Whenever MultiCultClassics posts something incorporating the speech Dan Wieden made at the 2009 4As Leadership Conference, the few comments tend to run a certain pattern. Most visitors display anger or other negative emotions toward the iconic adman. For the latest Wieden-related post, W+K alum Jimmy Smith left the comment below. Read it and check out the MultiCultClassics random ramblings immediately following.
Sometimes you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Dan did what very, very few ad cats of his stature do. He told the truth. Since the truth is more of what we need, I wouldn’t blast him for telling it like it is.
And while Dan can, should and absolutely will do better in terms of hiring more folks of color, he does deserve some credit for what he has done.
These are some of the folks of color who have (or still currently) worked at W+K.
Darryl McDonald - AD and the first brotha in the creative department
John Jay - ECD and the first partner of color in the history of W+K
Kilpatrick Anderson - AD
Feh Tarty - CD
Cheeraz Gorman - CW is a new hire and a star on the rise
Keith Cartwright - CD on Brand Jordan
Desmond Marzette - Writer
Brandon Pierce - CW
Charles Hall - CD
Jayanta Jenkins - AD
Tina Davis used to run Brand Jordan on the account side
Dara Marshall - Account Supervisor
Arty Tan - AD
Craig Namba - CW
Adrian Hilton - AD
Javier Castillo - AD
Donna Lamar headed up the production department in Amsterdam.
Robert Nakata - CD
And I worked there, too.
First, thanks to Smith and all others who have commented in the past. There is always validity in the opinions offered, whether one agrees with them or not.
For the record, MultiCultClassics never intended to blast Wieden. OK, maybe a little bit. But the truth is, Wieden’s words triggered two basic responses here: Disappointment and Heartbreak.
After all, a premier creative mind in our field is displaying the cultural cluelessness you’d expect to see from the most uninformed among us. Once again, we hear the same lines proclaiming, “There’s a lot more we can do.” Plus, we’re left with the same “solutions” of inner-city outreach programs. Don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but if an art director or copywriter presented the same idea to Wieden year after year—and it was an idea that has consistently proved ineffective—how would Wieden respond? Would he not blast the creative person for their lack of originality? If an art director or copywriter repeatedly told Wieden, “There’s a lot more I can do,” how long would the W+K founder tolerate the slacker?
Wieden’s admissions and revelations are not news. For example, Sanford Moore has been making the charges for decades. When Moore states that Whites are hijacking minority cultures while failing to
MultiCultClassics wonders about the residual effects Wieden’s words had on his peers. It’s highly probable that—at least on subconscious levels—White listeners breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “Hey, if Dan Wieden is struggling to figure things out, I shouldn’t feel too bad about my abysmal shortcomings with diversity.” Did Wieden inadvertently sanction the institutionalized lethargy that kills true progress?
Sadly, Wieden demonstrates that our top leaders remain thoroughly unqualified and incapable of building an inclusive industry. Every step forward is actually a rerun of past movement—Whites are moonwalking versus blazing ahead. There appears to be minimal real commitment because there is minimal real understanding of the imperative for change.
When Tiffany R. Warren joined Omnicom as its Chief Diversity Officer, DDB Worldwide Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Bob Scarpelli announced Ms. Warren met with an executive leadership committee and “[reminded] us of the far-reaching benefits of a diverse employee base.” Why do honchos need to have their memories jogged?
Whites in advertising hit the reset button with each half-hearted push to reduce exclusivity. Knowledge is seemingly never retained. The ignorance of the 1930s still lives in the 21st century. Once discrimination lawsuits threaten, the collective starts from Ground Zero with a fresh minority award show and urban internships. Or they take the easy route and delegate diversity.
If Madison Avenue bosses want to catch up in the digital arena, they don’t hesitate to purchase entire interactive networks and hire anyone with a hint of Web skills—even if the candidate’s résumé is devoid of agency experience. Grand initiatives are mounted. No sum of money slows down the proceedings. On the flipside, a minority has to prove complete expertise in advertising and marketing before being considered for an adperson role. Why, we’ll even ship you off to Howard University for training. Provided the educational extravaganza acquires its required funding, of course. Heaven forbid Whites might hold themselves to such lofty standards—or recognize their own need for rewiring.
Herein lies a significant hurdle that Whites deny and/or fail to grasp. That is, diversity demands active and deliberate transformations from the reigning majority—not just the invisible minority. The traditional hiring and retention practices are as outdated as the BDA business models. Assimilation must be replaced by multiculturalism. Waiting for candidates to magically arrive into cubicles must be abandoned for aggressive searching and recruitment. Being attracted to people who look, act and think like you must be switched with openness for others holding the potential for greatness.
In Corporate Tribalism, a new book on cultural diversity at work, authors Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis noted “that people do not have an upfront awareness of what shapes their attitudes or worldview or the rules that drive or govern their behavior.” Additionally, gaining enlightenment calls for “a deeper level of probing, reflection and analysis.” These observations have direct relevance for the ruling majority in our industry. Does anyone believe serious—or casual, for that matter—introspection is currently happening among White adpeople?
To be clear, MultiCultClassics is not trying to stage a witch hunt. Wieden obviously has made extraordinary contributions in his career, and his diversity accomplishments are arguably so-so. The list of executives Smith provided is cool. In many ways, however, this is not about Wieden; rather, it’s about what his words and deeds symbolize. And it’s about seeking the “Teachable Moment” in the scenario.
Jimmy Smith insisted Wieden “can, should and absolutely will do better in terms of hiring more folks of color.” Totally agree with the “can” and “should” parts. Unfortunately, there’s an over 70-year-old industry-wide record of negligence betting against the “absolutely will” portion. The ruling majority cannot be trusted with self-regulation—especially when they are culturally clueless. Indeed, a 2006 USA TODAY story quoted Smith backing New York City’s Commission on Human Rights in its dealings with Madison Avenue shops:
Smith says he supports the commission’s move to force faster results: “Absolutely, you’ve got to have somebody step in.”
Wieden and the rest of the industry spout phrases like, “We’ve got miles and miles to go before we sleep.” Yet there is scant evidence of exhaustive, tireless planning and execution.
Perhaps it’s time for everyone to cease the rhetoric and draw inspiration from W+K’s biggest client’s slogan. Just do it.