We provided attendees with a chance to meet Jason Chambers, author of "Madison Avenue and the Color Line." The real goal of the evening was to provide a forum for agency professionals at all levels and from all disciplines to meet their counterparts at other agencies, to provide some time to inspire and support one another -- and just hang out and share stories. Mr. Chambers sold nearly all of his books and the attendees were thrilled to be able to hear more about his research and work. On top of that, students from Howard were in town for an agency-emersion experience and were able to spend time with mid and senior-level agency professionals who were thrilled to be able to provide insight and guidance on navigating the industry.
The rare general-market art directors and copywriters met creatives at other agencies and account planners met other account planners who they thought did not exist. It can be that simple. A forum for like-minded people of similar backgrounds can prove a key piece in the ongoing and sometimes overwhelming issue of talent retention. Based on the feedback we received, a forum that supports and encourages the veterans to reach back and provide insight and guidance to those that are still new to the industry adds a dimension of support and encouragement that is desperately needed.
The topic of retention is on the minds of both HR and CEOs. It is an even more pressing topic when it comes to multicultural talent that enters and quickly leaves the industry after a few years. There are many reasons for that quick turnaround, and some are uncontrollable (salary, exploring other career interests, personality and skills fit, etc.) But there are some reasons that can be addressed. There are a variety of initiatives agencies that have been unveiled to tackle the challenge. The creation of AdColor is one of the most successful initiatives. Some of the larger agencies have implemented affinity groups within the agency with mixed success.
The feeling of isolation among people of color in the advertising industry is another challenge often heard. "I look up and I don't see anyone that looks like me" is a common comment expressed by industry professionals. For many entering the industry, assessing whether there experience is normal or unique to the account or agency culture and learning how to navigate the environment can sometime be an unexpected challenge. Without connections with others in the industry to compare their experiences to, talent is easily pulled to other industries that have a more visible minority contingent.
Obviously, the lack of career development, performance reviews, feedback and coaching in the industry is not unique to multicultural talent, but it certainly doesn't help. And neither does having so few examples of successful black and Hispanics in the highest levels of the general market ad agencies. Add into this mix, environments that are not always warm and friendly, it is no wonder that these highly competitive and competent professionals don't find a reason to stay.
The attendees at the Jason Chambers book event begged for a once-a-month gathering (quarterly is probably more realistic) and expressed appreciation for connecting great people for no other reason than to provide a sense of community. I am sure there are many other creative ideas and ways to build support, community and inspire talent to stay in the business. Hopefully, next year this time most of them are still in the business, thriving, contributing and helping others navigate the industry.