Many agencies take advantage of internship programs, contribute to scholarship programs to cultivate a high-quality crop of minority candidates, and it's clear that some people do benefit.
Arlene Villanueva, media buyer for CKS Partners, a Cupertino, Calif.-based agency, says she has had positive experiences. Ms. Villanueva was named one of the American Advertising Federation's 25 Most Promising Minority Students in 1997.
Her first job after graduating from San Jose State University was as an account exec for Elkins Retail Advertising, San Jose, Calif. She left that job for her current post last month, where she handles high-tech client Silicon Graphics.
"Because high-tech is a international realm, my experience has been positive," says Ms. Villanueva, 25, a Filipino. "I get to meet and work with a highly diverse clientele."
ITS A SIGN OF GOOD BUSINESS
Experts say such an experience is a sign of the industry's commitment to cultural diversity in the office.
The commitment is all-business, however, as agencies begin to realize that clients want their advertising to reflect a certain worldly sophistication.
"In 2000, 85% of the population will be women, immigrants and people of color," says Martha Fields, president-CEO, Fields Associates, a diversity consultancy. "The name of the game is not only going to be the ability to recruit quality people but also retain them."
According to Ms. Fields, so many companies are international and have to deal with women -- the gay and lesbian community or specific minority groups -- that they have to pay attention to diversity.
"A large part of this is has to do with economics. To survive in a diverse arena, you have to deal with diversity. That means having employees who can deal with diverse markets," Ms. Fields says.
When a company discusses strategic planning, diversity inevitably becomes an important part of the conversation. To serve diverse markets, companies need diverse employees, Ms. Fields says.
"Some companies still believe that there aren't enough, and I'll put this in quotes, `qualified candidates,"' says Jessie T. Woolley, president of Crimson & Brown, a minority recruiter.
QUALIFIED CANDIDATES DO EXIST
"But when they walk into a room of 1,500 energetic, aggressive candidates [at a career forum], they start to think realize that they might be missing out," says Ms. Woolley.
Crimson & Brown conducts several Diversity Career Forums during the year that bring together as many as 1,500 students from 70 colleges and universities to meet with as many as 65 companies in various industries.
Individual employee attitudes about minorities in the workplace could be a liability in an agency's ability to recruit and retain minorities.
A study is underway on individual attitudes of minorities in the advertising industry. Although statistical analysis is not yet available, Marilyn Kern Foxworth, a professor of advertising at Texas A&M University, expresses some surprise that more agency employees had not been exposed to diversity training.
"Sometimes respondents tried to sugar-coat their answers, but the answers we got to some of the open-ended questions were interesting," Ms. Foxworth says.
Among the preliminary findings: Affirmative action is not a popular concept in the advertising industry. One person wrote about resenting "people who receive special treatment due to race and not ability."
Answers to the question, "What is the greatest cultural diversity challenge for the future?" included the answer "Acceptance of other cultures," as well as "making all Americans appreciate our common American heritage.
STANDING IN LINE TO HELP
As corporations realize they may need to cultivate a more diverse workplace, advisers, consultants and recruiters are standing in line to offer advise.
Recently, the Ad Club Foundation of Boston published a resource guide specifically addressing the issue.
Diversity experts say the effort has to begin at the top of the company.
"The CEO needs to articulate throughout the whole organization why diversity is important and what it means to the company," says Ms. Woolley.
"The 21st century is going to look very different, and it is in a company's financial interest to be able to service diverse communities."
DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, offers a cultural educational enrichment program for its employees. The agency contracted with the Art Institute of Chicago to offer programs featuring lectures about African-American, Asian, Native American and Spanish works of art.
"Diversity programs say to prospective employees and clients that we are an open-minded company, and we want to be the agency of choice," says Jillian Bradley, VP-director of human resources, DDB Needham.
IS THERE REALLY CHANGE?
Still, executives end up asking, are minorities really succeeding in the world of marketing?
One high-level minority executive notes that neither seasoned veterans nor new hires would be wise to discuss openly any negative experiences for fear of being typecast as a troublemaker.
"I'd be real skeptical if anyone would make any negative job experiences known and still expect to keep their jobs," says Heide Gardner, senior manager of diversity and strategic planning for the AAF Foundation.
However, the foundation does plan to devise a way to track the experiences of those listed each year as promising hires to provide data on how diversity continues to unfold in the industry, according to Ms. Gardner.
"We have a real opportunity to use this control group to see how we need to change the environment," says Ms. Gardner."
Dana Dore, assistant account exec at Gotham, New York, also was named one of the 25 Most Promising by AAF in 1997. Ms. Dore says that while Gotham does not provide mentoring, networking or other programs directed at minority employees, she hasn't had any negative experiences there.
WORKS ON MAYBELLINE
Ms. Dore, who works on Gotham's Maybelline account, is of Caribbean and African-American heritage. She is a 1997 Harvard University graduate.
"There is still a lot of work to be done to keep diversity at the forefront of the advertising industry," Ms. Dore says. "A lot of agencies only know about us 25 [AAF's list], or others in the resume book. But there are a lot of people of color who want to work in this industry."