Three Multicultural Marketing Directors Walk Into a Bar

And Why It Was No Laughing Matter

By Published on .

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Three multicultural marketing directors walk into a bar. Sounds like the premise of a decent joke, but it's actually the trigger for a heated discussion about who really has the right to hold the multicultural marketing director title and why. And technically it was only two MMD's. The third was an unemployed senior-level marketer, looking for a multicultural marketing position, and getting nowhere fast.

I won't name names. I will only describe the players. The unemployed marketer, was a self-defined Chicano, a Mexican-American from the mid-West, the child of migrant farm workers and physically similar to Cesar Chavez in skin tone and features. Why is this physical characterization important? Bear with me. It is included with specific intent.

The first of our two MMD's was raised in Mexico City. Although I'm fairly certain he was not born there, he lived in Mexico for decades and was an alum of the prestigious American School. He is likely the son of non-Latino Americans and, therefore, in spite of his years South of the Border, is technically speaking, non-Hispanic white.

The second MMD is African-American. Not Black Hispanic. African-American. However, at an early age, he began speaking Spanish and subsequently pursued job opportunities that would enable him to live in Latin America and leverage his love for the language and the culture. Too look at him and to hear him speak Spanish, one would easily jump to the conclusion that he was a Black Hispanic, possibly of Dominican, Panamanian or Cuban descent, rather than an African-American with no known family or blood ties to Hispanic heritage.

What started as veritable pissing match about who spoke better Spanish, quickly devolved into a heated argument about Corporate America's hiring practices for multicultural marketing directors. The spark was lit by the unemployed marketer who voiced his anger at Corporate America for favoring African-Americans to fill the multicultural marketing slots at their organizations. This was followed by a similar accusation about the hiring of Hispanic MMD's, with the complaint being that when Hispanics were hired in these positions, they were almost always racially white Hispanics or white non-Hispanics with some cultural and linguistic skill-set. Asians were left out of the discussion altogether.

In short, the unemployed marketer was basically telling his colleagues that they fit the racial profiles of Corporate American preference for this position -- a black executive and a white executive. Neither of the two MMD's disputed his assessment. It seemed to be an agreed upon insight. And perhaps I wouldn't be writing this blog if it had been left at that. But the frustrated unemployed marketer went on to suggest that neither of his two colleagues should have agreed to take positions that required Hispanic marketing involvement and that they were part of the problem. Needless to say, neither MMD took kindly to this shift from being critical of Corporate America to being critical of them as professionals and frankly, simply as people.

Certainly no one person is so diverse in and of themselves that they can represent each one of the cultural segments that their MMD job title might suggest they embrace. With interracial marriages and births on the rise, however, the day will most certainly come when a candidate will have been raised by a Hispanic-Asian mother and a Black-Jewish father, for example, making them one-quarter of each racial or cultural group. Even so, this candidate could still not lay claim to the title of "Perfect Multicultural Marketer 2010." There is, of course, no such thing. Which got me to thinking. What qualities would make for a close-to-perfect multicultural marketing director? Is it one's ethnic or racial background? Is it one's education or extra curricular activities? Is it someone single or married or someone with an urban or suburban lifestyle?

Short of being Pollyanna-ish, I think it starts with something no one can see or read on a resume. I believe it's all about what's in someone's heart.

In my mind the close-to-perfect multicultural marketer might be described as follows:

  • A marketer first and foremost, but not just any marketer.

  • They can be of any race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or ethnic heritage. That said, however, they need to have immersed themselves personally, professionally and even academically, in the area of cultural insights and the role of culture as relates to marketing and communications.

  • While we all use our personal life experiences as a backdrop for our understanding of what goes on around us, a successful multicultural marketer will not rely on personal stories and experiences as the filter through which all consumer behavior is evaluated and even less so for how marketing decisions are made.

  • They must know how to engage specialists who do have true depth of knowledge with those consumer segments of most importance to their brand's bottom lines. Once engaged, they must give those specialists the room, respect and resources to do their jobs and bring their specific insights to the table.

  • They should, however, never relinquish their responsibilities as multicultural marketers by "trusting" any one specialist blindly simply because they may be of a certain culture or background. Of course, to some degree, when it comes to cultural understandings, trust becomes a necessity. Encountering cultural norms or nuances that have to be experienced – nuances that simply can't be described in words or explained in dry, rational ways - is part of an MMD's daily reality. However, "blind trust" is a form of abandoning one's professional responsibilities. An MMD should question, probe and do their best to find analogies or other such tools that assist with their understanding of any piece of information or hypothesis they find questionable or do not understand. "Trust me, I'm_____" is simply not enough.

  • Finally, a Multicultural Marketing Director should be ready to get vocal or even quit if they don't have the support of the CEO, the CMO and the CFO (and not just when it comes to budgeting for Diversity Days or dinners celebrating "fill-in-the-blank" History month).
Too many multicultural marketing directors that I know are angry and frustrated and are all too clear that the companies that they are working for hired them under false pretenses. (Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking on their part that allowed them to miss all the warning signs.) They are all too clear that they have a title without teeth, and that the kind of impact they want to make only comes with real resources being allocated to prioritized programs that are measurable and for which they want to be and should be held accountable. Truth be told, there is many a multicultural marketing director out there who is tired of hearing about what great "potential" and how much "opportunity" their departments hold. They would prefer to be a priority. Potential and opportunity get discussed. Priorities get done.

So the next time three multicultural marketing directors walk into a bar, I truly hope it will be to toast their change-agent roles as relates to the transformation of a company's culture, regardless of what their own culture may be. The success stories are out there. The MMD's that have their leadership's ear and their wallet, and for all the right reasons. The MMD's that work on priorities not just projects. Regardless of what you may look like outside and specifically because of everything that is driving you inside, here's to you.

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