Thursday, June 21, 2007

Essay 4076

It’s Bart Cleveland vs. Hadji Williams at…


Don’t Be Afraid of Letting Your Hires Rise

By Bart Cleveland

Small Agencies Should Be Proud To Be Launching Pads

I just got back from Miami Beach, where I got to be a Creative in Residence for the Miami Ad School. I’ve always been a big fan of the school because Ron Siechrist is most responsible for the advertising schools that we now have across the country.

When I went to school, there were maybe a handful of higher-education institutions that had an inkling of what advertising art is and how it should be taught. There was no VCU, or Creative Circus. The Art Center in L.A., along with Pratt and The New York School of Visual Arts were the best known. The school I attended, East Texas State University (now Texas A&M Commerce), had a great program. When The One Club began a student competition in the early ‘80s, ET won the first several years in a row.

This is what Ron Siechrist made happen on a much broader scale when he founded the Portfolio Center in Atlanta and later the Miami Ad School. Ron has continued to revolutionize how students learn what advertising is today, so it was a pleasure and an honor to be asked to teach in Miami for a week.

Several of us who write this blog have given advice on recruitment. It is a chronic problem for small agencies, especially if you are picky. We all want the best talent, but we’re up against very stiff competition. A top student coming out of one of the ad schools is dreaming of landing at Crispin or BBH, not MWC. I have to show how my agency is a viable, if not better choice. I recently hired a creative team after searching for months. I saw a lot of good people, but for one reason or another they just didn’t fit.

One of my veteran creative people was just hired by Mother in New York. When he came in to tell me, I already knew it was coming. This young man has made such a difference in our agency. He’s grown at a meteoric rate in his abilities, and I knew one day he would be snatched away. I am delighted for him to have the chance to work at one of the industry’s best agencies. I want all of the people who work for me to have the ability to move on at their discretion and to the agency of their choosing. It is a testament to the work we’re doing.

That’s why I try to help make the opportunity to move up happen for them. From a business perspective this is not masochistic, it’s realistic. They are going to move on. By helping them, I actually keep them longer. My agency also benefits from their best efforts. I watch my employees grow in ability and confidence and it doesn’t make me afraid -- it makes me happy.

Today we said goodbye to this fine employee. The entire agency celebrated his good fortune over lunch, and his final words were inspirational. He said he knew that the agency had given him the opportunity to do work at a level that Mother would appreciate and that if he hadn’t come to this tiny agency in this small town, if he had gone to a big agency in a big city, it probably wouldn’t have happened. He might not realize how right he is.

I suggest to all small agencies to take a similar philosophy in recruiting young talent to your agency. Tell them you will take a personal interest in their career and then make good on the promise. I don’t fear that because I don’t have Axe or Nike as clients my agency won’t be attractive to new talent.

I have something that can be just as useful to a young person. I have an agency that can be a launch pad for his career.


You want better talent? Stop relying on homogenized talent pools from homogenized sources. With the exception of 2 art directors I worked with in the mid 90s, the best creative talent I’ve ever worked with or managed never went to any ad school. Not Miami, not the old Creative Circus, not VCU, not Portfolio Center, none of them.

There are great creatives coming out of plenty “regular schools” every year. Too bad CDs, HR folks and industry insiders are bent on focusing on 4 places for recruiting.

Secondly, and I know this one’s gonna be a stretch, let’s pretend creatives who are not white can do the job well enough to give ‘em shot. I know we don’t really believe that, but for giggles, let’s just pretend.

I’m sick of watching great ideas and unique perspectives and approaches not get in the door because CDs can’t get past the dark melanin that’s presenting them.

You can talk all you want about what agencies can do to get the “cool kids,” but until we accept the fact that we have to want the cool kids so bad that their educational background and ethnic background won’t be held against them, then this industry will continue to deserve the 92% white rosters and homogenized clutter-creating ideas that it continues to turn out. —Hadji Williams, Chicago, IL


Whoa, you are on a rip and all I can say is, calm down and get some perspective. The guy who I mentioned in my piece who left to work for Mother didn’t go to one of the “four” schools, he went to the University of Texas. I can assure you as a CD looking for talent I welcome it from anywhere. As far as your race rant, you’ve obviously had a bad personal experience, but it doesn’t mean it’s the norm. Many agencies are hiring people from all over the world. Thanks to the ad schools like MAS we have that option. Different backgrounds and cultural diversity are a plus in a creative industry. Talent is at too much of a premium for agencies to do as you say we’re doing, hiring based upon race. Are you sure that your problem is your race and education? Could it be your book? Give it some thought. I hope you feel better now that you got your frustration off your chest. Best of luck to you. —Bart Cleveland, Albuquerque, NM

Mr. Cleveland,

When I speak of the issues within the industry I speak not only from 15 years of personal experience, I speak of facts. 92% white rosters is not something I made up—that comes from the last AAAAs conference. The ethnic agencies not being allowed to fairly compete for the AOR portion of contracts is not just my opinion, nor is it just my personal experience, it’s standard industry practice. The hiring practices—be they intentional, accidental or what—are not just bad experiences of one person. They’re based on an 80-year industry track record.

