Ad Industry Shouldn't Seal Its Borders

Our Strength Is In Welcoming Non-Ad Professionals

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Tiffany Warren
Tiffany R. Warren
Everyone who knows me knows I look forward to two things in life: the next New Edition Reunion Tour (even with Bobby Brown) and the sequel to "The Goonies."

But seriously, a bit of nostalgia hit me when I caught an airing of Boomerang, an advertising-industry satire starring Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens and Halle Berry among others. The movie premiered in 1992 when I was a senior in high school. Even though the heart of the story was the Eddie Murphy character's philandering ways, the bigger story for me was the office politics, the suits Robin Givens' character got to wear and the details of how to launch an advertising campaign that I could glean from the storyline.

The movie not only inspired me to get the "Halle Berry" haircut, but it also confirmed my desire to move to New York and become an advertising executive. I was eagerly looking forward to having the autonomy of Eddie Murphy's character, Marcus, the ambition and authority of Robin Given's character, Jacqueline, and the creative energy of Halle Berry's character, Angela. If this is what the advertising industry would give me, then I wanted in. The movie provided a limited blueprint, however embellished, for those of us who were looking to build a career in advertising.

Regardless of what has inspired you, as an industry, advertising has always prided itself on being the Ellis Island of corporate America -- in a credentialed sense, if not in a racial or ethnic sense. The advertising industry has kept the light on for those misfits of other industries with the rallying cry: "Give me your unique, your weird and your status-quo-averse masses yearning to be cool." We have welcomed M.B.A.'s and those with no B.A.'s. Despite this history, it seems that professionals of color with highly transferable skills from other industries such as entertainment, media and banking have had to pay higher prices, jump through more hoops in order to gain entry into our business.

Last Wednesday, I was at BDI's 2nd Annual New York Advertising Industry Diversity Job Fair and Leadership Conference at New York University where I met hundreds of new faces and heard an equal amount of stories about the journeys -- physical and emotional -- which brought these idealists to this event. The attendees were from all walks of life and backgrounds. I spoke on a panel along with Gay Gaddis of T3 (The Think Tank), Catherine Salazaar of Microsoft and Patricio Ramal of Saatchi & Saatchi. It was titled "You are in the industry, now what?" and was moderated by Carol Watson of Tangerine-Watson.

Each one of us shared stories that ranged from the moment we knew advertising was our calling to the obstacles we all have had to overcome in order to succeed. While a college student in Mexico, Patricio was preparing to take an engineering final exam when an announcement over the loud speaker boomed that Procter & Gamble was offering an exam down the hall for summer internships. All he needed was a calculator and a pencil. He borrowed a calculator from his friend and the rest is history. Patricio is now regional strategic planning director for Saatchi & Saatchi.

Will Patricio's type of success story be a thing of the past? Don't get me wrong. I'm not discounting portfolio schools. It's a sign that the industry has matured that we now have more and more colleges offering advertising and marketing programs. But like the industry, those programs have a way to go in their own diversity struggle. And ad schools also may tempt recruiters to ignore all of those "outcasts" from other industries and majors that have kept the ad world fresh.

Instead of welcoming the hard-earned skills cultivated by those from other industries, human resources folks are favoring resumes claiming an "official" ad education. It's an issue affecting those of all races, but especially when it comes to diversifying the industry, this creates barriers for qualified professionals of color looking for a change.

One idea proposed is the creation of an industry sponsored advertising "boot camp." Such a camp could assist those agencies who need to diversify, but are worried about lack of advertising experience in potential candidates. This would also help professionals yearning to be free from other sectors hit the ground running when they enter ours.

Would Jay-Z be the first to sign up to lead such a boot camp? With all of the uniquely transferable skills he brings to the table, if Jay-Z can be the co-chairman of an advertising agency, then surely a Goldman Sachs marketing manager can be an account executive on a financial-services account.

Or maybe Boomerang just made it look all too easy.
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