Sunday, February 22, 2009
6474: Muse’s Musings On Diversity.
How to Win the Diversity Battle
If You Want Results, Reinvent Yourself and Spend Time Out of Your Comfort Zone
By Jo Muse
Make no bones about it: Advertising is a career for the strong of mind and spirit, and for those who think winning should occur swiftly and without great ceremony. I learned what it takes to be successful in this crazy business from my teenage years in Southwest Detroit. At least, that’s where I learned what it took to act hard, fight dirty, and win street fights with death blows and large doses of bravado. But with the problems multinational-holding-company executives are facing, it seems the masters of the advertising universe, and everything that’s sweet in it, are getting punked by some crafty New York street fighters.
Being an adman, I would like to see my guys emerge victorious. To do that will take shifting their perspective and relearning how to fight like they mean it. So in the spirit of winning the diversity war, here are five things advertising-agency-holding-company CEOs can do to handle this diversity business overnight.
1. FIRE YOURSELF!
Well, not really. Just your tendencies. Reinvent yourself as a man of courage and great conviction. If your shareholders had a CEO who really got that treating diversity as a business issue is the right approach, some of the insane internal pressures to fix the situation would be eliminated.
If you have a good eye for global populations, national race and ethnicity concentrations, and consumer-market indices, you could wake up tomorrow and say something like, “I love the smell of diversity in the morning.” Then grab your general’s helmet and head to the office with a new sense of accountability and personal responsibility. Your staff would rise to the occasion, because the general gave the order. And if your agency won or saved an account because of some brilliant, yet darker-skinned idea maven, the business case for diversity in your business would have his name in the byline. That is an instant change any CEO can make. It just takes a commitment to action, and taking credit for something everyone knows is right: employment fairness. And having a deeper value for the idea that diversity of thought leads to creative brilliance anyway.
No doubt doing what I’m suggesting seems unnatural and perhaps too liberal, but I’m sure that during your finest hour, you, too, had learned more from stepping out beyond your comfort zone than staying inside it. Today’s world requires more than the insulated environment you’ve grown used to. It requires stepping into a fight instead of walking away from it.
Doesn’t it seem just a little odd to you that one woman, Nancy Hill, president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, stood up for you at the latest hearing, and the tone and texture of the problem seemed to shift. You, in your current moral and spiritual composition, are a poor match for the courage, nerve and passion of a New York City Council. Get off it. Now is the time to find in yourself the moral fortitude to match up with those who stand against you. Step away from the safety of the crowd you now stand in. Approach the accusers with the power of your conviction and the will to make change where you stand.
It may not be Global Holding Company CEO 101, but it is what’s wanted and needed for your organization and the industry.
2. STOP FEARING YOUR CLIENTS.
At least don’t be so pathetic about it. Clients like to see courage, too. I haven’t met one yet who didn’t want his agency to make him look like the great innovator. You know, that kind of corporate greatness that causes promotions or creates distinction in the executive suite. Oftentimes they don’t know how you did it. You just have to actually show some leadership—instead of waiting for the opportunity to serve them by just taking orders. What if a senior executive for a multinational holding company told a client that diversity was good for the business—not based on some sort of Harvard Business Review case study, but because he felt in his personal experience it was the right thing to do.
You should also have a pretty focused plan for how the agency would go about doing it—without lowering standards or doing less-than-excellent work. It bothers me a lot that some of us think that skin color (or where someone went to school) determines great effort and accomplishment. Nonsense. A great idea has never cared what color its parents were. And the guy who says this first and means it is going to see his stock price rise exponentially. Tell your clients what you stand for.
The mistake many CEOs make is not recognizing that what the Human Rights Commission is looking for is a little accountability. That’s why Nancy Hill did us all a huge “solid” by showing up at the hearing and speaking honestly and passionately about inclusion and the opportunity we all have to make a difference.
