A friend of mine, David Brown, who is African American and himself an ad agency owner, recently asked me why I thought agencies are so white. Well, he didn't exactly put it that way. David is a class act, and a smart pr guy, so he phrased it more diplomatically. But the question remains. The answer, I believe, lies in awareness. Or lack thereof.
I fundamentally do not believe that there is a racial conspiracy among agency owners. In fact, if my agency is any indicator, we simply do not receive many job applications from blacks and Hispanics. Why? I just think we don't have the awareness in the black and Hispanic communities that we should. It's been my experience that many inner-city kids love to watch TV commercials -- but they have no idea how the commercials are made. Or who makes them. Same holds true for other forms of advertising, interactive and pr. Many suburban kids, on the other hand, know someone who's in the advertising business, and they get internships when they're in high school with the family friend/acquaintance.
So, if there's a generation that doesn't know about us, that feeds future generations. I believe there are some things we (as an industry or in our respective communities) can do about it. For one, if inner-city kids don't know who or where we are, then we should take our show on the road and go to them. Imagine the kind of impact we could make if we went to middle and high schools and made presentations about how brands are built, campaigns are created, and what the various types of jobs are in an agency. We would open eyes, and possibilities. And, over time, we would inspire a new generation of black and Hispanic kids to want to enter our industry.
I also believe that television influences behaviors and helps shape careers. Back in the 60's and 70's, millions of households tuned in to "Bewitched," and watched Darren Stevens earn a living in his very white ad agency. What would happen if a black version of that show aired back then? We would certainly have higher levels of awareness of the advertising industry among blacks and Hispanics than we currently do. And, as we all know, awareness leads to action... like sending a resume for a job. Perhaps there's a copywriter out there who wants to turn screenwriter, and create a TV show in an agency environment with a cast that's truly diverse. Something tells me the resumes would start flowing in.