- NEW YORK
A collective of over 600 Black advertising professionals has come together to demand meaningful action from industry leadership through the release of diversity data and the adoption of policy reform. For decades, Black advertising professionals have not only fought to have a voice among agency decision makers, but for the authentic representation of all cultures in the work produced on behalf of clients. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others both known and unknown, have forced U.S. advertising agencies to reflect on how they should respond to this national crisis. Black agency professionals have an unequivocal response: release your diversity data and reform your practices now.
As of this date, there is no industry data on how many Black men, Black women, or other people of color work in advertising agencies. Without this data, it is impossible to track progress or measure the effectiveness of agency diversity and inclusion efforts.
“It’s insane,” said Nathan Young, group strategy director at Periscope and co-organizer of the collective. “In what other industry would you get away with that? Our clients track and report their diversity data to the ANA, but for some reason we haven’t held agencies to the same standard.”
Bennett D. Bennett, principal at Aerialist and co-organizer of the collective, noted, “When you think about costs of portfolio schools, who gets chosen to give op-eds or thought pieces, or who ends up bringing in awards at major industry award shows, the picture has been pretty clear, and pretty white, for a long time. No matter how amazing Black and non-Black talent of color gets in the door, the industry hasn’t reshaped itself in a way that genuinely accepts the value they bring or empowers them.”
Young assessed, “The release of diversity data would be a meaningful first step. It would show that advertising agency leadership recognizes they have a problem and are committed to solving it.”
But change can’t stop there. In an open letter (click here) to agency leadership, the group offers 12 actions agencies can take to reform practices and improve diversity and inclusion for Black and non-Black people of color.
“This plan is reasonable, and to avoid making public diversity data that major brand clients, publishers, and tech companies have reported for years no longer makes business sense, and tells incoming Black talent that there’s something to hide. ” said Bennett, “There’s no better time than now to start from whatever percentages shake out post-pandemic, and ensuring agency leaders take necessary steps to rebuild what’s long been broken, but masked by superficial celebrations.”
A late-night Twitter conversation between Bennett and Young sparked the idea for the letter.
After trading stories about the discrimination they’ve faced in their own careers, they uncovered a need for increased organizing in the Black advertising professional community. By expanding this conversation across their professional and personal networks, the group has grown organically into a collective of more than 600+ Black professionals from leading agencies across the nation.
The group has outlined an actionable vision for addressing the advertising industry’s diversity and inclusion issues. This unique moment in our country’s history represents an opportunity for advertising leaders to change course and finally achieve a workforce that is more reflective of the clients and customers they serve.
“Brands aren’t looking for stunts from their agencies right now. They are looking for creative leadership from smarter, more diverse teams” said Young, “Answer their call. Adopt meaningful reform now.”
Here’s the full letter:
A Call for Change
Black professionals in advertising demand urgent action from agency leadership.
The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shocked the nation and brought millions of Americans to the streets in righteous protest. As loud as these protests are, it is impossible to overstate the pain that has been felt by your Black colleagues as the still-fresh wounds from Ferguson, Baltimore and countless other flashpoints of racial violence were once again re-opened. We hurt because we have seen this movie before. We hurt because we expect that, once again, when the streets have cleared and the hashtags have been retired, little will be done to address the systemic racism and economic injustice we face each and every day.
Over the past week, we have seen messages of solidarity sent out by several agencies and agency leaders. Though we are encouraged by these messages, their words ring hollow in the face of our daily lived experiences.
After decades of well-intentioned diversity & inclusion efforts, we have seen little progress in making Black voices a more representative part of the creative process. We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions. And because this industry does not release or track diversity numbers, it is impossible to tell what, if any, progress has been made.
Worse still, there is a “boys’ club” mentality that remains pervasive in this industry. The same elitism & discriminatory behavior that has restricted women from advancing in the workplace, has resulted in an oppressive mono-culture that stifles the growth of Black agency professionals and restricts our ability to express our true selves.
We are asking all U.S. advertising agencies to take the following actions to address the systemic racism that is afflicting our industry:
- Make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially Senior and Leadership positions
- Track and publicly report workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the agency and the industry
- Audit agency policies and culture to ensure the environment we work in is more equitable and inclusive to a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives
- Provide extensive bias training to HR employees and all levels of management
- Extend agency outreach to a more diverse representation of colleges, universities, and art schools
- Expand residencies and internship programs to candidates with transferable skills who may not have taken a traditional educational path toward advertising
- Create, fund, and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Black employees
- Invest in management and leadership training, as well as mentorship, sponsorship, and other career development programs for Black employees
- Require all leadership to be active participants in company Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and tie success in those initiatives to bonus compensation.
- Create a Diversity & Inclusion committee made up of Black and NBPOC employees to help shape diversity & inclusion policy and monitor its progress
- Establish a diversity review panel to stem the spread of stereotypes in creative work and ensure offensive or culturally insensitive work is never published
- Introduce a wage equity plan to ensure that Black women, Black men and people of color are being compensated fairly
Though advertising agencies boast some of the most politically progressive business leaders in America, agency leadership has been blind to the systemic racism and inequity that persists within our industry. Many gallons of ink have been spilled on op-eds and think pieces, but tangible progress has eluded this industry for too long.
We, the signatories of this letter, are calling out for change in the form of direct action. We stand in solidarity with our women, non-binary, LGBTQ+, disabled and NBPOC colleagues who have made similar calls for change.
Show us you’re listening. Take decisive action now.
Black lives matter.