By the way, U of T was on the list. But that’s neither here nor there, to be honest. What’s at issue was/is the point of your latest entry and that’s how can agencies find/keep the best possible talent for their needs.

I will contend from now until the day I die that this industry needs to look beyond traditional faces and places. Not to the exclusion of anyone but to the inclusion. To do less is to shrink your pool of human resources and your opportunities for developing the best work possible.

If Madison Ave. when its entrenched biases may well be the least of its problems. (sic)

But what do I know—I’m just ranting, right? —Hadji Williams, Chicago, IL

Oh, one more thing—and only because you raised the issue: My book(s).

KTH sold out of its first printing because I’m an outstanding writer who discussed issues that just about everyone with even a cursory knowledge of the marketing, PR and ad worlds knows to be true but are often too afraid to discuss in an honest and entertaining way.

As for my portfolio/reel—which is supposedly what we judge folks on—it’s filled with 15 years of outstanding work for clients big and small including a few that most only dream of getting a shot at.

So when I speak of problems, I’ve earned the right to tell the truth about what’s going on in this business. And I do so with the hopes that folks will wise up and fix what’s broken, which in the long run will help everyone, including our clients.

Then again, I could follow your lead and take backhanded shots at anyone who disagrees. —Hadji Williams, Chicago, IL


Wake up said...

It ain't 1994 anymore, Hadji, so stop living in the past. Take a look at the composition of the ad schools TODAY. VCU, for one, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% minority.

'Course I can't expect him to know that since all of the "creative talent" he hangs out with never went to ad school.

Make the logo bigger said...

But w.u., bigger picture man, bigger picture. School isn't the only problem. When will that change be reflected in the agency scene though? I've been doing this for almost 20 years and I can count on one hand the number of minorities I've worked with, (some in non-creative rolls).

(Even look at AdRants links to Arnold's Cannes coverage and tell me it isn't still a giant fraternity with the same fellas 20 years later, albeit different haircuts?)

How have things changed again?

Now you can say maybe I just need to stop working at all-white agencies if it's such a problem. Thing is, where do I go to find that nirvana considering I've freelanced at or been on-staff at nearly 50 brands and/or agencies in Minneapolis, NY, NJ and CT. (I don't ever enter a situation saying let me only work at all-white places, but that's how it plays out.)

It ain't like I've been at one place forever with blinders on either, that's for sure. Whether it's Mad Ave or a 20-person shop in a small market, minorities are an afterthought except when discussions like this roll around.

I asked the one young designer I knew at JWT how'd he get in as we were comparing freelance stories,etc., and he told me they only brought him in because they wanted an urban feel to the brand they were on.


This was last year. Not trying to be a jerk, but how have things changed with an attitude like that still pervasive from creative heads who hire talent based on that criteria?

Right now, I'm working with a place with one black designer and a few women out of a toal of 8 staff. When I came on I thought, cool, at least they're not the usual cookie cutter shop I've seen in the CT area I'm at where all-white is alright. If this was a big NY agency, that ratio would be 200:1. (200:50 if you count how many hot asian girls many bring over from their overseas offices to feel better about the diversity thing.)

As for needing school, well there are more than a few prominent CD's I know who didn't go so that isn't always relevant to the discussion. One major one was only a bartender before landing where he is now heading up one of the big boys.

toad said...

First off: You can't blame a guy like Brownstein for recruiting out of the ad schools. I'd do the same thing if I were him. Here's why: The ad schools replaced the old agency training programs. This guy Siechrist figured out that he could get people to pay him for two years worth of the same training agencies used to pay people to go through. So bottom line is a graduate of Miami Portfolio Commowealth Center is the equivalent of a second year junior. There's a lot less training to be done and at a small shop like Brownstein's that's a distinct advantage.
Bigger agencies however, have no such excuse and they're the ones who should be looking at communitiy colleges and the like for talent.

Second off: The "Creative Revolution" of the 1960s came about when outsiders joined the ranks of ad agencies. Advertising, believe it or not, used to be a very posh, very WASPy, Ivy League dominated business. DDB was one of the few places that Jews and Italians could get jobs. And the very New York ethnic sensibility those people brought to their work was what created the creative revolution. Hence the stereotype of the Jewish copywriter and the Italian art director. There also seemed to be far more women in the field at that time. I mean Mary Wells was a big enough name that she could start her own agency. There just aren't any women even remotely close to that position right now.

I find the male-ness of creative departments (and the female-ness of account management) to be almost as shocking as the white-ness of agencies.

And Bill is right that rather than look in our own backyard for new talent, agencies are far more likely to reach out and grab someone who was big in Kuala Lumpur or Buenos Aires because it makes them seem worldly and "global." Whereas a kid from a community college would just seem "out of touch."

And finally the fact that we have ethnic agencies, a veritable Negro League of advertising is astounding to me. Because it basically says "Use Ogilvy to sell IBM to people in the US and the rest of the world, including all those black people who live in places like Kenya and South Africa. But if you want to sell to black people who live in places like New York or Los Angeles, you need a special agency, because they're completely different than the rest of the planet.