Saturday, September 30, 2023

16398: App For Pop.

Does Dad need help tracking his steroid use? There’s an app for that.

Friday, September 29, 2023

16397: Progressive Failure, Dominating Victory.


The New York Times published a perspective titled, “The Failure of Progressive Movements,” focusing on the perceived shortcomings of Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter. While the trio initially sparked passions, “none of the three movements have come close to achieving their ambitions.”


Adland certainly reflects the phenomena in semi-twisted ways.


Given the greed of White holding companies—with CEOs collecting multimillion-dollar salaries—the 1 percent are literally in charge.


#MeToo was more moment versus movement, where Diet Madison Avenue had a shorter shelf life than a can of Diet Coke. And gender pay gaps have expanded.


As for Black Lives Matter, even Human Heat Shields are among the diminished, dumped, and departed. And racial underrepresentation has extended.


Yet does not achieving their ambitions constitute failure or corroborate success—i.e., the overpowering success of White privilege and systemic racism?


The Failure of Progressive Movements


Prominent movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter have had an impact. But none achieved their ambitions.


By David Leonhardt


Three progressive movements have risen to prominence over the past 15 years and vowed to create a fairer America: Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.


All of them have had an impact. Occupy popularized the idea of the 1 percent and the 99 percent. #MeToo led to the firing (and sometimes jailing) of sexual predators, as well as the hiring of more women in prominent jobs. Black Lives Matter led to policing reforms in some cities and the hiring of more Black Americans in prominent jobs.


Still, none of the three movements have come close to achieving their ambitions.


Congress has not passed any major laws to reduce economic, gender or racial inequality, such as a wealth tax, universal pre-K or nationwide police reforms. Instead, taxes on the affluent are near their lowest level in decades, and the number of killings by the police remains largely unchanged. “The term ‘reckoning’ was invoked again and again, and yet we don’t seem to have reckoned with any of our problems in any meaningful way,” Fredrik deBoer, a popular Substack newsletter writer, argues in a new book.


What explains these disappointments? In part, it’s simply that political change is fantastically difficult and often takes decades. But the degree of difficulty is only part of the story.


The movements also bear some responsibility for their disappointments. Above all, they made decisions geared more toward changing elite segments of American society — like academia, Hollywood and the national media — than toward passing new laws and changing most people’s lives.


That’s the central argument of deBoer’s book, “How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement.” It has helped me think about American politics, and I want to devote today’s newsletter to these issues.


Radical and practical


The most successful political movements tend to share a few features. They start with activists whose goals can seem so audacious as to be unrealistic. (Otherwise, there would be no need for a movement.) Over time, the movement’s leaders make careful decisions about how to accomplish at least some of those goals. They appeal to public opinion. They collaborate with unlikely allies. They work the system to change the system.


It was true of the civil rights movement, which combined radical aims with patriotic symbols and nonviolent protest. More recently, the gay rights movement accomplished rapid change partly by emphasizing traditional values like marriage and military service. The lessons also apply to the political right: Abortion opponents spent decades patiently taking over the Republican Party and making the case that voters have a right to choose their own policies, state by state.


Recent progressive movements have tended to be less strategic, explains deBoer, a self-described leftist. Occupy celebrated its lack of structure, including its lack of concrete goals. “Demands are disempowering since they require someone else to respond,” one Occupy protester told The New York Times in 2011. Black Lives Matter refused to name leaders, contrasting its approach with the old top-down civil rights movement. #MeToo, befitting its hashtag, never quite became an organized movement.


None of the three created a mass organization with a long-term plan — as labor unions, civil rights groups, evangelical Christians and other successful movements did in past decades.


Occupy and Black Lives Matter also allowed unpopular positions to shape their public image — and weaken them. For instance, polling shows that most Black Americans support major changes to policing but not less policing. Much of Black Lives Matter, however, focused on cutting police funding. One organizer wrote a Times Opinion article titled “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.”


The recent movements have instead had more success changing elite institutions that tend to be filled by fellow liberals. The winners of prestigious cultural awards have become more diverse. Media organizations now capitalize Black when describing somebody’s race. President Biden has made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Universities emphasize identity in their curriculums.


