4A's Leadership Conference

Where Wieden Finds Future Minority Hires

Co-Founder Tells Agencies to Partner With Arts Organizations -- or Start One of Their Own

By Published on .

SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- One surefire way agencies can foster the next generation of diverse talent is to go grass-roots and support local arts organizations, Wieden & Kennedy co-founder Dan Wieden told attendees at the 4A's Leadership Conference in San Francisco today.

Wieden & Kennedy co-founder Dan Wieden at the 4A's Leadership Conference.
Wieden & Kennedy co-founder Dan Wieden at the 4A's Leadership Conference. Credit: Kipp Cheng
"We need to get these kids that have no idea of what we do in the commercial arts and fine arts and open the doors wide and let them in," Mr. Wieden said. "There are many undiscovered voices out there ... that perhaps one day can change the nature of the marketplace for the better.

The presentation on the second day of the 4A's conference is the first time in his decades in the business that Mr. Wieden has addressed the industry trade group, in which the Portland, Ore.-based global network continues to shun membership.

He urged agencies to partner with local arts organizations they feel passionate about -- or consider starting one if they can't find a group they like. With the help of his wife, Bonnie, Mr. Wieden established Caldera, a youth program that provides underserved Oregon children with year-round, long-term mentoring through arts classes that range from drumming to video editing.

More 4A's Leadership Conference Coverage:
Tim Armstrong: Why I Left Google for AOL
A Three-Part Video Interview With Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom
Tim Armstrong Looks to Simplify AOL's Brand Clutter
In 4A's Interview, New CEO Talks User Experience, but Is Mum on Portal's Spin-Off Rumors
No More Remembering What All Those A's Stand For
4A's Rebrands, Makes Other Changes in Bid to Stay Relevant in Changing Industry

Caldera is one of a handful of ways Wieden & Kennedy is addressing the ad industry's struggle with minority hiring. The agency also partners with Howard University, the Minority Advertising Training program and Portland-based Partners in Diversity. Still, Mr. Wieden said, "We have to do better, and we have to do better quickly."

As part of his talk, he cited statistics showing the disparity between the makeup of the U.S. population and the lack of representation of African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics in the ad business. He also noted the irony that his agency and others draw on pools of "white, middle-class kids" who are paid enormous sums of money to create messaging that targets inner-city consumers.

A hot-button topic takes center stage

Diversity has been a hot topic at the 4A's conference this year, and Mr. Wieden's presentation followed a panel discussion on hiring and inclusion.

Tiffany Warren
Tiffany Warren Credit: Kipp Cheng
Panelists including Omnicom Group's chief diversity officer, Tiffany Warren, noted that the current recession offered agencies an opportunity to draw on career-changers and they shared their thoughts on best practices in attracting and retaining diverse talent. Among the key takeaways for agencies:
  • Re-evaluate the agency's recruitment process regularly to ensure that hires who have transferrable skill sets suited to the continually evolving ad business are identified.
  • Mentoring should take place not only across racial boundaries but also across geographic and age boundaries. And don't stop mentoring employees just because they have left the industry. Remain in touch to nurture them and follow their growth.
  • Focusing on talent from the top down is a must. Companies such as Campbell conduct regular reports on the demographics of staff at all levels to track the company's progress.
  • Create groups that allow interns to network and share ideas.
  • Be transparent. Focus on keeping and growing diveristy-hiring initiatives, but if none are in place, admit it -- and change.

Most Popular