Tuesday, January 30, 2007
More letters from Adweek.com responding to Tim Arnold’s column (see Essay 1544)…
Tim Arnold’s Diversity Column Sparks Debate
I loved [Tim Arnold’s “It’s All About the Music,” Jan. 8] piece and agree with a lot of what he had to say. As an industry veteran of both general market (D’Arcy, BBDO, K&E, JWT) and targeted shops (UniWorld), I remember his Budweiser work.
I always thought of his agency as one of the few that “got it right,” and even lured one of his young African-American art directors to New York. I can’t believe, however, that he’d think there is no pervasive prejudiced behavior in the agency business. It’s there, it’s real, and in the most benign way of thinking, it springs from having one dominant point of view about what “good” creative is, and who is talented. Look at the tone of the responses to the Human Rights Commission agreement. There’s a lot of hooey about “lowered standards” and the industry hiring based solely on “talent.” Having toiled in general market agencies alongside Caucasians who were hired based on everything from personal connections to great legs, I can personally say it ain’t so. And, having seen what happens to the “talent” assessment of creatives who voluntarily leave the general market world to work in multicultural shops, I know how our industry devalues those who choose to work in a more culturally expressive environment.
I don’t know if it’s an accident that we both got our start at D’Arcy (Bloomfield Hills, in my case). Perhaps there was a more progressive mind-set. But I do know this: Despite a long career full of successes, accolades, great jobs and salaries, I remain convinced that the industry is rife with bias and white entitlement. We can’t both be right, and the numbers tell a pretty clear story. I wish you were right. I hope the ad industry you write about comes to pass.
Chief creative officer Vigilante
It’s amazing the diversity you nurtured purely out of the instinct for what’s right, and what makes sense in creating the right kind of climate to make great advertising. It seems obvious that the more diversity you have represented by your creatives, the more authentic and honest the work. As an advertiser, you have to be able to “authentically” communicate with all kinds of demographics, and you need all of the ammunition you can get to achieve that.
The problem is, not everyone has the ability to see the obvious. If every agency were as open-minded as you, there wouldn't be a need for mandates, protests and hearings (if you look at the senior management of any of the top agencies, I assure you that you'll see an obvious absence of diversity). I doubt that forcing people to be more conscious will work; it has to come from within. But sometimes you have to force an issue to make people aware of the obvious. That’s pretty much what MLK and others sacrificed their lives for not too long ago.
One of the things that continues to disappoint is that as much as we say, “It’s about the work—period,” I’ve seen creatives and account folks alike offered jobs based solely on their resumes and portfolios, yet lose those opportunities once the creative directors and account directors realize (in the interview) that the talent is actually of color.
I’ve known headhunters who are so frustrated with various general market shops because they send them top candidates who happen to be of color, only to have the shops send them back with excuses of “not right for our culture.” Yet when they’ve sent white candidates who in their opinion weren’t as good, they got hired. Some headhunters have recently said certain agencies still tell them in no uncertain terms “do not send black talent.”
I think educational programs and internships are a great idea, but it will take more folks who are willing to actually do something about this. I still think the issues are too one-sided in terms of solutions. People of color can do a lot, but you (metaphorically) can’t expect people to consistently fix problems that they’re not responsible for creating, while not at least encouraging those who are breaking things/benefiting from the damage to join in. It’s just not productive enough.