Diverse Objectives, Unified Mission

Of Course We Can Make a Difference

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
It's been a month since Advertising Age launched "The Big Tent," an eclectic blog series that takes its mission quite seriously and aims to make a dent in diversity issues across advertising, marketing, and related industries. A few weeks before, I launched the "Equality Media Newsletter" with the same mission but a media fixation.

Amid the buzz and comments (I read every single one -- and should probably state that I'm not nearly as cantankerous in person as my photo suggests), I received a pause-worthy email from an investment-banker friend, who asked what many of our readers are likely thinking even now: "Are we getting anywhere?"

Or, to put it more bluntly, "What's the point of all this diversity fuss?" It's high time we collect and reflect.

We contributors to "The Big Tent" have been talking about making a difference and moving the diversity-equality conversation forward. But we're preaching to the converted if we fail to engage the executives at every level who have the authority to enact corporate policy, affect branding and marketing choices, and steer their companies' outreach efforts -- whether via advertising or human resources. "The Big Tent" isn't about trying to make anyone look good or bad; it's about getting the issues -- and their proposed solutions -- on record.

Disconcertingly, my friend pointed out that American society as a whole -- including, of course, the media -- has historically been reactive rather than proactive. Consider the recent Minnesota bridge collapse, the Big Dig Tunnel collapse in Boston, and perhaps most starkly, the massive communication failure that effectively permitted (though obviously didn't directly cause) the 9/11 and Katrina tragedies.

He lamented that nothing less than a "catastrophe" can institutionalize change in our modern world. He has a point: The imperative to change only really kicks in when that unfortunate crisis affects us at home -- individually or collectively.

So is it a good thing that we're trying to kick-start that process and change the sorry trend -- or is it merely a waste of time? Are we quaint, silly idealists, or is each "Big Tent" post worth the hours it takes to prepare?

Answering those questions honestly is actually rather complicated. From civil rights to homeland security to how pathetic it was that a bridge deteriorated past the point of collapse, there is no streamlined strategic-planning function in this country. (In the defense of government, with 290 million people -- which equates to roughly 290 million interests and perspectives -- parsing out dollars and attention is hardly a streamlined task. As in the diversity debate itself, someone, somewhere, is always going to be left out.)

But if the Internet has taught us anything about the realities of consumer psychology -- especially within the media and advertising worlds -- it is that critical mass counts for everything. Dollars follow influence as much as influence follows dollars. Critical mass changes minds, which in turn change hearts, which in turn change actions.

Hijacking the classic quandary, one might ask: If you shout from a soapbox in the forest and no one's around to hear, have you said a thing? Advertising Age affords our communities -- as disparate and unified as they are -- a pedestal above the din to bellow platitudes about what our industry should look like. No matter how long it takes.

Why bother?

Because targeted marketing technologies have taken social influence not only into the home, but into the inbox, and by so doing, have dramatically altered the definition of "critical mass." The circulation equation has changed from eyeballs to engagement. Viral marketing now requires interactivity; classic print-style pass-along doesn't suffice. And even onetime nobodies can change the nature of the game -- just ask Harry Knowles (of Ain't It Cool News), or Lane Hudson (who broke the Mark Foley scandal), or LonelyGirl15 (who isn't nearly as lonely anymore).

Can eight cross-industry contributors to Advertising Age's newest blog make a dent?

Well, one wonders, can two people, or one? The very existence of Web 2.0 bears witness to the outside influence that some tiny teams can have in a global, wired world.

So I'll answer my friend's challenge: Will we change attitudes overnight and wake up tomorrow in a land of realized (not just idealized) equality across the board?

Doubtful, but I'll take the optimistic, aspirational road any day of the week.

As my mother might say, Advertising Age is no small potatoes. My own newsletter generates changed minds and vehement responses from a readership of just 1,100 top media influencers. Imagine the potency of a newspaper that crosses media lines to whisper in more than 250,000 ears! We aren't shouting into the anonymous ether anymore: now the diversity movement can draw power from within its most influential --and eminently profitable -- core.
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