How Diverse Candidates Can Ride the Ad Industry Boom (VIDEO)

By MediaVillage Education Foundation Archives
Cover image for  article: How Diverse Candidates Can Ride the Ad Industry Boom (VIDEO)

Across the advertising, media, and marketing industries, business is booming, as companies race to fill key roles and meet client demands. That's good news for recent grads and seasoned professionals alike – if they can access these positions. In particular, people of color may have difficulty finding openings and moving up the corporate ladder. To foster diversity, agencies and organizations need to step up both their outreach and internal supports.

It's well established that diversity is good for business, and most have committed time and resources to advancing DEI efforts. But action yields results, so organizations need to implement the recruitment and development necessary to advance women and people of color, industry executives said. That starts as early as high school and college and extends to entry-level employees and even the C-Suite. These issues and more were addressed during two panels at MediaVillage's Advancing Diversity Week virtual conference.  

"Diversity is the outcome of creating a really inclusive environment, so people feel like they're being heard," said Michele Laven, iHeart Media's Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Diversity Officer, speaking on the panel "Career Opportunities in Media and Advertising." The panel, which was moderated by Mizell Stewart, Vice President, News Performance, Talent & Partnerships, Gannett | USA TODAY Network and also included Brian Vaught, Executive Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Belonging, Publicis Media; Ci Ci Holloway, Chief People and Diversity Officer, Intersection; LaToya Johnson, Director, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity, Gannett | USA TODAY Network, and Laurel Rossi, Co-Founder and Executive Chair, Creative Spirit US, focused on providing prospective employees with more opportunities to learn about job opportunities across the marketing ecosystem, several of which might surprise them. (You can watch that panel in its entirety in the video at top.)

Take the advertising technology industry. Ad tech is a fast-growing sector, as companies race to hire throughout departments. This was the subject of the panel "Career Opportunities in Digital Media and AdTech," which was moderated by MediaVillage and founder Jack Myers and included Donnie Williams, Executive Vice President, Chief Digital Officer, Horizon Media, and Todd Tran, Chief Strategy Officer, Teads. (You can watch that panel in its entirety below.)

While global leader Teads is focused on hiring a diverse workforce, including more women, some candidates might shy away from a technology firm because they assume it is male dominated, Tran explained. But Teads' workforce skews female, with women making up 51% of its employees worldwide and 53% in the U.S.

"Just because the word tech is in the description of the company doesn't mean it is male dominated," Tran said.

To engage more diverse candidates, Teads is also partnered with the T. Howard Foundation, which works to increase diversity in media, and is stepping up recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Diversity can be something unconventional, Tran added, such as an unusual upbringing, culture or personal experience.

How Can Job Seekers Be Seen?

How can candidates get a foot in the door? To advance a diverse workforce, the executives on the panels agreed that organizations must improve recruiting and development. After all, many young people might not be aware of all the careers in the advertising and media industries, from accounting and technology to creative.

Paid internships and apprenticeships are key to developing a young and diverse workforce. Agencies and brands can work with organizations like the T. Howard Foundation, American Advertising Federation and HBCUs to establish programs and recruit prospects.

To teach college students about the advertising business, media holding company Publicis Media created the Multicultural Talent Pipeline, a three-day boot camp for students from more than 100 universities. Since it launched 12 years ago, the program has grown to more than 400 per session. Publicis also offers apprenticeships and awards $1,000 scholarships to students interested in the industry to help with educational costs.

"It's great that we're building awareness, but how are we helping people get jobs? Through internships and full-time opportunities," said Publicis' Vaught.

Job seekers should also consider an entry-level position that could launch a successful career, noted Intersection's Holloway. Her company is hiring sales coordinators across the country, a position that requires less than one year of experience. It could be a springboard, Holloway noted. "It may not be the job you thought you'd get, but it is a great way to learn the business and it also gives you access to people and leadership, which provides excellent networking opportunities," she said.

When a candidate lands an interview, HR executives are encouraging people of color to spotlight their differences. Perhaps you put yourself through school, were a student athlete or a performer. More experienced candidates can talk about their career journey, and where it has zigged and zagged.

"Employers today are looking for diversity in experiences and thought and where you're coming from," iHeart's Laven explained. "It is so important at this moment in time to really be your authentic self."

"Most people come with a list of skills," said Creative Spirit US' Rossi.  "What I'm really looking for is something unique about them that they can add to the culture."

Diversity can be something unconventional, Tran added, such as an unusual upbringing, culture or personal experience.

Of course, when it comes time for the meeting, candidates should do their homework on a company and come armed with strong, pointed questions about the person they're meeting with, the industry, and the firm, Gannett's Johnson added.

How Ongoing Support Fosters Diversity

Diversity doesn't end with recruiting, DEI and HR executives agreed. Rather, companies need to encourage employees to share ideas and recognize their ideas and identities. iHeart Media hosts employee forums and offers robust diversity and inclusion. Recently, the company sponsored an "Innovation Month" initiative, asking employees to submit ideas to improve the company, and eight proposals will be implemented.

At Gannett | USA TODAY Network, executives and hiring managers participate in training ranging from talent sources to onboarding and employee development, Johnson explained, noting that Gannett employees can participate in resource groups that provide training and support. "These serve as a safe space for open conversations and provide opportunities to raise awareness," she said.  

Managers need to check in with their employees about how they're doing and where there is room for improvement. Horizon Media's Williams manages a team of about 400 employees, and he checks in with three to four team members per day to hear about their struggles and successes. The agency also conducts surveys (including anonymous questionnaires) to query ideas and measure its efforts.

"I let people know I am a sounding board and they're valued members of this community and organization," Williams said.

"Think of your career as a lattice, not a ladder," suggested Publicis Media's Vaught, who majored in Management Information Services and never expected to work in DEI. "Whether you're just starting out or mid-career, don't get too stuck on what you majored in or your previous jobs."

Candidates should embrace new possibilities for advancement," he said. "You need to be open to all the possibilities."

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