We Need a Spot at the Adult Table

Our Voices Are Important to the Bottom-Line, so Show Some Respect

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Tiffany Warren
Tiffany R. Warren
The brutality of Michael Vick's actions, the national disgrace of Marion Jones' dishonesty, and the recent federal takedown of T.I. have provided new occupants for the graveyard of disgraced sports and entertainment role models. But even as the carefully crafted images of the aforementioned individuals curdle, the interest of mass-marketing agencies in milking branded-entertainment and sports-marketing firms for their cultural currency has risen. Do these partnerships come with an expiration date?

For now, the answer is no.

You needn't look any further than the acquisition of Steve Stoute's Translation by the Interpublic Group of Cos. and the appointment of P Diddy to "brand marketer/CMO" for Diageo's Ciroc Vodka to see the increasing importance of the urban heartbeat to the flatlining creativity of messages aimed at the ever-evolving mass/multicultural market. Essentially, the corporate entities that enter into this landscape are sending a loud and clear message that this is the age of "Keep It Real!" marketing.

The problem is that these partnerships have too often looked more like a dysfunctional family on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone's happy to see each other at first -- hugs, kisses and celebration all around! Dinner (the budget) is ready to be served! Adults (decades-old general-market agencies) get comfortably seated at the head table and the kids (the multicultural marketing agencies and branded entertainment firms) settle in at the smaller, crowded kids' table. At this family gathering, adults get served first with bigger, robust portions and the kids get served last with whatever is left.

Sound familiar?

In a parallel universe, those charged with spearheading internal programs and external partnerships to create a more inclusive company culture often find themselves at the kids' table as well -- getting very small budgets and minimal staff while pressed by agency leadership and clients to make very big and immediate changes. Often the changes do not come fast enough and ultimately the table is cleared before they've had a chance to finish their dinner. Wisdom says that you can't think or create on an empty stomach.

But in the end, you can't instantly undo years of lack of progress in diversity employment within the advertising industry any more than you can issue a national recall of a best-selling football jersey or a platinum album -- even after the talent has gone bad.

My hope is that there is no "sell by" date in this new era of marketing partnerships and change within the advertising industry. Eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, we will all be seated together at the head table.
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