Before deciding the post title is too harsh, scan through the Ad Age story below and read the MultiCultClassics perspective immediately following…
Ogilvy Hosts Event to Honor NAACP’s Centennial
Sharpton in High Spirits in Agency’s Rooftop Garden
By Ken Wheaton
Ogilvy & Mather opened up the rooftop garden on its new Manhattan office for a reception in honor of the NAACP’s 100th anniversary. It was the inaugural event at a striking space on Manhattan’s far West Side (one which has a great view of World Wide Plaza, the company’s previous home).
It’s no secret that the agency world isn’t exactly a paragon of diversity and inclusiveness. Or, as Ogilvy North American Chairman John Seifert put it during opening remarks at the reception, the industry is “not exactly leading the way.” Indeed, the NAACP is part of Cyrus Mehri’s Madison Avenue Project. Seifert rattled off a number of Ogilvy initiatives to remedy the situation, including the formation of a diversity advisory board, which includes Kevin Liles, president of Warner Music; Rachel Nordlinger, who works with the Rev. Al Sharpton; and Jay Hersonson, of CUNY. But, he admitted, the agency is “not blind to the fact that there is so much more to do to recognize our ambitions.”
Then again, Al Sharpton seemed a big fan of the agency. Taking the stage after a performance by Kathy Sledge (formerly of Sister Sledge), Sharpton was in good spirits, waving off any credit for progress in the arena. “All I did was intervene and change the weather,” he joked, referring to predictions of rain that had threatened the outdoor event. “When you plan your next event, you know who to call.”
While Sharpton has had plenty of sharp words for the industry, he praised Ogilvy’s efforts and held the company up as a model of sorts—even calling Seifert “Brother John.” Keep in mind that Sharpton helped to file a class action suit on behalf of minority agencies a few years ago. That suit was announced at the first meeting of his National Action Network, which included a panel called the Madison Avenue Initiative (not to be confused with the current Madison Ave. Project).
Sharpton pointed out that Ogilvy has supported both NAN and the Madison Avenue Initiative.
He went on to warn against tribalism between different minority groups in their quest for better representation. He also made the case that supporting diversity efforts is good for business.
“What looks like charity really accrues back to your [business] interest.”
After Sharpton’s praise of the agency, one guest noted that it pays to cut checks for the reverend’s favorite causes.
But the only check cut last night was for the NAACP. Seifert, on behalf of Ogilvy, handed the New York chapter of the organization a check for $10,000. He also announced a high school summer internship program with the NAACP of New York.
Not sure where to start with this one.
Um, how many O&M staffers even know what NAACP means? (Hint: The N does not stand for Negro.)
Wonder if the O&M party planners realize Madison Avenue will soon celebrate its centennial—100 years of promoting cultural exclusivity.
O&M also announced the formation of a diversity advisory board, chock-full of colored celebrities. Hey, Omnicom already tried that maneuver. Why the hell are the big agencies ripping off each other’s failed concepts?
Next, O&M coughed up $10,000 for the NAACP, while the Center for Advertising Excellence at Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications—the effort specifically designed to address the industry’s diversity problems—scrambles to find funding. Nice.
“Brother John” admitted the agency is “not blind to the fact that there is so much more to do to recognize our ambitions.” Amazing that he didn’t say they were colorblind.
Yet Seifert’s statement really drives home the neo-racism on Madison Avenue. It’s outrageous that executives feel comfortable continually spewing proclamations like:
“It’s pathetic. There’s a lot more we can do.”
“We’ve done a pretty poor job on diversity as an industry and we’ve got to do better.”
“We suck at [diversity].”
At least the KKK is clear and honest about its positions. On Madison Avenue, it’s OK—and seemingly admirable—to recognize a great need for change, then do absolutely nothing substantial about it. Except introduce segregated award shows or internship programs for inner-city kids.
It was reported that folks at the new O&M headquarters installed white noise machines to deal with the emptiness of the space. At the garden rooftop soiree, the White noise was in full force.