DIVERSITY: BURNETT STRIVING FOR RELEVANCE IN COMMUNICATIONS: RECRUITMENT PROGRAM AT SHOP ENCOURAGES DIRECT QUERIES

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At Leo Burnett Co., a commitment to minority recruitment and retention is good business.

"Our business is communicating to the customers of our clients, and more and more those customers are of all colors and dimensions," says Don Richards, Burnett senior VP-resource development.

"We have to be relevant in our communications to our clients' customers, and there are definite insights that people of color bring to our communications."

In a "Minority Recruiting Mission" statement hammered out by Burnett executives last summer, the agency affirmed its commitment to actively recruit, train and promote minorities for professional job positions.

CRITICAL TO VISION

Bringing in persons of color "is critical to achieving our corporate vision of `being an indispensable source of our clients' competitive advantage,'*" the statement reads. "By better mirroring today's changing society, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of our consumers and keep our clients' advertising strategies and creative messages fresh and relevant."

"We are in the ideas business," says William T. Lynch, president-CEO. "We trade exclusively in ideas, and more and more those ideas have to come from people with diverse backgrounds. We depend on them to help develop those ideas."

For facilitating agency diversity, Burnett is receiving a Diversity Achievement Award in March from American Advertising Federation District 2 (a five-state region that includes New York). Burnett was singled out for its role as an "industry influential." In 1996, TBWA Chiat/Day was honored as an "industry influential" as well.

TRAINING SESSIONS

Burnett's commitment to diversity is more than just a mission statement on paper.

From Mr. Lynch on down, agency staffers participate in diversity training sessions; recruitment efforts are led by teams who seek out promising candidates on college campuses that are off-the-beaten track; and an in-house support network of mentors and advisers helps foster an open-door policy in which any and all concerns can be aired.

"Diversity training symbolically says to people of color that [the company] cares, that your issues are important to us and that we recognize you are in an environment that may not foster growth," says Rahsan-Rahsan Lindsay, 25, an account exec brought to Burnett by one of the agency's recruitment teams more than two years ago.

TEAM IMPACT

That recruitment team-Andrew Stroth, Kinard Gibbs, and Clay Purdy-made a deep impression on Mr. Lindsay.

"I was able to ask direct questions, and I got honest answers about career opportunities, advancement possibilities, comfort levels, the overall environment at the agency," he says. "I got the impression from them, and they're black men as am I, that this would be a nurturing place, a place where I'd have equal opportunities."

To insure a good beginning with the agency, Burnett provides all new employees with a higher-level executive within the same department who can help guide and advise each.

For Monica Fragale-Gadsby, 31, a Burnett VP-media director, her advisers turned out to be the same individuals who recruited her to Burnett from the University of Texas seven years ago.

"They already were my mentors before I even got to the agency," says Ms. Fragale-Gadsby. "I remember being impressed by them and by how much attention [the agency] paid to the development of their recruits."

For individuals who join the agency above entry levels, such as Lewis Williams, 42, a VP-associate creative director, the commitment means an open-door policy.

"If I have a problem, I can go to the bigwigs and talk to them about it," he says. "If I have a major problem, I can call Bill Lynch about it and he'd call me back. This is an environment where if I have a problem, I can go in and talk to senior-level people and know that my concerns are addressed."

COMPARES WITH BURRELL

Mr. Williams, who has worked at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, as well as Burrell Communications Group, Chicago, says his experience at Burnett has been similar to that of the environment at Burrell, a black-owned agency.

"Looking in from the outside, you would think that there would be a difference [in environment] between Burrell and Burnett, but it's remarkably similar," he says.

There are no formal numeric goals Burnett wants to reach, other than continuing to seek out and expand the number of minority employees at the agency. Currently, approximately 18% of the agency's 2,000 employees are minorities, Mr. Richards says.

For Burnetters, diversity is a way of life, both personally and professionally.

"What has struck me about Burnett is its ability to adapt to changing times while still keeping intact the integrity of the agency," says Ms. Fragale-Gadsby. "This is an agency that has confidence to say different people have different ways of communicating. And all communication styles are welcome."

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