Tuesday, October 02, 2007
The perspective below appeared under The Big Tent at AdAge.com. Hadji Williams follows with a decent response. MultiCultClassics adds a few thoughts too.
Could Multicultural Shops Go the Way of Negro League Baseball?
Big-Agency Injustices Gave Rise to Minority-Owned Agencies; What Happens if Those Agencies Diversify?
By Tiffany R. Warren
Recently at the AAF Mosaic and District 2 Diversity Achievement Luncheon, an honoree mentioned in his remarks that he hopes in the next forty years there will be no need for diversity-achievement luncheons and segmented awards shows honoring multicultural work. The honoree is a well-respected chairperson of a multicultural marketing firm that was founded several decades ago. His comment made me think, “Would multicultural marketing agencies, ethnic marketing, media and role models even exist if the advertising, marketing and media industries had their act together in its beginnings?”
Eric Harris, CEO of Sixth Floor Developers and a panelist at the recent AAF Mosaic Forum on supplier diversity, mentioned that in the midst of apathy and change comes opportunity. He pointed out that his success came at a time when music companies did not want anything to do with the Internet. So he thought, “This would be a great time to start an Internet company targeting music companies!” Eric’s principle of success applies to why multicultural marketing agencies and ethnic media have thrived and become such a prolific part of the advertising and marketing landscape.
The “multicultural/urban marketing” industry began during a time when the mainstream advertising agencies and marketers did not hire, market or promote people of color—or women. From this cold shoulder came the warm ray of opportunity. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and the following pioneers did just that. John H. Johnson, Vince Cullers, Thomas Burrell, Byron Lewis, Carol H. Williams, Bob Johnson, Eliot Kang, Lionel Sosa, Mr. Ernest Bromley, Howard Buford, Mary Wells Lawrence, Michael Gray and many others succeeded in reaching an audience that until then had been largely ignored by general-market practitioners. Other examples of historic opportunities created in an environment of adversity are the Tuskegee Airmen, Negro League Baseball, 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the LPGA, the WNBA, GLAAD, etc. In the absence of diversity, new marketing paradigms and new role models were born. But in some cases—the Tuskegee Airmen and Negro League Baseball, for example—the achievement of progressive goals meant the end of the groups.
I don’t think the AAF honoree mentioned above was saying he looked forward to a time when his shop became obsolete. What he may have been promoting is the ability to have his multicultural-targeted creative and diverse professionals judged and honored in a more mainstream forum. Although his motives are honorable, it unfortunately is not happening in the current marketing and advertising climate.
So should the multicultural marketing agencies, diverse advertising, marketing and media professionals and targeted creatives wait to be recognized? No! Just like those advertising and marketing pioneers did in the past, the AAF Mosaic programs, the ANA Multicultural Excellence Awards and The ADCOLOR Awards have created a forum to recognize and celebrate those contributions and achievements in a meaningful way.
So now that we are in a time that may not have the overt and unconstitutional adversity that our predecessors faced, diversity’s role may be to insure that we continue to have checks and balances in order to celebrate and promote future Johnsons, Burrells, Kangs, Sosas, Bufords, Grays and Williamses.
The assumption you’re making is that as the marketplace and consumers diversify, GM agencies and GM holding companies will pull a Branch Rickey and decide to hire the best talent not only regardless of color, but also recognizing some the unique advantages and perspectives that professionals of color can offer clients and companies.
Well, it’s 2007 and 100 million out of 300 million are non-White. African-Americans are currently spending over 800 billion annually on consumer goods and expected to hit the $1 trillion mark by 2010. Hispanic Americans are already pushing the $1 trillion mark. Asian Americans are nearing the $500 billion mark…
I don’t need to recite the hiring numbers, but as of last year, there was a NYC agency that tried counting a janitor as a VP because the shop thought it easier than hiring qualified black talent.
Yet with few exceptions, many in the industry still hide behind “hey it’s not so bad/it’s getting better” and “this is just PC run amok whining complaints.”
Maybe because sports is so much more public and the ad world is more of a behind-the-scenes sort of industry this sort of nonsense has allowed to go on for so long.
But it’s gonna take a lot more Branch Rickeys than the current glut of Al Campanis, Marge Schott and Jimmy The Greek types still in the game.
Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll see some lasting change. —Hadji Williams, Chicago, IL
Tiffany R. Warren is a Golden Child in the contemporary diversity drama—and deservedly so, as she has contributed countless positive achievements for the cause. Therefore, please don’t view the following as attacking an esteemed role model.
Yet when Advertising Age named Warren among their Women To Watch 2007 honorees, the publication revealed she calls herself a “diversity Pollyanna.” Can’t help but think Warren’s latest perspective validates the label.
Warren wondered, “Would multicultural marketing agencies, ethnic marketing, media and role models even exist if the advertising, marketing and media industries had their act together in its beginnings?” Duh!
Warren wrote, “The ‘multicultural/urban marketing’ industry began during a time when the mainstream advertising agencies and marketers did not hire, market or promote people of color—or women.” Well, things have improved for women at least (although some might argue the point). But the rest of the sentence absolutely applies to the state of affairs today. Want proof? See how many White advertising executives are familiar with the minority marketing icons listed in Warren’s piece—besides Mary Wells Lawrence. Hell, Warren even misspelled Tom Burrell’s name in her original post.
The references to Negro League Baseball are interesting, considering lots of adpeople believe the current minority agencies represent a “Negro League” within the industry. And does anyone honestly doubt the mainstream advertising agencies and marketers are actively perpetuating the separate but unequal conditions? As Warren notes, the minority agencies have been around for decades. But they still assume a second-class status, prohibited from making meaningful progress and growth.
Warren should be careful to decipher the words of the “well-respected chairperson” she highlighted. He likely was not envisioning a future where his agency would become obsolete. Rather, he was probably hoping the rampant bias and exclusivity poisoning Madison Avenue would become obsolete, providing his agency an opportunity to thrive.
No offense, but the multicultural awards aren’t helping matters. After all, it’s great for Jamie Foxx to receive accolades from BET and the NAACP. But the real deal happened when he nabbed an Oscar. To gain true appreciation, the minority agencies must appear in the majority awards shows. Unfortunately, the controlling mainstream advertising agencies and marketers are not about to let that happen.
Warren ended by observing, “…we are in a time that may not have the overt and unconstitutional adversity that our predecessors faced…” Or perhaps the unconstitutional adversity is now covert. Warren—and everyone in the advertising industry—could benefit from spending an extended period working at a minority agency.
Better yet, let the minorities compete on a level playing field in the big leagues.
[Final note: Chill out, Warren groupies. This response sought to examine opinions and ideas. Nothing more. Nothing less.]