Diversifying the agency world is the common goal, but what the Madison Avenue Project is doing with legal threats, the Center for Advertising Excellence at Howard University's John H. Johnson School of Communications is doing by collaboration. As the CEA celebrated its inaugural major fundraising event yesterday in Manhattan, it demonstrated its focus on building partnerships with advertising execs, not bulldozing ahead with potential lawsuits.
"I hope the CEA is the last diversity initiative to be created," said newly appointed executive director Adrianne Smith, a 15-year veteran of the industry. "This should be the last stop."
The CEA was co-founded last year by Howard University and the 4A's to increase the numbers of African-Americans at advertising agencies, particularly in middle- and high-ranking roles. It was a vision years in the making, said Jannette L. Dates, dean of the Johnson School of Communications. The 4A's approved its funding for the CEA in February 2008, and the program officially launched last September.
The 4A's pledged $250,000 to the CEA for the next five years to get the program off the ground and vowed to work with the organization to raise an additional $750,000 each year. (The 4A's continued support is contingent upon the CEA's ability to meet the rest of its $1 million annual budget.) So far this year, the CEA has reached over $270,000 of this fundraising goal, said Ms. Smith, thanks to a $100,000 donation made by Wieden & Kennedy announced yesterday, and additional support from over 20 agencies and companies.
In its first year in operation, the CEA fleshed out its professional education program and hired Ms. Smith, who came on board in March. It plans to kick off its first academic modules this fall. Among the pilot programs: "Moving up in Advertising," "Building Diverse Management Teams," and "Making a Lateral Move in Advertising." While the program is based on Howard's campus in Washington, modules will be held around the country from Los Angeles to New York, depending on "what makes sense," Ms. Dates said.
"This year we want to get more legs under us, get the modules up and running, and bring on more partners," she said.
With those goals in mind, the CEA is taking cues from Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" presidential campaign -- quite literally. At yesterday's fundraising event, Mr. Obama's 2008 chief campaign manager, David Plouffe, shared how he relied on a diverse team to lead an unprecedented political effort.
The crowd -- a blend of folks from general agencies, multicultural agencies and Howard University -- seemed optimistic and lively.
David Prince, VP-talent management at the 4A's, said the CEA was not out to point fingers about past discrimination but to "hold up those who are doing things right" and work with these agents of change to "push diversification forward."