A lot is written about the lack of diversity in the advertising world. I'd like to offer a different take: the perspective of a black college student who has been honing his craft in the ad world since the age of 13.
I was introduced to the advertising industry and then the agency, Deutsch, in 2008 through a partnership they enacted with the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media (iAM) in Brooklyn, New York. Over the past seven years, I have worked in varying capacities for Deutsch, learning directly from industry veterans, contributing to creative briefs and participating in client meetings -- things few students are given access to. Just as I am bringing a valued perspective to Deutsch, they are investing time and resources in my growth within. For this, I am grateful.
The lack of qualified candidates is often brought up when discussing diversity in the industry. Instead of making excuses, let's acknowledge -- as I have with Deutsch -- that this is a two-way street, and agencies and diverse candidates need to express an interest in each other for things to change. Among young multicultural students, from my experience, advertising isn't discussed as a career. Many aren't aware that it is an option and thus lack the connections to get started. Some see advertising as a risk for a career.
For agencies interested in seeking out candidates, resources such as the 4A's MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Internship Program), ADCOLOR, the AAF's MPMS (Most Promising Multicultural Students), the One Club, and the Marcus Graham Project (just to name a few) exist to connect highly qualified candidates with agencies. As a participant in many of these programs, I can say that these highly selective outlets grab the "right" kind of youth, magnify their awareness, and identify their abilities while harnessing and elevating their talents. These resources are a great way to overcome a lack of connections to give candidates a start. In doing this, students must remember -- it doesn't work if you don't. So, work and work hard.
These programs are so crucial because barriers to entry for people like myself do still exist. In some places, there may still be stigmas linking to specific races with regard to their work ethic or their ability to perform, brought into question behind closed doors. Oftentimes, these stigmas or stereotypes are false, but perpetuated, with someone's credibility called into doubt based on where they may come from, or the experiences they haven't had.
Even though this industry has some of the most intelligent people I have ever met, the reality is that many of them aren't from the "best" places, schools or affluent backgrounds. Intelligence can be found everywhere and take many forms as it is cultivated by experience beyond an ideal world. It requires an open mind, and if agencies put in the time and effort to work with diversity programs and support the students they produce while remaining open-minded, they will be rewarded with skilled candidates as well as insight beyond their wildest imaginations.
This is an industry where the idea is worshipped, and concepts are applied to create a vision to impact the world. So, why would we close our industry's doors to a certain kind of person? Would opening the doors to all not help impact all? The aesthetic of a place is one thing -- the implementation of experience and insight is another. Agencies should strive for a diverse workforce for this reason. Diversity here means the ability to include within the walls to impact what is outside of the walls. Whoever is able to do that effectively will undeniably be prosperous.
At age 20, I can proudly say that I am an inclusive visual artist, a creative producer and a result of this industry that I have grown in. I have nurtured it, just as it has nurtured me. I am proof that it is possible for the agency world, as an industry, to connect with candidates like myself, impact their development and ultimately mold them into the next generation of what will likely be a more diverse workforce in your company. It is a big picture that I encourage you to take a part in painting. It is a two-way street and an uphill climb to a more captivating ideal for what we call this industry of advertising.