At the Morehouse Marketing Symposium, held during the Feb. 20 weekend, a host of corporations at the event were all looking to attract educated and highly qualified young professionals from one of the most well-known historical black colleges in the world. A career fair, followed by workshops and panel discussions, provided Atlanta University Center students with useful knowledge about pursuing positions in the communications industry.
Although this was geared toward marketing and business students, there were a handful of advertising agencies there to greet and possibly recruit potential talent. Students were dressed in suits and came with resumes highlighting their professional accomplishments. But while most knew about the business of marketing, very few knew about advertising.
On Feb. 21, the One Club-Adversity program and The Creative Circus co-hosted an event meant to expose interested students to the academics of advertising. Attendees were given personal tours of the campus led by Creative Circus students and were able to participate in a panel discussion facilitated by educators, students and industry professionals from agencies such as R/GA, Fallon and BBDO.
There are a number of contrasting conversations being had about what the advertising industry should do to diversify. Although a variety of answers have been presented, one thing everyone can agree upon is that this issue has gone beyond something a few "colorful" PR stunts can cover. There are a few who believe the problem can be solved by improving company culture; others believe the problem lies in the lack of training. And both sides are actively searching for a solution while wondering where to find "diverse talent."
Over the past decade there have been a number of organizations and grass-roots movements established to support people of color in this business, and as time has passed they have become a very important part of this industry. Some initiatives focus on highlighting and celebrating the talent of multicultural advertising professionals that are few and far between and often overlooked in the archives of greatness. Others are focused on education, providing career counseling as it relates to advertising and all of its subset industries. Regardless of the movement's focus, these organizations are a direct response to looming themes that have been around since the inception of this industry.
A single conventional approach can't solve diversity issues. Although a diverse company culture is positive, it's hard to create a pipeline of diverse talent to recruit when most candidates haven't a clue what advertising is, or what their potential could be in this industry. On the other hand, some agencies do well recruiting qualified diverse talent but often lose them due to a lack of training and/or appreciation.
This is why I feel the solution can only be found in a unified push to improve the overall perception of our business, not only in the minds of the professionals we employ, but also those who aspire to work in this industry. How can improving company culture succeed alone when recruited talent is not properly trained, and how can education alone work when the companies that these newly trained people are going into don't have a clue how to progress? For the best results, these two approaches should go hand in hand and be worked on simultaneously. Knowledge about how to succeed in this business is hard to come by, and even more scarce in cultures that are already underrepresented in this industry, which may explain the staggeringly low percentage of multicultural employees.
Seriously, how does an industry that makes the most mundane things seem interesting fail at selling itself as a viable career option? One of the biggest myths regarding diversity in this industry is that multicultural students are not interested in advertising as a career because it doesn't appeal to them.
Considering that high school and college students collectively gave eight hours of their Saturday to learn about creative advertising, the issue isn't that they are uninterested but rather uninformed. Based on the overall feedback, the event we held last week was a success and a great complement to the high school outreach we did earlier that day with Essential 2 Life. Perhaps one of the most inspiring moments of the weekend was seeing a 16-year-old girl who writes poetry in her spare time realize that her innate abilities could possibly transfer into a successful career in the advertising industry.