Let's Not Forget That the Work Is What Ultimately Matters

Discussing Diversity Is Important, but I Want to Focus on Getting Better, Too

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
I don't waste a lot of time on being envious of others. But when it comes to those blogging on other parts of Ad Age, I can't help it.

In their blogs, they talk about the quality of the work, the culture of the shop, whether it is better to work for talented asshole or a nice hack -- they look at the industry as it relates to their career and lives.

But we minorities?

In our blogs, we present a defense for the existence of minority shops or the importance of talking to a particular minority group. Don't get me wrong, that is needed but that isn't what our entire days or careers are about. We are deeper than that. There are many issues that impact our ability to pursue our careers and build agencies.

I am not saying that Advertising Age or anyone associated with it has told me what I can or cannot write about. Just the opposite. Ken Wheaton told me to write away, and I'm trying.

Then what am I saying? That's the hard part.

I guess I'm saying that there's more to my career and me than my race. I need to write about more than how people treat me or why it is important for advertisers to speak to my community.

I'm worried.

Worried that I might forget how important it is to do great work or be the best shop to work for or have a great career.

I have to keep expanding my focus beyond the usual.

Now, hold up all you special folks, who think minorities should simply "move on" past talking about race. Don't get all excited -- I am not saying that! There are issues that are covered under The Big Tent that should and must be discussed.

However, in our discussions of why agencies should hire, retain and promote minorities -- and why clients should speak to certain minority groups -- let's not be remiss by not talking about how to create better advertising, how to be better professionals, how to be a better agency, how to bring more to the table and how to have a better life inside advertising.

We cannot be ignored or relegated to a lesser role if we are the best we can be.

Most of the agencies I have worked for have made a concerted effort to show clients that they were more than a set of hands to execute orders -- the real thing they provide are ideas, insights and solutions in the form of creative.

One CEO I worked for described what his agency once told a client, who wanted to dictate how we were to address his company's needs like this:

"Pretend you are sick and coughing up blood. You go to the doctor and say, 'Doctor, I'm coughing up blood, make me better. But I don't want any pills, no shots, no serums, no x-rays, no scans, no operations. Make me better.'

What would the doctor say? 'Who do I notify as next of kin?'

Your brand is sick, it may not be coughing up blood but it isn't totally healthy, and you just told us to make your brand better but you want to tie our hands as to how we are going to treat it. 'Who do I notify as next of kin?'
The client understood, and the relationship continued for years. And every employee in the meeting understood, too -- we had standards.

Under the Big Tent there is plenty of room to talk about more than what we've been talking about. As we struggle to be seen as equals, are we working to show that our skills and services are superior? Where is the career and agency advice to make us better?

I'm going to talk about the importance of building a strong body of work for either an agency or an individual. Because in this industry, we are judged by the work we create.

Nothing against AdColor and other such award shows, but we should be aspiring for One Show, Communication Arts, Mercury and Kelly awards. We should be shooting to see our work in Archive.

What do all the great shops have in common? They play on the big boys' court, the big award shows.

Our game must be strong enough to play on the big boys' court.

What is the "big boys' court?" I grew up playing street basketball, and normally the courts are divided into three areas: the little boys' court where the small ones play; the big boys' court where the real players play; and the scrubs' court. The little boys play on their court until they are good enough to play with the big boys. The scrubs' court is where those too big to play with the little boys but not good enough to play with big boys end up.

I know we are good enough to play and win on the big boys' court.

Where is the minority Leo Burnett or Bill Bernbach or David Ogilvy or any of the other industry great, who not only does great work but also talks about who and what this industry is? Who are our thought leaders? Who challenges us to do better?

This blog is an opportunity to say something deep and meaningful, to say something worth hearing, to start a conversation. And if what I write does not cause you to think -- disagree or agree -- call my sorry butt on it, please.

I want to be good at this.

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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