Friday, May 12, 2006
True Agency CEO Richard Wayner (pictured above) recently spoke out regarding racism in advertising, and AdAge.com later reported on Wayner’s rant (see Essay 582). Below are a few posted comments…
• I ask another question: How global are global agency teams working on global remits. And how global are clients’ marketing teams? — Kuala Lumpur
• Only clients have the power to cut through the excuses, arrogance and lack of cultural clarity that perpetuate the lack of diversity in our industry. — New York, NY
• As an African-American, industry veteran and agency owner, I must agree with Mr. Wayner’s assessment. My reason? Most in the advertising industry don’t believe a black person can do “general market” (read white) work. Plain and simple. So African-Americans with talent are often relegated to working at minority shops or waiting eons for an opportunity to work at a mainstream agency. More often than not, that chance never comes. There are exceptions, of course. People like Jimmy Smith and Edwin Crayton have had and continue to have the opportunity to do work at mainstream agencies. But they’re truly a minority. I’ve learned from experience. As a young creative I possessed a portfolio that would’ve gotten any white copywriter a position at some of the best shops in the country.
I know this because I’ve been told that time and time again by top-of-the-line heavyweights that have seen my book. Creative directors and headhunters alike lauded my book when I sent it in for review. But I could always tell how the tide had changed when they met me in person and saw that I was black. They simply were not ready to deal with the fact that this black guy could do such great work. But the same thought process that goes into segregating the creative workforce is also at work when it comes to comparing the kind of accounts on rosters at general and minority agencies. Clients don’t want to trust black-owned agencies with their brand(s) or their money. Unless it’s for something music (read rap) or sports (read basketball) related. So you’ll find that many of these agencies do only minority work. NEWSFLASH! Not all black-owned agencies want to do strictly minority-oriented work. In fact, for those of us who it makes a difference to, it’s not an option at all. Simply because at most minority firms, there’s no real opportunity to produce original creative work; since the majority of the work requires taking what a white agency has done and making it “black.” It’s a dirty little secret we have in our industry that’s tolerated because some believe it is better to get a small piece of the pie than not to get one at all.
And because many black agency owners believe that they have no realistic chance of landing a piece of general market business. I have gone on to enjoy the experience of working as a copywriter and creative director at a fine shop before starting my own firm a couple of years ago. But that was only because I fought through all of the bull crap. If future generations of minorities, black or otherwise, have to go through what I experienced will there ever be a significant percentage of them to become successful in our business? Advertising is about creating ideas. Not about the color of the person creating the ideas. The longer the industry ignores or refuses to see that, the longer we’ll be an industry divided. — Cordova, TN
• I think Mr. Wayner’s comments were absolutely correct. I’ve worked in this industry for almost 20 years, at both leading general marketing agencies and multicultural. The level of clandestine racism and segregation that I’ve experienced is incredible. A young, educated person of color who wants to get ahead in a general marketing agency has to go through hoops just to get into the pool of interviewees, let alone progressing through the ranks. And there’s always the old standard HR refrain: “We’d like to hire more minorities, but we just can’t seem to find any qualified candidates…” It’s enough to make my stomach turn! — Conyers, GA
• Similar to Richard Wayner, I am a former African American investment banker and now President of an interactive agency. Richard is a friend of mine and he is right to say that how we treat diversity within the industry is shameful! We all need to be held accountable for the lack of diversity within the industry. Accountability starts with the agencies, marketers and editors of the ad publications we follow. Eric Harris Plot Design Group — New York, NY
• It’s sad because this country has based its yes and no’s, likes and dislikes on race. If this industry and others wanted diversity it would have it. White folks are going to do what whites folks want to do...............period! :) Next Panel Andre Holmes Digitaldreus@yahoo.com — Hyattsville, MD
• The very nature of segmented, targeted communication almost requires segmented agencies, or, at the very least, segmented departments within agencies. The thing is, the only agency-related segments to date have been ethnic. There are lots of demographic segments. Men aged 25-35. Gays and lesbians. Motorsports junkies. Why are there only shops specializing in, and operated by, ethnic groups? Of course, if shops began to specialize according to every demographic segment out there, it would be chaos. Or would it? — St. Paul, MN