Symbols over substance


These are real changes, but deBoer notes that they have little effect on most people’s lives. They instead reflect what the political philosopher Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò calls the “elite capture” of social justice campaigns. “Today,” deBoer writes, “left-activist spaces are dominated by the college-educated, many of whom grew up in affluence and have never worked a day at a physically or emotionally demanding job.” For that reason, these spaces prioritize “the immaterial and symbolic” over “the material and the concrete,” deBoer argues.


(That point is related to a continuing theme of this newsletter: the class inversion of American politics.)


DeBoer’s writing can be withering, as the best polemics often are, and few people will agree with all of his arguments. But his central point is important, whether you’re part of the political left, center or right: Calling out injustice isn’t the same as fighting it.


“The spirit of 2020 was always a righteous spirit, and the people and organizations that powered that moment had legitimate grievances and moral demands,” he writes. “What we need is practicality, resilience and a plan.”

Thursday, September 28, 2023

16396: The Quest For Questioning Questionable Behavior.

Advertising Age published neurotic navel-gazing from an anonymous scribe dubbed M.T. Fletcher, who pontificated on “questionable work habits” that are apparently—at least in Fletcher’s outdated mind—threatening creativity in Adland.


First, Fletcher doesn’t even realize that evolving civilization—spurred by advancing digital technology—has allowed him/her/them to rant in anonymity. For Ad Age to allow it displays another indicator that the Apocalypse is not only upon us, but well behind us.


Second, to bemoan “questionable work habits” in the field demonstrates delusional thinking. After all, the industry has seen generations of White creative directors regularly show up at noon and check out at 5:00 pm—and still enjoy a 90-minute liquid lunch break. Employment-related routines, rituals, and ridiculousness in ad firms have warranted questioning for many decades.


Finally, Fletcher manages to underscore the cultural cluelessness in Adland by referring to today’s collaboration as Kabuki theatre.


Sorry, but if creativity is being threatened, the menace to society is a penchant for clinging to the past.


Creativity is being threatened by questionable work habits—here’s how to fix them


As marketers, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back in the arena, whether connecting through a screen or in person


By M.T. Fletcher


With summer suddenly behind us, back-to-school also means back-to-the-office, as companies big and small make an added push for employees to spend more time on site. Many clients are mandating four days a week, opting to leave Friday as a work-from-home day, and most agencies are easing their way toward a minimum of three days in the office—some more gracefully than others.


An entire book could be written about the collateral consequences of work losing its sense of place, but our reluctant return to the office is just one of the many examples of how we’ve been lying to ourselves over the past couple of years. Our delusions turn into myths that become conventional wisdom, until bad habits emerge from convincing ourselves the world is flat.


It’s time to expunge those bad habits before they kill creativity once and for all.


Myth number one, of course, was the notion that we can work from anywhere, indefinitely. As the pandemic became perpetual, we kidded ourselves that we can do this forever, pretending a Zoom call was a worthy substitute for sitting across from someone and looking into their eyes, or two people talking over each other in their excitement as ideas bounce back and forth, or simply noticing the body language of a colleague or client to realize they don’t feel heard.


Spontaneity is the key to creativity, but there’s nothing spontaneous about a scheduled Teams call—only structure and unwanted exposure to blue light. And the only way to replicate that hallway conversation or quick chat after a meeting is to add more one-on-one calls to your schedule, which extends a work day that hasn’t known boundaries since smart phones became our constant companions. That’s why everyone feels more burned out than ever before, though we’re supposedly saving time and feeling more relaxed by working from home.


And don’t get me started on the lack of training for junior talent. Much like the grade-schoolers whose social development was stunted during the pandemic, young marketers are now sitting down at the table with senior clients and agency talent without knowing how to hold their fork or spoon. Their energy is great, their enthusiasm is magical, but emails are sloppy, presentations are casual and thinking isn’t structured—and yet it’s not their fault. Scientists say humans learn more by observation than instruction, so what did we expect anyone to learn from a face on a screen that’s only two inches square?