If a few of you invested some skin in this game of advocacy and stood up for accountability in open court, the world you live in would change around you. Top-notch CEOs at some world-class companies have done just that and turned things around. Terrance Lanni of MGM Mirage stood up and said things would change. Rick Kovacevich of Wells Fargo said his company would commit to supplier diversity. Lee Iacocca stood up for the New Chrysler. All these men took a stand, and things changed. Be the man, and your world will step up to your promise. And your clients will admire your gumption and courage.
3. LEAVE HOME!
I know the country’s nice. And the uptown flat is even better. But it helps determine the kind of culture you manifest in your workplace at large. Do agency executives live in a corporate culture that values diversity? Of course not! Most of you guys who run ad agencies don’t live among the average, multicultural consumer. You live largely isolated from people of color. And you bring that isolationism to work every day.
Spend more time out of the executive dining room and more time at the deli counter looking, feeling, and, yes, smelling some of the customers that help pay for those million-dollar cribs on the hill.
If you really want diversity in the company to be valued, you’ve got to bring that value in. The culture of most advertising agencies is already bent against it. There are wonderful ways to show cultural respect and multicultural intelligence and still be a fine advertising agency. Just ask somebody in any shade of black, brown or yellow—preferably someone who isn’t already in advertising. They’ll have lots to say. Write it down and work on a response and plan to change the culture of your organization.
I suggest doing this before the agency starts hiring a bunch of underqualified black people, and then watches them fail just to prove that they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.
4. STOP HIRING MINORITIES!
Is it possible this is what got you into trouble from the start? Someone told you it was good to hire more minorities, and it just felt wrong—unfair to people who aren’t minorities. I bet that’s how it began. In many urban centers in America, non-minorities are fast becoming the minority. What I mean is that the quest for qualified talent is not about race, ethnicity or being a minority. It’s about talent, pure and simple. Not only are qualified people of color out there, they are available and looking for opportunities to excel in the advertising business. To discover people of color, all we have to do is stop seeing differences and look for commonalities. I suspect someone told you guys that it’s hard to find qualified minorities. They were just making excuses for not looking in the right places. Try looking for qualified and passionate people, wherever you can find them. I run one of the most multicultural advertising agencies in the business, and I haven’t looked for a minority yet. Well, maybe a few white males from Ivy League schools on occasion.
5. GO BACK TO WORK.
Not to the boardroom or shareholder meetings. I’m suggesting you go back to your chosen profession before you made the big time. Was it media? Creative? Account management?
Try going back to the basics of the business and experiencing what makes the business one of the coolest places to work on the planet.
Once you’re back in touch with the brilliance of the business, take a trip to a historically black college or university or an urban college and give a speech for the Advertising Education Fund. You’ll learn something. Jerry Della Femina once said that being in advertising was the most fun you can have with your clothes on. He’s right. We have to do a better job of letting students in on the secret. Don’t worry about the fact that your skin color will probably be in contrast with that of the student body. Watch their faces. They will be looking at you with all the wonderment and excitement that comes from a student when he or she meets an inspired professional. Most CEOs give talks to shareholders and look almost dead doing it. These talks should be invigorating.
You can make a difference in diversity of employment immediately, one school, one student at a time. Have your agency’s senior executives do more campus visits as well.
Find the right advocate for diversity in your organization—and not a black woman. For goodness’ sake, choose an executive from the boys’ club who not only knows what must be done but knows how to speak the language of those who have not taken to the notion of diversity. The conversion must flourish within the white-male ad community, not outside it.
Those are my five things a CEO can do to instantly change the ad business as we know it. It isn’t hard stuff. It just takes a manner of conviction and action that currently isn’t being commanded in the executive suites of some of the finest advertising organizations in the world. Shame on you for letting a few slick, passionate politicians get the drop on you in a dark alley. I thought you guys were better than that. This game of persuasion is about walking the walk, talking with moral authority, and then throwing a chair or two in the mouth of the charging crowd. When they spread, run like hell.
Jo Muse is chairman-CEO of Muse Communications.