Monday, August 17, 2009

7021: Wieden’s Words = Teachable Moment.


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 allow recruit minorities into the industry, however, the man is branded as a corrosive rabble-rouser. On the other hand, Wieden confirms the accusations and is respected for being honest and “telling it like it is.” Hell, Wieden will undoubtedly win an ADCOLOR® award before Moore. Now that’s fucked up.

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.

8 comments:

KissMyBlackAds said...

Thank you. A million times thank you. For me and thousands more like me, thank you.

Aluta continua.

Anonymous said...

Let's be real.

"Hey I know 1 black person in advertising",doesn't mean jack.Token hires whatever you might want to call it is not progress.

Stop riding the freaking fence. Your either in or out, no such thing as so-so. Indecisiveness causes confusion. What is it jimmy? Do u want the ad business to be hit with a lawsuit or are you happy with the current system and the way things are now. It this pace we wont see diversity until 2070.

I read that USA today article back in 2006, I'm not surprised that he's changed his tune now. Dude is the ECD of TBWA, he has influence and power to make a change, stop waiting on dan wieden to change this industry. You can do it yourself. Jimmy probably has the numbers least 50 fellow ECDs at various agencies. Give them a call.

Nobody cares about diversity maybe sanford more, craig brimm and the dude that runs this blog. Watching this so called "progress" that jimmy speaks about, is like watching a car stuck in the mud, driving in neutral for the past 20 years, while other cars pass them by, there still stuck there with their engine smoking up. Now thats G.

HighJive said...

Anonymous,

We honestly did not seek to blast Wieden, and don’t see the need to blast Smith either. Not convinced Smith is playing politics or that he believes we’re even close to Diversity Nirvana. According to some reports, W+K is probably showing slightly above average results in its hiring—although it’s nothing that even Wieden is ready to brag about, as the average is awful.

We’ll go out on a limb and guess that Smith was only seeking to say that he’s seen progress, albeit minor. And as a dude with hiring authority, he must also see the challenges in finding, recruiting and retaining talent—while trying to revive a brand like Gatorade, whose marketing dilemmas go far beyond advertising. MultiCultClassics has always recognized that the issues are complex, and filled with contradictions. And contrary to those who believe this blog is an attack device, our goal continues to be to further dialogues, whether the dialogues are comfortable or not.

Thanks for the comments.

KissMyBlackAds said...

Every post obliterates a notion and brings us a bit closer if only nearer an honest dialogue.


I never see these post as attacks. I see them as a point of personal introspection for the practitioners in the industry and myself. Sometimes a little forceful often times funny. But a most indispensable tool.

Jimmy Smith said...

Anonymous, I’ll tell you “What it is.”

1. I was simply making a comment about Dan’s hiring practices at W+K. I was NOT making a statement about the hiring practices of the entire ad industry. We all know that sucks.

So no “freaking” fence riding here, my man.

2. Dan and I are friends. Along with Alma Hopkins, Lewis Williams, Al Hawkins, Jo Muse and John Jay, I wouldn’t be where I am without Dan. So why would I be mad at him?

Now, I could see where you thought that I was bashing Dan in the USA Today article. However, I wasn’t. If you’ll notice, I wasn’t quoted in the section about Dan and W+K. The writer of the article simply asked me how I got into W+K, and I gave her an oral history of how that happened. The writer then interpreted that. But I didn’t say anything about Dan not wanting to hire me because I was Black in my letter. The reason I believe Dan didn’t hire me initially is a little too complex for the comments section of a blog.

Another thing, it wasn’t like Dan was ashamed of the letter. Everybody at W+K knows that story. Dan kept the letter pinned on a board next to his desk for years. He might have been as proud of receiving that letter as I was of writing it. He’s a quirky dude, dawg.

(For the record, the Campbell-Ewald story is 100% accurate as reported in USA Today.)

3. I forgot some other cats who have worked at W+K. Jabari Hearn (now some high ranking global dude at Nike), Jamal Qutub, Young Kim and Pao. And finally, Dan just hired Jo Muse's son, Jordan.

4. As far as “stop waiting on dan wieden to change this industry,” I take it you haven’t seen the creative department on Gatorade at Chiat. You should schedule a meeting with Kamal Robinson, Jayanta Jenkins, Javier Castillo, Paul Nguyen, Donna Lamar or David Dao to see wus up.

(Jayanta, Javier, Paul, Donna and David are all CDs, by the way.)

Gotta give Lee Clow some madd props on that, too. He has blessed it and encouraged it.

5. In closing, I understand why you’re pissed. It’s hella justified. Just don’t let your anger get in the way of what Jesus put you on Earth to do. If one of the things He put you here to do is advertising, keep your eye on the prize. Yes, you might have to jump through 7 times as many hoops as your European counterparts, and that’s fucked up, but that should make you better than even in your wildest dreams.

HighJive said...

Jimmy Smith:

Best. Comment. Ever.

KissMyBlackAds said...

Everybody knows I'm mad smitten with Jimmy, y'all better not sat nuthin' bad about Jimmy! Say what you want about the state of affairs with the industry. But, this dude was kind enough to reach out to me via some comical attempts at a pretend relationship on my blog and grant me the pleasure and intellectual delight to interview him. I aint no journalist, by any stretch and dude doesn't know me from shit! Yet still, We must have talked for what seemed like a couple of hours. Blame it on LA traffic or a genuine kind and Christ-like heart, filled with compassion and a general care for human beings (devoid of petty color issues). I'm sure you can detect I'm on the side of the latter. I think the best thing I noticed about Jimmy was his genuine warmth. Dude is real! As I drooled and babbled over his accomplishments he repeatedly differed credit. Instead choosing to talk about other people and their contributions, he gave mad credit to Dan W. and others who shaped and assisted in his career and most pointedly he gave all the credit to a higher source. The man is composed of the best of us. I will post the full interview as my crown jewel feature when I relaunch Black Ads.

Jimmy inspires me to keep kicking the shit out of every project I do and to keep striving for the best. Yeah, that's G.

Craig Brimm

Kenji Summers said...

Well said gentlemen. Ordo ab chao.