Which is a nice segue to the industry’s biggest illusion: the notion that collaboration simply happens when enough people show up. Seeing more faces on a screen exacerbated this erroneous assumption, but it’s a misconception that predates the pandemic tied to bad behavior that probably started with packaged goods companies in the early days of advertising.


Twenty people in the meeting, the agency presents new work, but nobody says anything until the very end. Poker faces all around, the creatives sweating under their shirts, hoping for some validation if not endorsement, while junior clients practice their stoic expressions to appear more professional. After the show is over, comments and feedback are given sequentially, from the most junior client to the most senior—or, in some cases, no feedback is given in the moment in order for “consolidated feedback” to be given the next day, in writing. Feelings are discouraged with Vulcan precision, logic is prized above all.


That isn’t collaboration, it’s Kabuki theater. Everyone wearing a mask of competence to hide their insecurities. It may seem professional, but it isn’t helpful.


Clients should realize their knowledge of the business and their risk tolerance are two things that only they can represent in the meeting, while an agency’s job is to throw out possibilities and provocations that may or may not fit within with those guardrails. Both roles are critical, because getting a creative narrative to align with corporate reality is tricky, just as getting consumers to care about yet another brand is no small feat. When everyone’s in sync, that’s when you get to the best work, but you can’t master that dance alone in the dark.


Start talking and stop second-guessing, because nobody is a mind reader and passive-aggressive behavior only gets you watered-down work.


Clients, it is your business problem, so unless you help solve it, you’ve no right to be disappointed or frustrated with the agency’s best guess. Jump in early and often, make meetings informal, and let yourself get scared at least once a week.


And agencies, stop wondering and start asking. Insist that clients of every rank stay on camera, and set an expectation that gut reactions are not only welcome but necessary. After all, consumers buy with their hearts and then rationalize with their heads, so unless everyone involved in the creation of a campaign has permission to trust their feelings, the work you make will be rational, logical and utterly forgettable.


Whether you work for a brand or an agency, it’s become harder to get clear direction and far easier to become an unwitting part of a virtual committee, everyone dodging responsibility for solving a problem. Nobody owns the problems of a virtual world. When everyone has to “drop for another call,” who feels truly vested in owning the outcome?


Marketing is a messy business, a complicated choreography that requires intense interaction and constant iteration. That’s why most of the creative work from the last few years seems derivative, the Super Bowl feels anemic and client-agency relationships are more fragile than ever. It’s too easy to blame the distraction of data or the pestilential pressure of procurement, though those two gremlins certainly haven’t helped.


As marketers, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back in the arena, whether connecting through a screen or in person. Working remotely can be great sometimes, but only if you accept its limitations and work your ass off to overcompensate for an imperfect simulacrum of human interaction. Speak up, debate, argue and shape the clay together.


The more we come together to collaborate and not just meet, the more we can create. CMOs should remember that they don’t work for their bosses any more than agencies work for their clients. You all work for the brand, and the brand works for the business.


It’s that simple, and it’s that hard, so let’s get back to work.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

16395: Recommending—And Commending—The Black Experience In Design.

The Black Experience In Design reportedly started as a concept for a special issue journal. Yet it quickly grew into a global chorus of creators expressing provocative perspectives, personalities, practices, and politics.


Even attempting to review the book is a daunting task, given the extraordinary breadth and depth of its creative content. Indeed, calling it a book feels… insufficient. It’s an indescribable, incredible, and thoroughly original work.


Experience The Black Experience In Design.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

16394: The Cost Of Bud Light Collateral Damage…?

InBev and Bud Light have taken a quiet response—ie, the band played on approach—to the Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney scenario. Meanwhile, people behind the concept have been skewered in the press.


The Daily Mail spotlighted—in an unflattering light—the Bud Light marketing VP who apparently lost her job over the social media mishap. The publisher even revealed that the former marketing VP lives in an $8 million Central Park home.


