In the midst of a racial reckoning, Ad Age held its inaugural Town Hall on Addressing Racism In Advertising, the first of many such events to assess how far adland has come—and how far it still has to go—in working toward ending racial injustice, nearly three months after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others touched off a summer of progress and protest in America.
After sifting through more than 200 questions submitted by viewers, Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi and I-Hsien Sherwood spoke with a range of Black brand leaders, agency execs and anti-racism activists about steps to address and remedy discrimination in the advertising industry.
If you were unable to tune into Ad Age’s Town Hall on Racism, here are five key takeaways from yesterday’s virtual event. You can also rewatch the entire program here.
Elevate Black voices
It should go without saying, but one of the first steps in addressing racial inequality in advertising is to ensure that Black and POC peers are given the same platform to contribute as their white colleagues have long had the opportunity to do. So, where to start?
Agencies, particularly small- and medium-sized ones with more limited resources to implement sweeping D&I changes, can offer “speaker series; they can talk about a diversity calendar; celebrate cultural events; do a reading or a book club where people can self-educate,” suggested Monique Wilson, chair and CEO of UWG, a WPP affiliate that bills itself as the longest-standing multicultural agency in the U.S. And any changes made, Wilson said, should be structural and something your business really wants to do.
“Black lives are not a brief,” added Gabrielle Shirdan, VP-creative director at McCann New York. Black people don’t just watch Black-focused media and don’t only have Black friends, so when inauthentic narratives such as those surface in ads or media, Shirdan says she can spot “in 2 seconds” that they’re likely written by a team of white people. “Look around; are there Black people at the table? Make sure your table represents the world you’re trying to speak to.”