Opinion: Every marketing agency has a Stan Richards. Clients can change that
I’m a Black marketing executive, living in Dallas and working with clients and partner agencies across the country and globe.
I know firsthand that this industry is full of people like Stan Richards, who in an internal ad review said that a concept for Motel 6 was “too Black” and that it risked alienating the chain’s “white supremacist constituents.” After nearly a week of turmoil and client losses, the founder of The Richards Group relinquished the reins of the agency.
No one should be surprised at his words or behavior. The question for his departing clients: Will their shock at this behavior lead to real change? Or will they find the same at the next white male-led firm they select? Marketing professionals, agencies and the industry will truly become diverse only when clients demand they do, set standards for them and stick to them. When there are clients and money at stake, as we’ve seen from Stan Richards’ behavior, suddenly agencies pay attention.
In 2012, I sold my content marketing agency to a large multinational holding company. I was one of more than 75,000 employees. I traveled an average of 150,000 miles a year visiting regional offices and clients around the globe. When I left three years later to form an independent communications agency, I had come in contact with four other Black executives. One of them was my sister, whom I had hired.
The trouble is not that the marketing industry is hopelessly mired in white patriarchy. The truth is, clients haven’t cared enough to do more than post an obligatory BLM statement and conduct an occasional trade media interview with their agency’s chief diversity officer.
What brands need to understand is that diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s better for business. I have seen campaigns developed by diverse teams that actually represent the audiences they target, and they are not just beautiful, they are effective.
Discord and diversity
I moved to North Texas two years ago. The diversity of Dallas both surprised and confounded me. This city, this state, are clearly at a crossroads. I do believe Texas represents the future of America. All of the discord and diversity we see across the country is here. The lamentation over the loss of the good old days. The fearful excitement of a new inclusion.
Texas is a true messy case study in diversity—from the tattooed hipsters of Oak Cliff to the beautiful Black families of South Dallas. From the California immigrants like me to the Indian suburban settlers. We are all here in this uncomfortable new balance. Our conversations, halls of power—and our marketing—should reflect all of us.
The Stan Richards of the world might never rise to the occasion. But brands can help the rest of the industry along. There are diverse agencies doing amazing work, and there are others committed to taking the difficult steps toward change. I encourage brands to think long and hard about where they spend their dollars, because they will be increasingly under scrutiny for their associations with the bad-behaving agencies.
And to Motel 6, Home Depot, Keurig, Dr Pepper and the other clients who have expressed their outrage by dropping The Richards Group, I hope you realize that distancing yourself from an intolerant partner serves yourself more than it addresses the problem of racism. Where you put your dollars next will reveal your true colors.
I believe Texas—in the midst of its own marketing makeover—can lead the marketing industry to a new era of diversity and inclusion. Texas is a place of American and foreign immigrants, believers and atheists, oilmen and tree-huggers. Dallas marketing agencies are uniquely suited to celebrate the voices of all of America—once we get out of our own way.