Media Entertainment Arts WorldWide and the New York Post tag-teamed to slam Captiv8—the California-based influencer marketing firm that orchestrated the idea—for jetting senior executives to the ultra-exclusive Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Shortly after the luxurious trip—which included flying on a private jet and receiving swanky swag—Captiv8 axed 13 employees. It’s a safe bet that no Bud Lights were consumed by Captiv8 leaders on the flight or in France.


Gee, Mulvaney might be making considerably less loot than any of the parties involved.


Where is Captiv8 based in? Ad firm behind Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney fiasco fires 13 employees after senior execs’ luxurious French trip


By Anita Goswami


SAN MATEO, CALIFORNIA: After the failure of Bud Light’s partnership with Dylan Mulvaney, a California marketing firm has taken a drastic step by firing more than a dozen employees. This comes shortly after senior executives openly celebrated a luxurious trip to Cannes, France.


The marketing company, Captiv8, headquartered in San Mateo, gained attention for organizing a private jet for top executives and special guests to attend the renowned Cannes-Lions festival in June, per The NY Post.


Who is Krishna Subramanian?


Krishna Subramanian is the CEO and co-founder of Captiv8.


The entrepreneur also co-founded Unanimous Capital, demonstrating a commitment to startup growth. Subramanian’s other career roles include serving on the Mobile Marketing Association’s Board of Directors and spearheading mobile marketing and advertising technology at Velti.


His impact extends to Mobclix, Yahoo, and BlueLithium, where he co-founded and directed transformative ventures.


Upon their return from Cannes, CEO Subramanian reportedly provided a rundown of their trip during a company-wide Zoom meeting held on July 3.


The presentation purportedly showcased photographs of the excited travelers aboard the lavish private jet, in addition to images of their visits to yachts, pool parties, and villas situated in the southern part of France.


Captiv8 reserved a private charter through a boutique French airline named La Compagnie, known for its 76 fully reclining seats and a unique “bespoke plane experience,” as detailed in a press release about the journey.


Captiv8 CEO fires 13 employees after Cannes trip


However, just two days after this lavish display, CEO Subramanian, perceived by some as “tone-deaf,” reportedly fired 13 employees. This accounts for approximately 5% of Captiv8’s workforce, which comprises over 200 employees, as disclosed by a staff member at the firm.


“They said they were investing in the future of the company and building relationships,” one current worker who survived the purge said, adding, “Maybe they could have saved jobs instead of blowing all of this money” in Cannes.


Captiv8 extended invitations to various influencers, including David Dobrik, Josh Richards, and Robyn Delmonte (known as Girl Boss Town). In addition, the company also invited chief marketing officers from several firms that have partnerships with Captiv8.


Passengers on the trip were treated to an array of goodies, including skincare and beauty products, electronics, designer sunglasses, and a denim jacket, along with wine and Champagne. These details were shared through social media posts about the excursion.


Over time, Captiv8 has garnered recognition as an award-winning enterprise by aligning social media influencers with prominent consumer brands. This approach was allegedly employed when Mulvaney posted an Instagram picture on April 1, featuring her holding a can of Bud Light.


Following the layoffs, CEO Subramanian reportedly addressed the remaining staff through another company-wide Zoom meeting, during which he indicated that the agency was actively reviewing budgets and assessing its financial situation, as per information from sources.


“The timing was terrible,” said one fired employee who did not want to be identified out of fear of losing their severance package.


“You wouldn’t expect to be laid off after such an extravagant trip. If you get more business in Cannes then you don’t downsize and cut your manpower,” added the devastated worker, who has young children.


At present, the recently laid-off employee is grappling with anxiety over the prospect of finding new employment in a job market that is gradually becoming more competitive. “I need to keep my head above the water because no one is hiring right now,” the former worker said.


The company, boasting clientele such as McDonald’s, Disney, Toyota, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and OceanSpray, clarified that the layoffs accounted for “less than 5% of our workforce” and emphasized that they are currently in the process of actively recruiting for various positions.


According to a representative from Captiv8, the decision to let go of employees was a result of routine performance evaluations. “We assess the productivity of our employees with regular cadence and these layoffs were part of a continuous strategy that ensures our continued success,” the spokesperson said.


