something similar, especially given the size of the market and the industry here,” added Oriel. This notion was the seed that eventually grew into ONE School, a program Oriel created in partnership with The One Club For Creativity to help Black creatives build their portfolios and break down the barriers that often prevent Black people from pursuing a career in the industry.

As many of us are familiar with, becoming an advertising creative relies heavily on having the resources to afford one of the top portfolio schools, which can set a student back $40k per year. This cost plus any loans a student may already have from another school can extinguish any young creative’s dream.

As a result, the traditional portfolio schools lack the diversity that our industry sorely needs. Most incoming employees come from the same portfolio schools and look the same, which adds to the lack of diversity.

“So where are all the young Black creatives? We know they’re out there. We’re using all their music, dressing our talent in their fashion, and following them on Twitter. We know they’re out there creating culture and we’re leaning on it but they’re not inside the building having a say over how that culture is being interpreted in a brand."

So, Oriel set out to make a change. With the pandemic in full swing during Summer 2020, Oriel posted a message to LinkedIn offering any young Black creatives who didn’t have $40k or two years to wait with help in creating their portfolio. He received over 300 responses and the program began as a series of informal Zoom lectures covering the basics of putting a book together.

Shortly thereafter, The One Club for Creativity reached out with an offer to help support ONE School. Two weeks after their conversation, ONE School had a website and brought in its first class of students one month later. As head of ONE School, Oriel oversees the curriculum and execution of all programs throughout the year and facilitates the New York classes.

ONE School is tuition-free and runs two schools online per semester - New York and Los Angeles in the Spring and Chicago and Atlanta in the Fall. The curriculum is quite intense, and students meet online two nights a week over the course of ten weeks. Every Tuesday night, an industry executive lectures the class and assigns a new brief that is based on a channel or discipline students may encounter in the real world.

Students work on multiple briefs at once and tutors offer guidance and support throughout. At the end of the program, tutors judge the work and select a top student plus honors students from each class. All the books get displayed on the ONE School website.

Since the tutors also work as full-time agency or brand creatives, the students get a sense of what’s happening in the industry right now from the best and brightest creatives.

“Our primary goal is to get the students thinking as big as possible. They’ll have their whole careers to learn about budgets and banners, but we really want to get their brains into that mode of providing quick creative responses, problem-solving, and offering great insights…and we really push them to get them into that way of thinking,” adds Oriel.

This Spring marks ONE School’s fourth semester and the program has quickly developed a reputation for its high-caliber creatives. Agencies and brands in the know eagerly await to snap up students from each graduating class because they see the difference in work. Since its inception, graduates have landed jobs at Droga5, 72&Sunny, Anomaly, Squarespace, Mojo Supermarket, and many more.

“We want the books to feel like they couldn’t come from anyone else – they come from students whose experiences are different. Our school motto is Creatively Excellent, Unapologetically Black,” says Oriel. “It’s a new take on advertising that we haven’t seen before. Previously, as a Black creative you’re one of a few, or maybe the only one and typically your job is to fit in and not stand out for being yourself.” ONE School aims to change that.

ONE School typically receives 100-300 applications, and the selection process is competitive since the program only accepts fifteen students per class. Each candidate is required to answer a brief and include a short video about themselves and why they want to participate in the program. Tutors want to see how candidates express their creativity and prove their willingness to put in the time and commitment. The application process is an exciting time for tutors because the candidates are completely unconstrained and submit everything from poetry to music videos.

The program also attracts students from all walks of life. Some students may have studied a related field or have pursued a more academic discipline. Other students may be transitioning from a completely different career but have always been creative at heart. What the candidates all have in common is that they’re buzzing with creative energy and are looking to channel it into a creative career.

“The beauty of the program is that it’s accessible to anyone and if you put in the time and work, you will get a book, and it will open doors for you,” says Oriel.

Since the school is free, ONE School relies on sponsorships and donations to maintain the program. Recognizing its long-term value, brands and agencies including Coca-Cola, Mailchimp, Droga5, GS&P, Deutsch, and more are stepping up to partner and sponsor ONE School. It’s ultimately a win-win because sponsors will benefit from hiring these talented graduates.

While many sponsors offer financial support, some have come up with cool, alternative ways to support the school by providing students with office space and speed portfolio reviews.

Last year, Clarks Originals partnered with ONE School and gave them a live brief tasking students to design a shoe, a project very much outside of a traditional advertising creative’s role. The students

jumped on the opportunity and Clarks ended up picking a design that is in production and will launch

this Summer. “That’s one of those opportunities or experiences that you can never plan for or couldn’t

imagine it happening…watching students get those opportunities and make the most of them is

fantastic,” adds Oriel.

“As much as ONE School was born out of the urgency

to fix the diversity problem in the industry, the only

way it will stick is if the school is around for the next

20-30 years."

Oriel wants to create a sustainable model where the graduates of today will come back as lecturers or sponsor the school so it can achieve even greater success.

He sees the momentum happening now. Alumni often keep in touch via Slack and notify the newest graduates of any job openings. Seeing the community grow and support one another in various stages of their career has been rewarding for Oriel. “My favorite part of the process is when graduates send me their work,” says Oriel. Oriel can’t help but feel vested in the students and their professional journey.

We’ll definitely be keeping tabs on the ONE School graduates and look forward to seeing the school pave the way for a new kind of industry, one that is “creatively excellent, unapologetically Black.”

If you’re interested in partnering with or sponsoring ONE School, please reach out to today!


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