Ad industry needs diversity to prosper

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With unemployment at a re-cord low, and talented people at a premium, will the advertising industry finally look to minorities to meet its staffing needs?

Statistics paint a discouraging picture. According to the American Advertising Federation, only 4% of people employed in the advertising profession are people of color. Less than 2% of ad industry senior executives are minorities. In general-market ad agencies, less than 1% of managers are minorities.

This is occurring when advertising (as well as other fields) is having a difficult time recruiting talent. Top graduates are being lured to dot-coms with the siren song of stock options and bonuses. It's pretty hard to compete.

GIVE DIVERSITY A CHANCE

Now is the time to give diversity a chance. I know what it is like as I have been on both sides of the issue. I was the first African-American account exec to be hired by N.W. Ayer. The year was 1970. Every executive in the agency interviewed me, and the decision to hire me or not hire me went all the way up to the chairman of the board. I didn't know that I was the "first" until after I came onboard.

I'm pleased to say there are a number of things my own agency, Laughlin, Marinaccio & Owens, is doing that can be replicated at other shops.

Laughlin Marinaccio has a diversified staff, beginning at the top, and has been active in recruiting minorities. The agency is also teaching an advertising course at Howard University, an historically black college, and it provides student internships. One of our interns, under the tutelage of a senior Laughlin Marinaccio staff member, won an Addy award in the student category from the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington.

Laughlin Marinaccio executives participate in workshops for minority high school students and lecture at Howard and at Morgan State, another historically black college -- each time encouraging the youngsters to go into advertising.

EMERGING MARKET

Multicultural consumers represent a major "emerging growth market." The combined spending power of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians is close to $1 trillion. Furthermore, the demographic clock is ticking. If present trends continue, by the year 2050 African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians may no longer be minorities.

In order for the advertising industry to maintain growth and profitability, it will have to become more diverse and inclusive. It would be ironic that what began as a moral imperative could rapidly become an economic necessity.

Mr. Owens is senior VP-strategic marketing, Laughlin, Marinaccio & Owens, Arlington, Va., and president of the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington.

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