Could Multicultural Shops Go the Way of Negro League Baseball?

Big-Agency Injustices Gave Rise to Minority-Owned Agencies; What Happens if Those Agencies Diversify?

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Tiffany Warren Tiffany R. Warren
Recently at the AAF Mosaic and District 2 Diversity Achievement Luncheon, an honoree mentioned in his remarks that he hopes in the next forty years there will be no need for diversity-achievement luncheons and segmented awards shows honoring multicultural work. The honoree is a well-respected chairperson of a multicultural marketing firm that was founded several decades ago. His comment made me think, "Would multicultural marketing agencies, ethnic marketing, media and role models even exist if the advertising, marketing and media industries had their act together in its beginnings?"

Eric Harris, CEO of Sixth Floor Developers and a panelist at the recent AAF Mosaic Forum on supplier diversity, mentioned that in the midst of apathy and change comes opportunity. He pointed out that his success came at a time when music companies did not want anything to do with the internet. So he thought, "This would be a great time to start an internet company targeting music companies!" Eric's principle of success applies to why multicultural marketing agencies and ethnic media have thrived and become such a prolific part of the advertising and marketing landscape.

The "multicultural/urban marketing" industry began during a time when the mainstream advertising agencies and marketers did not hire, market or promote people of color -- or women. From this cold shoulder came the warm ray of opportunity. Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" and the following pioneers did just that. John H. Johnson, Vince Cullers, Thomas Burell, Byron Lewis, Carol H. Williams, Bob Johnson, Eliot Kang, Lionel Sosa, Mr. Ernest Bromley, Howard Buford, Mary Wells Lawrence, Michael Gray and many others succeeded in reaching an audience that until then had been largely ignored by general-market practitioners. Other examples of historic opportunities created in an environment of adversity are the Tuskegee Airmen, Negro League Baseball, 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the LPGA, the WNBA, GLAAD, etc. In the absence of diversity, new marketing paradigms and new role models were born. But in some cases -- the Tuskegee Airmen and Negro League Baseball, for example -- the achievement of progressive goals meant the end of the groups.

I don't think the AAF honoree mentioned above was saying he looked forward to a time when his shop became obsolete. What he may have been promoting is the ability to have his multicultural-targeted creative and diverse professionals judged and honored in a more mainstream forum. Although his motives are honorable, it unfortunately is not happening in the current marketing and advertising climate.

So should the multicultural marketing agencies, diverse advertising, marketing and media professionals and targeted creatives wait to be recognized? No! Just like those advertising and marketing pioneers did in the past, the AAF Mosaic programs, the ANA Multicultural Excellence Awards and The ADCOLOR Awards have created a forum to recognize and celebrate those contributions and achievements in a meaningful way.

So now that we are in a time that may not have the overt and unconstitutional adversity that our predecessors faced, diversity's role may be to insure that we continue to have checks and balances in order to celebrate and promote future Johnsons, Burells, Kangs, Sosas, Bufords, Grays and Williamses.
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