Engaging HBCUs: An Advertising Industry Roadmap for Advancing Diversity

By Advancing Diversity Archives
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Historic Black Colleges and Universities are a pipeline for talented, qualified and motivated new hires, but nurturing this young talent obviously requires investment, commitment and guidance. A deeper issue is that many students at HBCUs, community colleges and tech schools are unfamiliar with advertising and media jobs and career opportunities, says David Marshall, professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at HBCU Morgan State University. "There is a diverse talent pool sitting here that would love the opportunity," Marshall said during an Advancing Diversity Week conversation with The Pool podcast host Phil McKenzie titled "Advancing Media & Advertising Community Engagement with HBCUs." (You can watch their conversation in its entirety in the video above. A related discussion is available in the video below.)

"Advertising is so exciting; who wouldn't want to do that if they had the exposure and opportunity?" Marshall asked. Among about 106 HBCUs in the U.S., Marshall said none of them have accredited full-time advertising degree programs. As a result, students are missing opportunities to learn about the industry and explore a rich array of courses. Advertising agencies and media organizations could help schools to establish programs that educate and train students and provide funding, Marshall suggested.

For a model, Marshall said advertising and media companies should look to finance, banking, technology and STEM industries, which have made progress working with HBCUs to train and recruit young talent. The first step, he added, is offering students access to an industry. That can be through classes, clinics, internships or mentorships. The key, he explained, is to give students exposure and access.

Students might be surprised to learn about all the options, Marshall continued, including accounting, business support, client relations, adtech and creative services.

Off campus, Marshall said the industry needs to get more BIPOC students inside agencies. He suggested that firms create paid apprenticeship programs that would provide on-the-ground training and could lead to full-time employment.

"What would it take for 15 to 20 agencies to take 11 or 12 students as apprentices, put them through paces for six months and then give them the opportunity they've earned?" he asked. "We need a pathway to give students opportunities on the ground, in the agencies -- and a direct pathway to getting hired."

While they're apprenticing, students would be able to interact with other young professionals and company leaders, which helps build their professional network. "The best mentor a student can have is called 'boss,'" Marshall said.

In a separate conversation with Phil McKenzie titled "HBCU Career Meet Up Bus Tour," American Advertising Federation president Steve Pacheco explained that to help BIPOC students remove financial, academic and logistical barriers to careers in advertising, the AAF created its "HBCUs for Advertising" program.(You can watch their full conversation in the video below.)

One focus of the program is developing advertising clubs at HBCUs. The AAF currently has over 140 college chapters nationwide but, for many years, only a handful were at HBCUs. The AAF's efforts have helped launch 14 chapters at HBCUs and, by the end of 2022, he expects there will be 25 clubs.

"Our goal is for [BIPOC students] to be on the same level and to be able to compete and make sure it is a level playing field," Pacheco said.

Along with sponsorships, Pacheco said professionals can engage directly with students and professors by hosting on-campus and virtual events, and share valuable research, data and white papers. "Elevate, don't relegate," Pacheco declared. "Students want to connect and learn and stay up to date, but they don't always have the right resources."

Why wait until college? High schoolers can also benefit from outreach and training. The AAF hosts a summer Ad Camp for high school students in underserved markets to learn about the advertising industry and how agencies work. Ad agencies and industry organizations (including MediaVillage) provide financial and technical support.

While companies have stated their commitment to DEI, Pacheco said it will take more action and investment to make true progress.

"I believe the advertising, media and marketing industries are going through a talent crisis like we haven't seen in 25 years, and to fill the pipeline with diverse talent that is ready to work and make change is something we are vitally interested in," he asserted. "As an industry, we all have to step up and do more."

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