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As advertising agencies feel the pressure to hire young minority account and creative people, the perception the industry lacks high-level role models seems to turn off some eligible candidates.

Agency executives cite the lack of role models as one of the biggest problems they face when it comes to recruiting minority hires. That and modest entry-level salaries are serious handicaps.

"At career days, for example, it's rare to see anyone representing advertising," says Ron Mason, director of human resources, at BBDO Worldwide, New York. "We must go after kids at the youngest ages," where they start to develop role models.

According to Mr. Mason, minority children have not been exposed to advertising as a field that employs their parents or family friends.


Burtch Drake, president-CEO, American Association of Advertising Agencies, says the lack of role models is also the reason why agencies have a difficult time retaining the minority employees they manage to hire.

But, Mr. Drake says the overall picture of minority hires within the industry has improved due to heightened awareness, client pressure and good business practice.

Mr. Drake cites AT&T Corp., Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble Co. as examples of advertisers who are in the forefront of workplace diversification.


Mr. Mason says BBDO provides mentors to new hires and that effort has facilitated its retention of minority employees. The program was started seven years ago to benefit minority employees; it became so successful, he says, it was expanded to include all new employees.

Currently, BBDO has 850 employees in New York. Of those, 12% -- or 90 to 100 employees -- are minorities. That's an increase from 11% in 1996.

"Our goal six years ago was to increase minority hires and retain them. Today, the goal is to continue that and to increase minorities to senior management [and in the creative field]," says Mr. Mason. "We're doing the right things. But it takes many years to move anyone to senior levels."

Meanwhile, BBDO is offering minority scholarships and internship programs through Howard University in Washington, Spellman College in Georgia and the Miami (Fla.) Ad School. The agency also funds a peer counseling program at New York Technical College in Brooklyn, where 85% of the students are minorities.


New York-based shops J. Walter Thompson USA and Saatchi & Saatchi also take advantage of minority internship programs and recruit on college campuses.

Saatchi & Saatchi spokesman Roy Elvove says retention of talented minorities remains "a challenge at all levels." That is why the agency tries "to create an environment where people don't leave," by relying on mentors and job rotations.

At JWT, says Seth Wolk, human resources manager: "A diverse staff on any account will always lead to better work."

According to Mr. Wolk, some industry watchers think the advertising industry is losing minorities to the sexier businesses of music and film. He adds that the starting salaries in the $20,000 range are not attractive to college graduates.

In a twist on the theme, Chuck Morrison, exec VP at Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich., says whites and Hispanics hold positions as account managers and work in media, production and administration at that African-American specialty agency.

The agency employs 70 people and about 25% are Hispanic and white. The rest are African-American.

Mr. Morrison says he recruits through contacts, conferences and headhunters.

He admits, however, that on the creative side, "it is more challenging to find people and to find diverse people."

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