Monday, October 15, 2018

14333: Truth Or Con Sequences.

Adweek covered an ADCOLOR® event featuring Wieden + Kennedy Co-President Colleen DeCourcy, who presented a “Moment of Truth” that underscored how advertising executives exhibit untruthfulness when addressing the topic of diversity. DeCourcy apparently drew inspiration from Naomi Wadler’s speech at the March For Our Lives rally, which led to writing impassioned thoughts that she shared with W+K leaders, whereby “she challenged everyone to take a hard look at systemic and unconscious bias that was affecting the hiring and promotion of talent.”

Okay, but why did it take so damned long for DeCourcy to gain inclusivity enlightenment?

After all, it’s been nearly a decade since W+K Co-Founder Dan Wieden acknowledged the dearth of diversity in the advertising industry by declaring, “Now that’s fucked up!” Of course, Wieden went on to nab an ADCOLOR® Award for his alleged dedication to change. Yet critics were still quick to call out the hypocrisy of the White advertising agency’s salute to Black Lives Matter. And less than a year ago, an art director claimed to be among only two Black females in the W+K creative department. Oh, and W+K experienced a sexual harassment scandal too. DeCourcy should listen more closely to Colin Kaepernick’s full message.

In short, while DeCourcy’s perspectives might be undergoing an evolution, it’s happening at the Darwinian pace that adland has maintained forever. About every ten years, White advertising leaders feign interest in embracing people of color and reboot revolutionary initiatives—acting as if the ideas are hatching for the very first time. The recurring phenomena feels like a mash-up of Groundhog Day, the undiscovered country and early-stage dementia.

Final prediction: DeCourcy will win an ADCOLOR® trophy by essentially regurgitating her boss’ rhetoric and repeating the lack of legitimate progress. And that’s the sad truth.

How Wieden+Kennedy Approached a Moment of Truth in Recruiting Diverse Talent

Colleen DeCourcy motivates the team forward

By Doug Zanger

Moments of truth, as a general rule, connote tension or drama, and the person facing them either fails or comes out of it much stronger. That’s why “Moments of Truth” was the theme of this year’s Adcolor conference in Los Angeles, where speakers and attendees shared their stories of the crossroads and crucibles that defined their careers.

For screenwriter and producer Mara Brock Akil, that moment came between the second and third seasons of her early 2000s show, Girlfriends. Akil had never run a show, let alone one with a $25 million budget, and the learning curve had brought her to a tense moment with the Paramount Pictures. In grand Hollywood fashion, Akil turned it all around. The studio executive asked her who the better writers were on the show. She paused, closed her eyes and said, “I don’t know who the better writer is, but I know if you don’t have me on this show, it will fail.” Having made her point, she was able to retain creative control of the show that she created.

Such instances are certainly frequent and career-defining in the ad industry, as well.

Sharing her story on stage at Adcolor, Wieden+Kennedy president Colleen DeCourcy noted her own revelation that she was in her position because she “was one step to the left and one step behind [white men], and therefore something you could let in [to the industry] and not rock the boat too much.”

DeCourcy’s initial acceptance of this fact has, for many years, made way for her own evolution—that she is in a position to make decisions that will help positively impact women, people of color and the LGBTQ communities. As a top leader of one of the world’s most prominent agencies, where she was recently promoted from global CCO to co-president, she is acutely aware of the effect her views can have on shaping the industry.

A galvanizing moment for her was watching Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old student, speak at the March for Our Lives rally. DeCourcy found it a powerful moment and was inspired to put her thoughts about the advertising business down. It was an important stream of consciousness and became an impassioned screed that she shared with the creative leadership at W+K.

Reiterating her belief in them to lead the agency to a more equitable place, she challenged everyone to take a hard look at systemic and unconscious bias that was affecting the hiring and promotion of talent. Working from a place of empathy, she encouraged the agency’s leaders to look at their own career origin stories, reminding them that there were people who helped them improve early on, and to put themselves in the shoes of emerging, yet-to-be-discovered talent.

The agency recognized that not enough women and people of color held creative director positions.

“Somewhere, unconscious bias is happening,” noted DeCourcy. “I’m not blaming [people], but the numbers don’t lie. And [I told] our leaders, ‘We believe in you, but now is not the time for self-protection. It’s a time for magnanimity and to give over what you have … not to protect yourself’.”

The agency, still basking in the glow of it’s Colin Kaepernick work for Nike, has made some recent progress and increased its number of female creative directors. Yet it’s lagging in attracting senior people of color to Portland.

“It’s still not good enough,” said DeCourcy. “But I believe we will get better.”

Given the room to create and build a path forward

What’s troubling to DeCourcy is how people of color don’t really have the luxury of failing, mainly due to the industry’s structure and history of celebrating white male creatives. Ironically, W+K’s culture is built around the mantra of “Fail harder,” yet men and women of color have “one shot—and you have to soar so high. You have to be a Jimmy Smith,” noted DeCourcy, referring to the legendary creative who cut his teeth at Wieden in the 1990s.

A decidedly ongoing bright spot for the agency is the creation of On She Goes, a travel platform for women of color. Recording a podcast for the site at Adcolor, four of the five leaders of the project—Serita Wesley, Rebecca Russell, Farin Nikdel and Vivian Zhang (Becca Ramos was not in attendance)—said they feel they have ample support from the senior team at Wieden. It’s also a compelling microcosm of what’s possible when varied talent comes together.

“[Wieden’s leaders are] impressed with our creativity,” said Wesley, who is also a producer at W+K Studios. “All of the freelancers we brought in—artists, writers—were women of color, and we brought 150 of them into the project in seven months.”

“There was a lot of getting [leadership] up to speed on the condition of women of color, especially in the travel space,” added Russell. “They got out of our way, to an extent, and allowed us the space to do the project in our own way. We did have to be scrappier, smarter, more efficient and figure out how to do things with the resources that we were given. But we also have made that a priority to give an opportunity to as many women of color as we can.”

On She Goes has racked up some good growth in its first year, with visitors from over 100 countries and almost 500,000 video content views, all mainly accomplished organically with a little help from a minimal media budget.

As for the theory that the city and agency aren’t good for talent of color, Zhang also noted that it can be harmful to dismiss certain cities or regions for “lacking diversity,” a claim that’s sometimes made about Wieden + Kennedy hometown Portland, Oregon.

“There is diversity [in Portland] that might not be at the highest [rate],” she said. “But by saying there’s no diversity in Portland, you’re ignoring people who are actually there, who grew up there, who have families and generations there. The more negativity we pour onto it, the more it perpetuates itself.”


Anonymous said...

Sorry, not buying it. They can talk all the diversity hot air they want on stage, but behind the scenes, Wieden + Kennedy promotes and coddles this kind of "talent". This is what the company culture is like:

Anonymous said...

For the love of God. These so called diversity officers at various agencies and corporations have been sitting in the cockpit for at least 2 decades cooning and bootshining, bootlicking and creating these meaningless panels and forums. They will never let you fly the damn plane. Stop these mindless endless debates and discussions. Keep playing this game, they will play along with you. These white women are not concerned about black employment or career advancement. They are not apart of your "diversity coalition"/. You can hand "Adcolor awards" to Dan Weiden or Collen Decourcy, Cindy gallop or whomever you think will play the game with you, at the end of the day, you, and your people are not advancing! Everybody black wants to be a cog in the white establishment machine, such foolish idiocy. javascript:void(0)