“We want to emphasize that these decisions, which were not made lightly, were driven by a strategic assessment of our team with our business priorities in mind, and not by financial challenges,” they added.


The company said the junket was “paid for in tandem with our brand partners and clients, having no impact on the company’s overall bottom line.” The spokesperson emphasized that the trip is a “meaningful business development lever for Captiv8.”

Monday, September 25, 2023

16393: The New Chicken Queen Continues Her Reign For Popeyes.


Does it make sense that Popeyes would hire a different White advertising agency to cook up another Annie campaign? No. We don’t make sense. We make stereotypical Chicken Queens.


Sunday, September 24, 2023

16392: US Postal & Piñatas Service.


USPS celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month with new Piñatas! Stamps. So, go postal on piñatas!

Saturday, September 23, 2023

16391: Translating Stereotypes In Spanish…?


Digiday Media’s Worklife published the obligatory National Hispanic Heritage Month report, spotlighting Republica Havas. Interviewees presented the standard multicultural marketing speak:


“For 30 days, corporate America will celebrate my community, but for the remainder of the year, corporate America ignores my community.”


“The Latino community in the United States is many times still untapped for companies. If you don’t have a multicultural plan that includes a focus on the Hispanic market, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to connect with a consumer base that is extremely brand loyal.”


“Diversity should begin at the bottom with interns all the way up to the board of directors to include a healthy representation of Latinos at every level.”


Surprisingly, there were no mentions of migajas


‘Corporate America ignores my community’: Unlocking the $800 billion Hispanic business sector


By Cloey Callahan


Twenty-five nationalities are represented within the 200-person staff at creative, media and communications agency Republica Havas.


That includes folks from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Spain, to name a few. It’s what co-founder, chairman, and CEO Jorge Plasencia says makes the agency stand out.


“If we were monolithic to one group, then you’re not bringing the perspectives from all these different nationalities, but also all these perspectives,” said Plasencia, whose agency is based in Miami. “There are 20 countries that speak the language and there are a lot of things that string us together as Latinos, but at the same time, there are a lot of nuances based on the country you’re from. It makes our work richer and deeper.”


Diversity equity and inclusion is important every month of the year, but Sept. 15 through to Oct. 15, specifically celebrates national hispanic heritage. Over 51% of the population growth in the U.S. is Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Center. And there are more than 60 million Hispanic Americans contributing to culture and society. Business is a part of that. In the next decade, according to the Department of Labor, over 78% of new entrants into the American workforce will be Hispanic.


“I grew up really proud of having been born in the United States and being an American, yet very connected to my Latin roots and culture,” said Plasencia, whose parents fled from Cuba after the revolution in the ‘50s and moved to Miami to start over. “I call myself a 200 percenter because I live both my cultures.”


He built the agency in the early 2000s with his co-founder Luis Casamayor by taking on projects that bigger agencies wouldn’t. Today, they’ve grown to work with household names including Toyota, Walmart and AARP.


And this year, they launched a special campaign, #SpeakHispanic, to continue raising the voices of Hispanic communities. It’s built around Latino-centric context that aims to spark inclusive conversation and debunk stereotypes that go beyond heritage.


“It’s about continuing to do our part in having CEOs, CMOs, board of directors, understand that we have clients today that tell us their double digit growth over the next five to ten years will come from the Hispanic community,” said Plasencia. “The Latino community in the United States is many times still untapped for companies. If you don’t have a multicultural plan that includes a focus on the Hispanic market, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to connect with a consumer base that is extremely brand loyal.”


Selig Center for Economic Growth data indicates that Hispanics, 20% of the U.S. population, are surpassing a purchasing power of $2.5 trillion, an amount greater than the GDPs of Russia, Canada or Italy.


That’s where the United States Hispanic Business Council comes in. USHBC is a non-profit organization that is the leading voice for the Hispanic business community. This council has found a variety of topics impacting the community, including the need for diversity and representation in business and media. Hispanics hold less than 4% of board seats.


“For 30 days, corporate America will celebrate my community, but for the remainder of the year, corporate America ignores my community,” said Javier Palomarez, president and CEO.


