Sunday, April 06, 2008

5327: What Can Brown Do For You?

The story below appeared in The Philadelphia Business Journal. A brief MultiCultClassics comment immediately follows…

Ad agency boss opens career doors to inner-city youth

by Peter Van Allen

Philadelphia’s advertising agencies have struggled to bring more diversity to their ranks -- and no one feels it more acutely than the agency head who has fought for greater representation.

David Brown, who owns Brown Partners in Philadelphia, has had a hard time finding minority job candidates. But he knows too well how stratified the agency world has been.

“For a long time, a good many years, with the agencies in Philadelphia, you had a Jewish agency, a WASP agency, an Italian agency,” Brown recalled. “When I started at Spiro & Associates, I was the only African American. It’s moved at a glacial pace, but it is changing.”

To hasten the pace, in 2004 Brown started The Big Pitch, a six-week program in which students in Philadelphia’s public schools are given an assignment to produce an advertising “pitch.” The mission is to expose inner-city high school students to careers in advertising.

The students are matched up with advertising agency “coaches” who act as mentors to the students as they prepare their campaigns. The students participate in six weeks of after-school classes, where they learn about advertising principles and careers.

This spring, the effort was focused on creating a voters’ campaign, to convince older students to get out and vote. The program culminated with students from Charter High School of Architecture + Design (CHAD) and Roxborough High School competing, in an “American Idol” format, for the top prize, $1,500.

“We had 40 kids to start. We get a lot because of the prospect of $1,500 in cash. Then they started to see how difficult it is. Then we whittled it down to the few and the proud,” Brown said.

CHAD had five kids and Roxborough High School had four.

“They get to see how powerful advertising is. It influences people's beliefs beyond selling sneakers and soda pop,” Brown said.

So, rather than selling sneakers or soda, kids involved in the Big Pitch are directed toward issues-oriented advertising -- advertising with a social mission, if you will. One year, the program focused on how to reduce violence in schools. This year, the emphasis is on the election, particularly Pennsylvania's influential primary.

“The Obama and Hillary battle has resonated. At CHAD, they were already working on a voter-registration drive,” Brown said. “We try to ask what’s going to motivate an 18-year-old who has to go through a war zone to get to school every day.”

While the program has no trouble motivating high school students, it has difficulty in finding advertising agencies in Philadelphia that will participate as guest instructors. So far, the program has gotten strong help from Red Tettemer founding partners Steve Red and Ed Tettemer, as well as Tierney Communications CEO Mary Austen and Brownstein Group President Marc Brownstein.

Agencies also pool funds to create the cash prize.

In 2006, MultiCultClassics dubbed Brownstein Group President Marc Brownstein a culturally clueless critter based on an essay he posted at’s Small Agency Diary. Kudos to Brownstein for hanging tough and also supporting David Brown’s progressive efforts.

No comments: