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Why the Ad Industry Should Speak Up as Part of America's Immigration Policy Debate

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What would American advertising be like without people like Linus Karlsson, Nick Law, David Droga, Rei Inamoto, or Jose Molla? In a moment when this country discusses its immigration policies, its ad industry should be proud of the fact that it has been, for decades, bringing the world to our backyard.

And if a lot of the discussion around this theme ends up on border protection, low wage immigrants, and amnesty for illegals, the issue also influences how open we are to bringing in highly skilled academics and professionals that can’t be found enough around here. The Silicon Valley in particular has been fighting for years on better ways to attract great minds, but they are always pushed back.

Well, we can help. Not with a campaign though. We can be an example.

P.J. Pereira
P.J. Pereira

The ad world’s accomplishments in its ability to attract global talent is ahead of most industries. Although it’s important to note that this happened at least partially because of a very peculiar advantage we have. When I immigrated from Brazil to work in the states, my first visa was given as an “O1” type. This designation surprisingly caused every immigration officer I met to ask me why I was so special. O1 was a type of visa originally created for Nobel Prize winners, Olympians and other super humans, as one officer once explained. It so happens that because our industry has international awards, it’s easier for us than other disciplines to provide the evidence necessary to receive that prestigious code; a visa that is otherwise hard to prove your worth yet very fast and painless once you do.

The ad world just took advantage of this opportunity, as we should have. With the O1, it became easy to follow who was doing great work abroad and attract them to the biggest and most powerful market in the world. And that’s the reason why we are ahead of other segments. Our advantage isn’t based on any kind of moral superiority, global taste or vision, but on a blurry opening in the system that allows us to use a mechanism created for brilliant scientists and super athletes.

In other disciplines that don’t have the same kind of validating evidence that award shows provide our industry, restrictions to hosting foreigners become so daunting that most of the time it amounts to far too much work, and risk. But because things have been easier for us, we have been ensuring America remains consistently among the top leaders in our sector. And this is a very timely and valuable stance! The American ad industry is proof that making it easier to attract top talent will make us more competitive. It’s this ease, and its impact, that we should highlight and demonstrate, not the intention or even the fact that these immigrants create jobs, etc. Let the Valley do that part. Our story is the proof of how making immigration processes easier works for the nation as a whole. Period.

This business gets knocked around a lot, but the ad industry can confidently say it's good on bringing foreigners into the business. However, it should make a bigger noise about to underscore the importance of making things easier.

At the same time, we shouldn't rest on our laurels and only go for the tried and tested. And we shouldn't import the best and brightest minds exclusively. It's imperative for us to be training young talent too. And it's downright scary how little of that is going on.

A few years ago I told some colleagues that I was planning to hire three kids straight from school to work on a big client. An account guy screamed at me, “You want to hire these first-timers to work on a Fortune 500 account? No way! Let those beginners learn their craft somewhere else, and then come here after they are 3, 5 years into this.” A CD joined him, “I looked at their books They aren’t professional enough to work here. Let them learn first so we can use them on something.” Luckily my boss was more open-minded and gave me all the support to do it, because he also believed that someone had to help these people start. Six months later, those 26-year-old “kids” were kicking ass, doing amazing work, growing that account and winning awards. And both the CD and the account guy came to apologize.

When we get too used to looking outside for proven talent, we create a pattern of going for the guaranteed bet, instead of investing on nurturing new, slightly risky ones. So while we praise our own modernity as global recruiters, we should also be ashamed of fueling the exact opposite side of the issue.

Rather than blindly taking sides, our industry has a job to do on both camps of this battle of “let’s-bring-in-the-geniuses-that-will-create-more-jobs” versus “let’s-employ-the-Americans-that-need-those-jobs-so-badly.” We are shirking responsibility if we don’t position our industry as an example of how an easier process of bringing in top global talent makes us more competitive as a nation. But denying how lazy we have been with the just-out-of-school-kids may be worse – it may be immoral.

 

P.J. Pereira is co-founder and chief creative officer at San Francisco-based Pereira O'Dell.

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