Increasing diversity? That issue's been on the 4A's radar for decades

Group's scholarship efforts and internship programs began in 1973-and they've been a success

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I applaud the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the participating New York agencies for reaching voluntary agreements to ensure that advertising-agency businesses continue to increase their levels of inclusion and diversity, especially with African-Americans.

For all agencies-not only those that were under investigation-the agreements provide an excellent opportunity for our industry to focus on the business imperative for diversity and further support the various diversity programs that the American Association of Advertising Agencies has had in place for more than 30 years.

The 4A's diversity initiatives began in 1973 with a pilot program, now known as the 4A's Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP). In its first year, MAIP placed 20 African-American interns supported by the United Negro College Fund at 4A's member agencies in New York. Over the years, MAIP has grown to include Asian-American, Latino, Native American and multiracial interns working at member agencies across the country.

Since its inception, the 4A's 10-week paid internship program has graduated more than 1,500 students, many of whom receive job offers at the end of their terms, and many of whom continue to work at increasingly higher levels of responsibility within the business.

In addition to MAIP, the 4A's has endeavored to create a more diverse employee pipeline by funding Operation Jump Start, a scholarship program for graduate students of color. Founded in 1997, Operation Jump Start provides financial assistance to aspiring art directors and copywriters of color. Each year, 20 $10,000 scholarships are granted to racially and ethnically diverse students attending eight participating portfolio schools.

The program awarded 127 scholarships between 1998 and 2005-totaling $1.3 million. Twenty $10,000 scholarships will be given in 2006, and an additional $1 million has been committed by the 4A's and member agencies to be dispensed over the next five years. To date, 93% of those students who received financial support are working in advertising.

Other scholarship programs for college students of color administered by the 4A's Foundation include the Bill Bernbach Minority Scholarship Fund; Ornelas Associates Minority Scholarship Fund; Forbes Media Scholarship; and the Advertising Age Media Scholarship.

While some have minimized the importance and impact of scholarships and internships on minority-employee levels, that criticism is unfair. In total, these scholarships represent the largest annually distributed financial awards given by any organization to multicultural students pursuing careers in advertising. We have put our money behind our words.

While we are proud of the significant increases in the number of employees of color working in the advertising industry today, we recognize the numbers of professionals of color in middle- and senior-level management positions continue to lag behind.

The 4A's has addressed this issue through Operation Success, an industrywide diversity initiative the 4A's launched in 2004. With input from the Operation Success Diversity Advisory Board and Diversity Steering Committee, the 4A's published "Principles & Best Practices for Diversity and Inclusion in Advertising Agencies" in May 2005. This document, which includes a compilation of diversity best practices from major U.S. corporations, was sent to chief executives of all 4A's member agencies, who were encouraged to incorporate them into their companies' strategic plans. And I'm proud to note that the principles helped lay the foundation and create a blueprint for the settlements that were reached between the commission and agencies.

Although agreements are in place, there's still much to do and hurdles to overcome.

Despite its high profile and glamorous image, advertising-at its core-continues to be a business where entrants must go through a rigorous apprenticeship period, often working long hours for little pay. While other New York professional-services industries, such as investment banking and consulting, also require tough apprenticeship periods, the starting salaries offered by these industries are typically much higher than ad agencies can afford to pay. The same is true at client companies.

Once agency professionals have moved beyond the entry level, many talented advertising professionals-employees of color and white employees alike-are recruited away from the business to better-paying client jobs. General-market agencies also lose some of their best professionals of color, who chose career tracks at agencies owned and operated by diverse professionals.

hindered development

The result is a high attrition rate in our business, particularly among professionals of color at general-market agencies, which hinders the development of a corps of diverse talent who can be lined up for executive management. We're losing our seasoned, most talented multicultural employees faster than we can attract them.

As outlined in "Principles & Best Practices for Diversity and Inclusion in Advertising Agencies," commitment of the CEO and senior-level management is essential to the successful implementation of diversity and inclusion at advertising agencies. Additionally, it's just as important for agencies to let candidates from diverse backgrounds know that the advertising business invites and welcomes them into the fold. And once an employee of color is in place, agency retention programs must ensure that the employee is happy, is given opportunities for success and promotion within the agency, and is allowed to grow into a leadership role.

Despite reports and rumors to the contrary, there is a major sea change already occurring on Madison Avenue. I see the change in the offices of member agencies, where the faces of agencies' rising stars represent a far better reflection of the multicultural, multiethnic makeup of New York City-and indeed, the entire country-than they did even a decade ago.

While the industry's record has not been perfect, there's much to be proud of. And much more work ahead for us all.

We recognize our industry will be even stronger if agencies reflect diversity at all levels, from the boardroom to the mailroom. Diversity in advertising requires the commitment of agency leaders not just for the short term, but for the long term.

The 4A's is committed to providing guidance and a workable framework for member agencies to develop and support their own diversity efforts. We have more work to be done, but we must also celebrate our victories as we continue to develop and improve our diversity goals for all.

O. Burtch Drake is president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
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