I read an article recently equating the current climate to trying to navigate whitewater and the need to think like a kayaker. You have to learn to go fearlessly underwater the right way, knowing that you will surface again. You can't let fear guide you, but you have to get into the right kind of boat and quickly adapt to make it to calm waters.
As the New Year approached, our firm was flooded with resumes from those who were laid off or looking to make a change. We also received a significant increase in e-mails from vendors looking to do business with the advertising industry and clients facing hiring freezes and layoffs. In the midst of the e-mails and calls was the underlying current of conversation about the effect and perception of the need for diversity in light of the Obama presidency. I have heard people say, "Now there are no excuses for not hiring. Now there will be pressure on hiring managers." Only time will tell.
One thing is for sure, there is not a corner office anywhere that is not rethinking (or should not be rethinking) all aspects of their business, their value in the marketplace, every dollar that is spent and whether they have the right team in place. While it is true that clients are reducing their spending and costs may be cut, some companies are definitely taking advantage of the layoff environment right now to restructure, downsize (or right size) their departments and rethink human capital resources.
I would like to propose three resolutions (aka my hope for the ad industry) for the New Year and beyond:
For hiring managers. Don't be guided by fear. The fear of hiring someone that not only looks and sounds different from you but someone that you are not sure you can relate to does a disservice to your business. They may have come from a school you have not heard of (likely a historically black college or university), but that does not mean that they are not as smart as you. Just because they worked on multicultural work does not mean they are not a citizen (e.g., consumer of everything) of the world and can make a great contribution even if it is not an "urban" brand. As we have seen from the Obama election, people are much more willing to take a chance when things are bad. Now is the time to look like a star to your client and bring in some fresh thought and ideas. Who knows, we may actually see some innovation in advertising!
For diverse talent. Get your head out of the sand, reach out and find time to connect to your network like it is part of your job -- because it is. Get involved in the industry and make your value known to people you admire no matter what color. Those in more senior positions need to respond more to those that reach out to them. There are too many young people coming into this industry left to flounder on their own and then leave.
Rethink and work on your personal brand. It is not enough to move from job to job (a career killer) when things don't go your way. Build a solid reputation of value, teamwork, humility and creative thinking. You must be able to articulate and demonstrate what sets you apart from everyone else that is of unique value to the account, to the agency and to the industry beyond your color.
For the entrepreneurs and multicultural vendors and companies. Congratulations to those companies that are actively working on reinvention. Rethinking how you can provide value to the industry and finding creative ways to get through the six-inch steel door can be frustrating with marketers and with general market agencies. The need for strategic thinking, consumer research and insight and digital media innovation and intelligence is recession proof. Finding a community of talented and experienced professionals and fearlessly working together, leaving the ego at the door, is crucial right now. Humility, innovation, strategic branding, focused networking and hard work will win this race. I hope that we can build a community of vendors and multicultural firms that will share their learnings and resources to unlock more dollars in the industry. The supplier-diversity component continues to grow as more clients put pressure on their agency partners. While in it's infancy in this industry it may provide longer-term satisfaction for great talent.
Let's keep the ideas flowing and hold onto your kayak. It is going to be a wild ride!