An Urgent Call for Change from Advertising and Marketing Professionals

By On Influence and Influencers Archives
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In addition to writing the weekly On Influence and Influencers column for MediaVillage, Philip McKenzie is a cultural anthropologist who advises organizations on how best to thrive in a challenging and uncertain environment. He's also former managing partner of a leading marketing agency.

The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have roiled American streets with protest rallies calling for justice and again centering the Black Lives Matter movement. Issues of racism, systemic oppression and diversity and inclusion have been crystallized and have captured the hearts and minds of citizens everywhere. The movement for equality has not limited itself to the streets but has also permeated the halls and boardrooms of Corporate America. Recently over 600 marketing and advertising professionals crafted an open letter titled A Call for Change that addresses the racial divide within advertising. In drafting a 12-point program the letter intends to hold the advertising and agency world accountable toward drastically improving diversity in the industry. This powerful letter demonstrates the commitment and zeal of voices that are no longer content with the status quo. We at MediaVillage stand in support of A Call for Change and invite you to review and share the letter below. We raise our voices with all the signators to ask for immediate action in addressing the issues of diversity, inclusion, and representation in advertising.

A Call for Change

Black professionals in advertising demand urgent action from agency leadership.

The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shocked the nation and brought millions of Americans to the streets in righteous protest. As loud as these protests are, it is impossible to overstate the pain that has been felt by your Black colleagues as the still-fresh wounds from Ferguson, Baltimore and countless other flashpoints of racial violence were once again re-opened. We hurt because we have seen this movie before. We hurt because we expect that, once again, when the streets have cleared and the hashtags have been retired, little will be done to address the systemic racism and economic injustice we face each and every day.

Over the past week, we have seen messages of solidarity sent out by several agencies and agency leaders. Though we are encouraged by these messages, their words ring hollow in the face of our daily lived experiences.

After decades of well-intentioned diversity & inclusion efforts, we have seen little progress in making Black voices a more representative part of the creative process. We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions. And because this industry does not release or track diversity numbers, it is impossible to tell what, if any, progress has been made.

Worse still, there is a "boys' club" mentality that remains pervasive in this industry. The same elitism & discriminatory behavior that has restricted women from advancing in the workplace, has resulted in an oppressive mono-culture that stifles the growth of Black agency professionals and restricts our ability to express our true selves.

We are asking all U.S. advertising agencies to take the following actions to address the systemic racism that is afflicting our industry:

  1. Make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially Senior and Leadership positions
  2. Track and publicly report workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the agency and the industry
  3. Audit agency policies and culture to ensure the environment we work in is more equitable and inclusive to a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives
  4. Provide extensive bias training to HR employees and all levels of management
  5. Extend agency outreach to a more diverse representation of colleges, universities, and art schools
  6. Expand residencies and internship programs to candidates with transferable skills who may not have taken a traditional educational path toward advertising
  7. Create, fund, and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Black employees
  8. Invest in management and leadership training, as well as mentorship, sponsorship, and other career development programs for Black employees
  9. Require all leadership to be active participants in company Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and tie success in those initiatives to bonus compensation.
  10. Create a Diversity & Inclusion committee made up of Black and NBPOC employees to help shape diversity & inclusion policy and monitor its progress
  11. Establish a diversity review panel to stem the spread of stereotypes in creative work and ensure offensive or culturally insensitive work is never published
  12. Introduce a wage equity plan to ensure that Black women, Black men, and people of color are being compensated fairly

Though advertising agencies boast some of the most politically progressive business leaders in America, agency leadership has been blind to the systemic racism and inequity that persists within our industry. Many gallons of ink have been spilled on op-eds and think pieces, but tangible progress has eluded this industry for too long.

We, the signatories of this letter, are calling out for change in the form of direct action. We stand in solidarity with our women, non-binary, LGBTQ+, disabled and NBPOC colleagues who have made similar calls for change.

Show us you're listening. Take decisive action now.

Black lives matter.

List of Signatories

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