Five big lessons on diversity and inclusion from ad vets and rising leaders
Last month, Ad Age gathered veteran and rising creative leaders for our "Future of Creativity" event, in which we explored how the industry can move forward in the face of the ongoing pandemic and racial unrest around the world. For good reason, many of the conversations gravitated toward how the industry can truly tackle social inequity and systemic racism in its own ranks, having seen little in the way of real progress despite years of efforts and initiatives.
Ad Age's Creativity editors went face-to-face with talents from organizations and agencies including Saturday Morning, Working Not Working, McCann Worldwide, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, McCann Cashmere, Droga5, Wieden+Kennedy, GSD&M, Adam&Eve DDB, Prettybird, Time's Up and more to explore diversity and equity in creative departments, the C-suite and the director's chair. Read and watch key excerpts from some of the talks below and see the full Future of Creativity sessions here.
On the hurdles to advancement for Black creatives
Ad Age spoke with the leaders of Saturday Morning, Geoff Edwards, Kwame Taylor-Hayford, Keith Cartwright and Jayanta Jenkins, about the challenges that Black execs face in getting to the C-Suite and remaining there, and how those differ from those of white peers. One of the resounding themes was that “we don’t have the luxury of failure,” Edwards said. “We have to be excellent. When we go up our batting percentage has to be over .700, when we’re shooting, our shooting percentage has to be over 80 percent.”
Along with that, the industry doesn’t always leave room for Black voices unless you assimilate, which runs counter to the demands of the job. “Creativity is a series of mistakes that lead to an idea,” Cartwright added. “You go through that journey until you find that thing that’s right … [So] this ideology of having to be perfect, having to always think like them and not like yourself, flies in the face of the creative process.”
On whether agencies can be reformed or if they need to be rebuilt to eradicate systemic racism
During a Diversity & Inclusion Roundtable with Goodby Silverstein & Partners Brand Strategist Briana Patrick, Cashmere EVP-CCO Ryan Ford and Time’s Up Executive Director Christena J. Pyle, the participants considered whether systemic racism in the industry can be tackled through reform, or if it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Ford used an analogy: “Can Blockbuster Video be reformed? Yeah. Did they miss their window? Yeah.” He says that perhaps some, including Blockbuster, might have missed their window, not having prepared to examine and rebuild their culture to align with the current zeitgeist. “Quite frankly, I don’t think everybody’s going to make it,” he said.
“If you are not auditing every piece of the business [through the lens of race] as we did through gender, you are not taking it seriously and not taking it seriously has major business implications,” offered Pyle.
“As a black queer woman, we talk about dismantling and rebuilding systems,” Patrick added. “There is no quote-unquote advancement of a system that wasn’t initially designed for a person who looks like me.” She believes the big agencies founded decades ago need to go back to their origin documents and “as we are asking agencies not to be anti-Black, some of those fundamental origin documents need to be reexamined through this new lens. I think there will need to be a very severe inspection of agencies today and rebuild that from the ground up.”
On getting more diverse talent into the director's chair
Ad Age gathered top ad directors Kim Gehrig of Somesuch, Henry-Alex Rubin of Smuggler and Prettybird’s Calmatic, the Creativity Awards Director of the Year to discuss their craft and the state of production. The conversation turned toward the lack of diversity in the director’s chair, and Calmatic offered his thoughts on how the industry could help bring more Black talents behind the camera.
“Where I’m from, if someone makes it, they’re the ‘chosen one,’” he said. “You never hear white people say they’re the chosen one ... There’s been times when I’ve been on my own sets, even for a Super Bowl commercial, and someone mistakes me for a P.A. The reason why is because you just don’t see enough of us ... I think overall, I’m not an anomaly. I’m not that special. I know of 40 other people that are just as talented as me that should have these same opportunities, that have cool ideas, that can come up with game-changing brand ideas. I think it’s important that not only production companies but ad agencies reach out to these people directly. There’s been plenty of times when I’ve seen a mood board from an ad agency and they’re referencing images from my friends who have never shot a commercial. Those people need to be brought to the table.”
On how white talents can support their peers of color
During a session on talent and the freelance world, Justin Gignac, co-founder of talent platform Working Not Working, shared some data on how racism has touched the lives of those in its robust network of creatives. As a white creative vet, he also candidly shared his thoughts on how others like him can be true allies to their colleagues of color.
“If you’re a white ally at an agency, come with a list of Black creatives or creatives of color and advocate for them getting an interview or getting hired,” he offered. “People are probably aren’t going to make full-time hires in the new future, so freelance people … White privilege very often comes with white invincibility. That could be wielded very negatively, but I think it could also be wielded very powerfully, where if I speak out in a room, and I call bullshit on something or I call leadership out for not doing enough, I’m just going to be the asshole that was right. But if someone of color did that, they could be the “angry Black woman” or the “angry Black man.” It’s not up to the people of color in our industry to change this. They’ve been fighting this for far too long and it’s time for us to step up."
On the impact of brands doing and not just saying
Mastercard’s “True Name” campaign allows transgender individuals to put their chosen names on their credit card and is an example of a brand going beyond advertising to support underrepresented communities. The idea was born from the real-world experience of McCann ACD Lucas Crigler, who is transgender and did a deep dive into the project with McCann ECD Pierre Lipton and Mastercard’s EVP-N.A. Marketing and Communications Cheryl Guerin.
“It’s validating for us,” says Crigler of projects including True Name. “We feel seen, we feel heard, we feel accepted 100 percent ... I have a beard and present male now, but there’s a lot of people in our community who might not have the ability to transition but they identify as transgender. They might not be able to get on hormones due to their religious families, so having this small thng, this small name change represent who you really are, it’s so far beyond what I could imagine for others. I’m hoping from an advertising perspective that other brands not just start to pink wash and put rainbows on everything and call it a day. I hope that more brands can get behind actionable ways to support us ... It only takes one person to start a ripple effect in the entire community.”