How to Attract -- and Retain -- a More Diverse Agency Staff

A Wisely Managed Internship Program Can Bring in Talent and Help Spread the Word

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The advertising industry knows that it is essential, imperative even, to represent a cross section of American culture within the staffing of each agency. This is the best way to ensure that the advertising we create reflects and celebrates the diversity of the U.S. population.

Yet agencies continue to struggle to attract and retain multicultural talent -- a subject that comes up over and over again. Even as we make strides, we've come to realize that embracing and growing diversity within agency ranks will demand persistence and dedication over the long haul.

How to go about attracting the next generation of multicultural advertising employees? Here is a list of a few things we have learned at the Multicultural Advertising Training Program, of which I am president. Based in Los Angeles since 1992, we have sought to make opportunities available for talented college students of Alaskan Native, Native American, Asian, African-American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander descent, or any combination thereof.

  • Host a meaningful internship experience. Once word gets out that you offer a valuable opportunity, other multicultural students will seek you out.

  • Grow a community of interns and alumni as a networking tool for them as well as for your organization.

  • Pay interns, to validate their worth to your agency.

  • Aim to have interns work 20 hours per week, so they can work on projects and see them through from start to finish. Structure internships to last three to four months; offer three internship cycles per year.

  • Give interns honest feedback regularly, including a midpoint review. Those new to the advertising industry, especially those who feel like outsiders, need to know where they stand with their supervisor and want to know how to improve.

  • Hire and promote multicultural interns. Supporting and developing multicultural talent that 's already in-house is a simple way to diversify your agency.

  • Partner with local universities and junior-college career centers to promote internships. Reach out to advertising, communications, English, journalism and speech professors and encourage them to share news of opportunities with their students.

  • Offer a scholarship for local multicultural students who have completed an advertising internship. Besides providing financial assistance, this will create beneficial word-of -mouth about your internship program.

  • Pair interns with mentors. Create a schedule for monthly intern/mentor check-in meetings.

  • Organize events related to career training or resume writing. Also throw in some fun events, like a dodgeball tournament, to promote your internship program. Encourage current interns to invite friends.

  • Use social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram to promote your internship program, and urge interns to participate on your platforms to reveal your agency culture to future interns.

The Multicultural Advertising Training Program will celebrate its 20th anniversary by hosting a conference in Los Angeles in November focused on how diversity drives innovation. My hope is that advertising agencies will come together from across the country to share best practices for attracting, hiring, promoting and retaining multicultural advertising professionals. A video will be available afterward on the MAT Program website.
Eric Buchanan is Talent Acquisition Manager, RPA , and President, Multicultural Advertising Training Program.
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