Best Buy, UnitedHealth Group's Optum unit and marketing firm Wunderman Thompson have pledged $1 million to launch a paid fellowship program with the BrandLab that will train college graduates and help diversify the marketing and advertising industries.

The three-year LabFellows partnership announced Monday will be run by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit BrandLab. It will start in the spring with 16 marketing fellows who will rotate through eight-month internships at the three companies.

The first year will also involve a stint at the media agency Essence, a division of the British-owned advertising firm WPP.

BrandLab officials said their partners have a shared commitment to boost equity, inclusion and diversity within their organizations. The fellowship comes at a time when corporate marketing departments and advertising agencies nationwide have acknowledged that people of color are severely underrepresented in their ranks.

Following the police killing of George Floyd in late May and the nationwide protests that followed, advertising and marketing firms such as BrandLab, Fallon, Carmichael Lynch, Colle McVoy, Padilla, Periscope and Solve joined a #CommitToChange effort meant to shine a spotlight on the persistent lack of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Indians in advertising and marketing. The companies published employment numbers by race and pledged to increase the number of people of color working for them.

BrandLab's goal is to administer and support efforts to diversify the industry. Its officials said the new fellowship program should help.

"One of our primary goals at the BrandLab is to create equal opportunities for our college students and alumni by eliminating barriers and building bridges into that first marketing or advertising job," said Thomas Toley, a director at BrandLab.

He noted that the fellows will do "hands-on work" in brand and digital marketing, art direction, design, copywriting and media practices. The end goal is to place all LabFellows graduates in full-time positions.

Best Buy, UnitedHealth Group's Optum unit, Wunderman Thompson, Essence and BrandLab staff will provide LabFellows with résumé, portfolio and career counseling, as well as job referrals, as needed.

The $1 million in pledges will fund fellow stipends and support full-time staff for the BrandLab to run the program.

Frank Crowson, chief marketing officer of Best Buy and a BrandLab board member, praised the new effort.

"Creating more learning and development opportunities for youth and inspiring creative, young talent, by giving them the skills they need, could not be more in line with the work we are doing at Best Buy," Crowson said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725