He’s trying to extend that synergy year-round, especially with the lens that DE&I is ultimately a smart business move, especially knowing how loyal this community is to certain brands and the value of this growing population as future consumers.


“When you look at some pockets of this nation right now, especially in the political arena, diversity is coming under attack,” said Palomarez. “It’s an early warning sign that we need to look at diversity from a different lens. Diversity for the sake of diversity is not the right approach. But it makes business sense.”


Diversity of thought is increasingly important and a reason why Palomarez encourages corporations to be proactive when it comes to hiring people from all different backgrounds. It’s giving yourself an honest assessment by asking questions like what markets are you serving today, what markets do you want to expand to, where are you underperforming, what does the consumer of the future look like, and so on.


“The answer to those basic questions should guide the diversity of the business,” said Palomarez. “Diversity should begin at the bottom with interns all the way up to the board of directors to include a healthy representation of Latinos at every level.”


USHBC advocates for 4.5 million companies that contribute a total of $800 billion to the economy. But besides this, they help companies get to where they need to be when it comes to diversity. For example, Palomarez had just gotten off a call with a well-known bank that didn’t have one Hispanic person on its board of directors. It was broken up into seven white people and three Black people.


“I made my thoughts known,” said Palomarez. “We set out to help and present the truth through collaboration, but there is a lot of work to do.”


Claudia M. Mirza agrees that the lack of representation in boardrooms is enough. She’s the co-founder and CEO of the Akorbi Group who led the company’s evolution from a small Spanish language translation platform to one of the world’s largest, woman-owned and U.S.-based language service providers with annual revenues of $55 million. She immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia in 1997, breaking away from her family’s path of working in agriculture and joining corporate instead. The El Paso, Texas-based company has around 700 employees.


“It makes a lot of sense to bring the perspectives of Latinos and understand diversity of thought in the boardroom,” said Mirza.


But she’s also happy to be based in America: “It’s a remarkable place for you to accomplish any dream you have.” And she, like many other Latinos, brings her entrepreneurial spirit with her.


“Latinos, especially Colombians, due to the lack of formal employment opportunities, are really great entrepreneurs because some people have to sell arepas, other people are selling clothes,” said Mirza. “We have all of this informal business in order to make a living. I didn’t know that type of survival could make us great entrepreneurs some day.”

Friday, September 22, 2023

16390: Not All In For In For 13 Pledge…?

Adweek reported on the latest update from Three’s a Crowd, the advocacy group behind the In for 13 Pledge, whereby White advertising agencies promised to internally increase Black leadership to 13% by 2023.


Here’s a quick play-by-play recap:


• In 2020, TAC introduced the In for 13 Pledge.


In 2021, TAC announced that the participating agency roster dropped from 71 to 22.


In 2022, TAC revealed 23 remaining shops recorded a few individual increases in Black leadership—yet there was an overall decrease in both numbers and interest.


• Now in 2023, TAC declared the situation is stagnant, offering standard excuses for the diversity deterioration.


To sum up, the In for 13 Pledge dramatically dwindled every 13 months.


Adweek even managed to insert a typo that spoke the truth, quoting a TAC co-founder as saying, “I call the representation numbers the desert [sic].” For Black leaders, Adland is a barren desert—with crumbs served for dessert.


In any other universe, the facts and figures would reflect abject failure—not so much for TAC; but rather, for Adland. On the other hand, it all shows absolute success—for White privilege and systemic racism.


The In for 13 Pledge Shows Why Black Leadership Levels at Agencies Are Stagnant


Here’s what ad shops can do about it


By Jameson Fleming


In 2020, a group of 71 agencies made a three-year pledge to increase Black leadership levels to fall in line with the Black population in the United States—13%. After one year of discussions and work, 22 agencies remained part of the pledge, which Three’s a Crowd, the advocacy group behind the pledge, said is meant to be additive to an agency’s DEI efforts, not to replace it. The pledge requires a buy-in from more than just the head of DEI, but key stakeholders like the CEO.


