This is a sad commentary on a business that sells itself to clients as imaginative, creative and intuitive.
My suggested solution: Open the doors of the business to all, including African-Americans, Hispanic and Asian men and women. Allow their energy, creativity and enthusiasm to re-invigorate the advertising business the way the Jews and Italians did in the '50s, '60s and '70s.
Let me explain: When I left college in 1939 the advertising business was controlled by a few major agencies, and the key player was the account executive. He frequently controlled the account and all too often dictated the creative execution. The business was dominated by white Christian males with few, if any, Italians or Jews.
It wasn't until long after World War II, and the beginning of the civil rights movement, that "ethnics" began making a name for themselves in our business.
A few individuals like Franklin Bruck, William Weintraub, Milton Biow, Lawrence Valenstein, Arthur Fatt, Jack Tarcher and Paul Gumbinner did start their own agencies and were successful in getting a few general accounts. However,the major agencies resisted opening their doors to minority employees. The few that did did not promote those individuals to top executive positions.
Along came the turbulent '60s and the agency business came alive with creative excitement. Doyle Dane Bernbach; Delehanty, Kurnit & Geller; Papert, Koenig, Lois; Ally & Gargano; Scali, McCabe, Sloves; and Della Femina, Travisano & Partners were all making history with dramatic new approaches to advertising problems.
The very people who were not welcome at the large agencies decided to go out on their own and, by virtue of their creativity, made a significant impact on the business. As a result, the creative department became the engine that made the agency a success.
We need that surge of energy now in the advertising business, and I suggest that if we were to open the doors of all agencies to African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians we would be stimulating the advertising business with their enthusiasm and creativity.
Some industry executives I have spoken to say they have tried to hire minorities, but there just aren't any candidates. That's not true. If Sam Chisholm, Caroline Jones and Byron Lewis can hire black and Hispanic professionals, then surely other agencies can find minority talent.
However, it's not going to happen unless there is a commitment to change. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Encourage the consultants who help clients in agency reviews to include minority-owned agencies as candidates for general consumer product accounts. In this way clients will begin to see African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians as advertising professionals, not just experts on "ethnic promotion."
2. Contact the major black universities like Howard, Spellman and Morehouse and speak to them about their advertising and marketing courses. Encourage agency executives to visit the schools, lecture classes and seek talent for their agencies.
3. Establish a task force of advertising professionals to meet with William Gray of the United Negro College Fund, as well as the leadership of the Urban League and the NAACP to discuss the problem and seek solutions.
4. Ask the American Advertising Federation to encourage ad clubs throughout the country to sponsor ad clubs in inner-city high schools, and provide speakers, exhibits and agency tours for these clubs.
5. Let it be known to major universities and art schools that ad agencies are open to hiring their best minority talent. Perhaps we can encourage some young people to look at advertising as a career, instead of Wall Street or the law.
If Spike Lee can make great movies, and Maya Angelou can write great poetry, and Colin Powell can run the military, then surely there are talented young minority men and women who can produce great advertising and run big accounts.
I sincerely hope some agency executive will take up the challenge and begin to help make changes. Then the next Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver will come from a new group of minorities, and their enthusiasm, desire for success and new visions of creativity will lift our business to new heights.
Mr. Levine, founder of Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver, is presently director of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Institute for Advanced Studies.