Friday, May 01, 2009

6702: Pushing Progress.

Just wanted to add a few muddled thoughts regarding diversity issues raised at the 4As Leadership Conference.

4As President and CEO Nancy Hill made poignant observations in her speech through historical quotes:

“How have we as an industry, and as individual agencies, discharged our responsibility to our fellow human beings,” namely African Americans?

“The Federal Equal Opportunity Commission has told us this. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has told us this. It is high time we told ourselves—and did something about it.”

That’s an excerpt from a thoughtful and prescient speech titled, “A Look in the Looking Glass,” given by former 4A’s chairman Jock Elliott at a past 4A’s annual meeting.

It may come as a surprise to some that Mr. Elliott’s words were spoken in 1968, but it should be downright shameful to us all that the exact same words still apply today, in light of the continuing lack of minorities at agencies—specifically African Americans in middle and senior ranks.

It was interesting that Hill would stress the remarks are over 40 years old. It certainly hammers the industry’s abject failure to bring inclusiveness to the game. Yet consider the following quote:

“My belief in giving [Blacks] the business opportunities to which they are entitled is not a matter of ‘tolerance.’ It’s just a better way to do business. It gives you that many more people from which you can choose the best. Send me applicants for jobs and I’ll judge them side by side with applicants of any other color, on their merits.”

That statement was delivered by advertising agency founder Milton Biow. In the 1940s. And Blacks have struggled to gain access into the business since at least the 1930s. The “downright shameful” lack of progress on Madison Avenue is actually closer to 80 years old.

Dan Wieden injected controversy with his speech by admitting, “I essentially hire a bunch of white, middle-class kids, pay them enormous, enormous sums of money to do what? To create messages to the inner-city kids who create the culture the white kids are trying like hell to emulate.”

Wieden’s observations recall another noteworthy quote:

“White teenagers have long regarded [Blacks] their own age as fashion trend setters. Fashion starts in the streets and filters up, not merely from youth to age, but from lower economic class to upper.”

That statement was delivered by advertising agency founder Junius Edwards. In 1971. It seems to support Sanford Moore’s contention that the industry has consistently hijacked Black culture while holding back Black executives.

This was not the first time Wieden has acknowledged his own diversity shortcomings. He said in a 2006 USA TODAY interview, “I will not stand here and try to make excuses for the number of African-Americans we’ve hired. It’s pathetic. There’s a lot more we can do.” In 2009, Wieden is still dissatisfied with his shop’s efforts. To be clear, Wieden + Kennedy is chipping away pretty well—and they are not even among the shops that signed pacts with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights. So why can’t Wieden express pride over the accomplishments to date? Does he realize his agency could and should still be doing a lot more? What’s preventing W+K from getting there?

Equally disturbing is Wieden’s suggestion that others embrace youth outreach programs. Now, there’s nothing wrong with youth outreach programs. Indeed, these initiatives are integral to achieving the dream. But they don’t come close to solving everything, especially the immediate need for mid- and senior-level employees. Plus, how many youth outreach programs do we need? And why does it appear that youth outreach programs are the only idea people can come up with? In an advertising scenario, Wieden would never allow his creative teams to present one concept that has been done for decades. Why is he so quick to push a cliché in this instance? Somebody needs to send Wieden back to the drawing board.

To be clear, MultiCultClassics is not trying to beat up Hill and Wieden. Hell, these two are doing far greater good than the overwhelming majority. It’s also imperative that White honchos speak out and demonstrate commitment to the cause. No, the outrageous and frustrating part is seeing two leading proponents for change regurgitate the past and display cultural cluelessness—and knowing the overwhelming majority are far less engaged and far less enlightened.


Anonymous said...

Well thats the biggest problem. The greatest "creative " innovative thinkers and minds are just as culturally clueless as heidi and spencer that live of their moms and dads pension funds and wealth. Dad is copping out with the whole "future" applicants bullcrap. What about the current mid level and senior level folks who cant get jobs because he knows his recruiters at W+K only accept "suburban white kids" at his agency. Hes not dumb. hes just living a lie for all these years. He cant sleep at night, and its tearing him apart to know hes the worst form of a hypocrite. This is just like baseballs steroid era, with dan being the jose canseco of the era. All his white buddies at the various agencies are doing the same thing, but i dought he will put them on blast too. That quote we only hire "surburban white kids" is the most racist and disheartening quote ive ever heard. But yet its so true of the mindset of most HR in the ad industry. The ad industry sign should read "no black or hispanics" allowed. whats sad is the many kids that attend his "summer camp" what do they think now of him. Why the hell would they want to waste there time with that hypocrite, knowing on the inside he could give a crap about those same kids 5 years from now when they graduate with a ad degree, and would still not hire them because their not suburban white kids.

HighJive said...

Must admit to sharing many of your reactions, Anonymous. Cyrus Mehri probably read the speech and instantly added Wieden to the list of people he’ll call to the stand at the potential trial. At the same time, should we immediately condemn Wieden? Will attacking him only stop others from joining the dialogue for fear of being branded as racists? Like it or not, the White folks in the industry must speak out and express their honest feelings. We cannot remain the “nation of cowards” that Eric Holder described. And delegating diversity has not been working. Perhaps it’s idealistic—and even naïve—but let’s hope the speech makes Wieden really reflect about himself and the issues. In fact, everyone should join the man in reflecting. Otherwise, there will be no progress at all.

kiss my black ads said...

Brilliant post! I always appreciate your research and recall. It is a strange path we walk. How much it harkens back to a pre-civil rights era. I mean we want in the ad game & most of us truly love it. But our unrequited & repeated attempts to merge with the industry that seemingly loves us the least could be deemed insanity. Perhaps some are trying in earnest, but Yoda's advice to D.W. would be, "There is no try, there is only do and not do." Forgive the nerd moment. I agree the word racist is tossed about far too often, because I'm sure if judged individually on their own merits (there's a concept), you'd be hard pressed to find a true racist. Now the aggregate of practices and attitudes... well that's another story.

By the same "token" (puns are always intended) the AA candidates have to be judged on their inherent merits. That does not mean grading on a curve, but it does mean taking into account the horribly uneven playing field and creating a standard of fair grading, um, judging. Frankly, I've seen so many portfolios jam-packed with the "heritage, legacy, family reunion & Jazz band ads I could puke. So how does someone grade and hire in from this pool? It's not the creatives fault, because when I'm in meetings with brand managers, in spite of my long speeches, presenting of evidence to the contrary & tears, that seems to be the unyielding mandate. So even if the work was effective when presented in a portfolio to a "white creative director who is sometimes culturally clueless, how does he know if it was good or bad thinking. How do we really get mid and senior level AA creatives into this pre-integrated field.

I have some ideas, but I'll scream them at you later.