With the three-year pledge now complete, TAC revealed that after a big jump in Black leadership levels from 2020 to 2021, the group of 22 agencies’ progress collectively stagnated at about 6.5% of leaders identifying as Black. A number of factors led to the stalling out of Black leadership growth, including the economy and not enough investment in building a bigger talent pool in the industry. But TAC co-founder Reonna Johnson is confident that agencies that prioritize DEI programs will see leadership levels grow in time as new, junior talent may take five to seven years to reach leadership ranks if an agency does the work to retain them. Johnson, who was recently elevated to svp of partnership at Deutsch LA, spoke with Adweek about what agencies can learn from the results of the three-year pledge and how they can better back Black talent.


“I call the representation numbers the desert. It’s what you get after you’ve completed the main course. And the main course is changing all that internal stuff that’s going to require people to stay that will eventually be moved into VP roles,” Johnson explained as to why agencies are increasing their overall representation numbers, but not at leadership levels.


The report comes on the heels of a 4A’s study that found that 90% of agency CEOs are white, and there’s a significant drop-off in retention of Black employees after the first two years.




The great stagnation


The final report on the three-year pledge surveyed almost two dozen agencies, spanning large holding company-owned shops like AKQA, Huge and 72andSunny, as well as indie agencies like RPA, Horizon Media and Preacher. In 2020, when these agencies first took the pledge, they self-reported that about 3% of their leaders identified as Black. That number has remained between 6% and 7% since 2021, with the top reason agencies haven’t increased Black leaders in the past year being a lack of preexisting open roles and new opportunities.


While the chart below says “agency downsize as a result of the pandemic/economy” as the top reason, Johnson explained there’s more nuance around that. It’s not that these agencies laid off leaders; it’s more there’s been a lack of open roles and opportunities to elevate anyone, not just Black talent. Johnson said it’s a combination of clients aren’t spending as much, and thus agencies aren’t growing their ranks, with retention rates, which have soared over the past year, meaning fewer roles opened up. With the lack of roles plaguing the whole industry, last year’s top reason agencies gave for not increasing Black leadership levels—retention—dropped from 22% to 11%.


Investing in your talent

For junior talent to last long enough at an agency to make it to leadership levels, Johnson pointed out a few ways that agencies can take long, hard looks at themselves to ensure they are eliminating any biases. One of In for 13’s guest speakers, Joan Williams of Bias Interrupters, taught the group several exercises they should do to evaluate all kinds of representation. Johnson said the first is to make a list of the 10 most visible projects in your agency. If you have the same people doing them, then you have a bias.


“How do you farm out some of those where people have more visibility into things that are large and really be strategic about how you get people a part that?” Johnson said.

The second thing agencies should do is to evaluate their review process for promotions.


“Review who has not been promoted within the last two to three years and look at whether you are tight-roping them,” Johnson said, explaining, “tight-roping basically means that they have to keep showing receipts for a role they haven’t done yet.”

Johnson stressed that employees should not have to show that they’re capable of a role versus just allowing them the space to do it. “It’s like you have to do the job before you’ve done the job,” she said. “And then you would promote them.”


Over the past year, the study showed that agencies are increasingly investing in Black managers and associate directors in order to increase Black leadership at their agencies and spend less time and resources on various pipelines that take longer to pay dividends.


Advice for employees


When evaluating potential opportunities with a new agency, Johnson stressed one key red flag. Agencies should be evaluating how you would be additive to the organization and discovering how you “sparkle,” as Johnson described it. If the agency is trying to understand you from a very narrow meaning, then you run the risk of the agency looking to “check a box.”


She points to her experience joining Deutsch LA as an example. “They were trying to understand what are you really good at, and what do you want because we can pivot and make a role based on what you’re good at. That felt more authentic to me than someone just asking me like, ‘What big pitches have I won for the agency?’”


Black talent should also be seeking out mentors, but Johnson said the first step in doing so is to understand what phase of life they’re in, like wanting a stable opportunity versus pursuing exciting accounts and a big agency or about to become a parent versus seeking to travel the world. “Don’t reach out to anybody until you know where you want to go because you need to find a role that supports your life phase.” Once you know that, find a mentor that can help you pursue that specific path.