david hamlin ends up having to explain his role at McCann Erickson a lot.
That's because Mr. Hamlin, manager-supplier diversity for the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency, has a job that's not rare in corporate America but is quite uncommon in the ad business. "Agencies are struggling with how to do this," said Anita Laney, a consultant on supplier diversity who works for Omnicom Group's BBDO and GSD&M. "Vendors need an advocate to know how to navigate [agencies] internally."
To help them do so, the American Association of Advertising Agencies on Nov. 3 held its first trade show to link agency procurement executives with diverse suppliers that provide everything from print production and graphic services to research and recruitment.
The show drew people like Mr. Hamlin, the former chief procurement officer at Rutgers University, who is charged with building a roster of relationships with outside, minority-owned vendors, primarily to work on the U.S. Army account, which came to McCann in April.
McCann hired Mr. Hamlin in May as part of an overall effort to formalize diversity efforts. "There's increased awareness [of diversity]," said McCann spokeswoman Susan Irwin. "We had no formal program in place, and not everything we wanted to happen happened."
But it's clear the industry is striving to change-and for good reason. "Clients want to see supplier diversity," Ms. Laney said. "Most of the Fortune 500 companies have robust supplier-diversity initiatives. They have to source strategically and are relying on their agencies to help them meet their goals."
As a consultant to BBDO Detroit, Ms. Laney helped build mentor relationships between two minority-owned businesses-Addison Graphic Solutions, a commercial print-on-demand firm, and Quintessence Multimedia, a video- and film-production company-and the agency.
As part of the mentoring process, Ms. Laney helps the owners of each company understand the agency's needs. Quintessence's president, Melinda Emerson, shadowed BBDO crews to learn how they work and use vendors. Ms. Laney also educates potential vendors on matters such as pricing and bidding.