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Written by Antoinette M. Johnson


In grade school I had little insight into what branding was.

Growing up, I didn’t have the means to take art classes. I joked that the only way to get agency experience was to create one yourself. It wasn’t until college, when I decided to teach myself design, that I finally found the courage to be a creative.

Due to that lack of access, I’ve always had a desire…To build a creative agency that engages people who would otherwise have a hard time getting their foot in the door.

Lots of people have a difficult time getting inside the walls of agencies. Not because of their talent, but mostly because the industry is so competitive, that people without a prestigious design education can barely get an unpaid internship. You knock on doors and get turned away. It’s embarrassing and ends up frustrating some key people whose voice really matters in the future of branding and marketing.

The traditional agency model is in need of a disruption.

There’s a lack of diversity that plagues our creative world. You find the same types of people in every department; accounts, biz dev, web, copy, and it’s become predictable. Diversity is missing in the traditional agency model and it hurts everyone.

How can we be truly creative if diverse voices aren’t a part of the conversation?

For the past several years, our team team has been fully immersed in week-long workshops designed for FirstHand students. This program’s mission is to give young, bright minds access to the knowledge and resources of the University City Science Center. They engage local students on a regular basis from West Philly and beyond, to fuel discovery and exploration with interactive programming around STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and math).

We have the privilege of teaching and collaborating with the students, giving them access to:

  • Real life projects, applying their point of view to a client’s challenge
  • Access to a professional setting to learn soft skills and gain exposure to an agency environment
  • Design skills and technical training
  • Building relationships with mentors who will be with them hopefully their entire career

Imagine the opportunities ahead for these kids who traditionally wouldn’t have access to these experiences.

These kids have a huge desire to learn, and their future is wide open.

Dylan Garner, Creative Director

Working with FirstHand has given our team renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for our daily work and this chance to share it. We are so fortunate to do what we love every day, but sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture. Through mentoring, we are given a rare chance to collaborate on what we all want the future to look like.

Thank you to the FirstHand students Deonte, Darlene, and Jade for joining us and bringing energy and enthusiasm. To Maya, Adam, and David who trusted the vision and organized this partnership. To Dylan, Risa, Avery, and Randi at Cohere who bonded with these students and dedicated their valuable time to making a Cohere dream come to fruition.

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