DIVERSITY: NO ON-THE-JOB JITTERS FOR THIS NEW ASSISTANT AE: FORMER SUMMER INTERN GAINS FULL-TIME POST, URGES OTHERS TO JOIN BUSINESS

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The high pressure and high stakes percolating inside ad agencies prompt many to reach for either Tylenol or Mylanta.

Ravi Howard, a 22-year-old assistant account exec at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, however, isn't downing anything to quell first-job jitters. In fact, the soft-spoken graduate of Howard University seems relaxed and confident as he discusses his work with those same Johnson & Johnson brands.

`JUST PROPS'

He displays his charges proudly in his downtown Manhattan office: Packages of Mylanta, Pepcid AC and Nicotrol line the shelf above his computer.

"I'm not much of a user of these products-thankfully," he admits with a laugh. "They're just props."

Mr. Howard initially joined Saatchi's Healthcare Connection unit via American Association of Advertising Agencies' MultiCultural Advertising Intern Program.

In 1996, Mr. Howard was one of 60 students MAIP placed at 29 agencies across the U.S. Of those 60, about a dozen, including Mr. Howard, used their internships as springboards to full-time employment.

CREDIT TO INTERNSHIP

Mr. Howard credits the Four A's program for nudging him into an advertising career, which he wasn't completely sold on despite enjoying a high-school internship at a small agency in his hometown of Montgomery, Ala., and later his studies of advertising and media at Howard's school of communications.

His senior thesis, in fact, explored malt-liquor makers' targeting of black consumers, and Mr. Howard's research uncovered what he says was a disproportionately high number of liquor and tobacco ads targeted to blacks.

Mr. Howard started seriously considering an advertising career after attending a conference that saluted black-owned agencies around the time of his graduation. But it wasn't until he landed the internship at Saatchi that he made up his mind-and an entry-level position serendipitously opened up.

USING SKILLS

"You get to use your problem-solving skills and strategic thinking across so many different companies and industries, even if you're not specifically working with them as clients," he says of advertising's appeal. "The energy is all around you."

Saatchi made the advertising field even more appealing by using a structure Mr. Howard likes: a system of core groups-built around clients and their products-that he feels allows for more collaboration and flexibility between projects and people.

ACKNOWLEDGING LIMITS

Today, Mr. Howard is clearly content with his decision-but he's not blind to the limits of his chosen field.

"You look around and you don't see many [minority] people who've been around five or 10 years," he says. "You wonder where they are."

Many, he speculates, fall victim to the narrow perceptions that can limit minorities in advertising. For example, a black creative person might find his talent pigeonholed for campaigns that only target people of his race.

He says the overall result is minorities who maintain low profiles in the industry, or exit it altogether.

MORE DIVERSITY NEEDED

Saatchi VP-Account Supervisor Chris Doherty, who worked closely with Mr. Howard while he was an intern, agrees that both their employer and their industry need more diversity.

"Diversification only brings perspective," Ms. Doherty notes.

To that end, she says she would like to see recruitment of young talent like Mr. Howard move beyond the usual list of well-known schools in the big advertising cities.

But for agency executives who really want to promote more diversity in their offices, Mr. Howard advises a healthy dose of pragmatism.

"Be realistic about the work environment," he advises.

Trying to make up for past neglect of diversity with sweeping initiatives does little to change the culture of a workplace set in its ways.

"Diversity must be an ongoing respect of people's difference," he says.

In return, he adds, diversity put in leads to diversity put out-a big plus when marketers are trying to reach a range of audiences.

"The reality is that advertising is like a lot of other industries" as far as limited minority representation, he observes.

ENCOURAGE OTHERS

That said, Mr. Howard still encourages those younger than himself to explore advertising careers.

Knowing the challenges and accepting them, while also accumulating as much work experience as possible and seeking out mentors, will help put young job-seekers on the right track, he says. Most important, he advises, is to "understand exactly what it is you want to do-now, five years down the road and 10 years down the road."

Of course, that's easier said than done, especially when you're still adjusting to a first job. Even the serious, buttoned-up Mr. Howard, whose maturity has been noted by clients, shows his youth when asked where he'll be in 10 years.

He's "definitely interested" in opening up his own shop someday, but for now the cachet of working in New York at a big agency with big clients suits him just fine.

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