Lessons Learned from the AdColor Awards

Why We Push On Despite the Naysayers

By Published on .

Tiffany Warren
Tiffany R. Warren
Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, said, "When people cease waiting for great leaders or prophets to solve entrenched problems and look, instead, within themselves -- believing in their own power -- change will follow." Those involved with the recent AdColor Awards did just that.

In its first year, the AdColor Awards honored fifteen outstanding professionals of color from the junior, mid and senior level in five unique categories -- Rising Star, Change Agent, Innovator, Legend, All Star -- that were chosen from a field of one hundred and eight nominees who represented the highest professional standards, once-in-a-lifetime talent, amazing work ethic and reaching back as they reached up. Over 70% of the 2007 AdColor Nominees were from general market and multicultural marketing agencies and 67% percent were self-identified as African-American.

The Awards not only attracted top sponsors but attendees from the advertising (multicultural and general market), marketing and media industries were present on a balmy Sunday evening in Boca Raton, Fla. as part of the 2007 ANA Multicultural Marketing Conference. The AdColor Industry Coalition received funding towards its efforts from Advertising Age, DiversityInc., ROKKAN, Creative Printing Services, Inc., McCann Erickson, The Kaplan Thaler Group, Pepsi, Blazing Music and Sound, Reed Smith, and JetBlue Airways. To launch the AdColor Industry Initiative and The AdColor Awards, many volunteers from several unique companies and industries came together for over two years to make it a reality.

Crabs in a Barrel
The headline for a recent Black Enterprise article about AdColor was "Going against the tide: AdColor seeks to add color to the advertising world." When I first read the headline I immediately thought of what the tide brought in when the AdColor Industry Coalition (AIC) went public with its intentions in June 2007. Almost instantly, I received e-mails disparaging the mission of the AIC. They were filled with angry missives about the harm this "segregationist awards show will cause!" Were angry letters sent to AdColor Industry Coalition founding members, AAF for its Mosaic Achievement Awards or the ANA for the Multicultural Excellence Awards? No, because those awards celebrate the work of multicultural marketing agencies and clients which in turn increases industry exposure and economic opportunities for those awarded.

As I stated in my opening letter in the 2007 AdColor Awards journal, the goal of AdColor was never to segregate the talents and success of people of color working in the advertising, marketing and media industries, but simply to honor and shine a light on their paths to success so that others may follow. My motto is, "As you reach up, reach back."

The biggest complaint of students and professionals of color is that they don't see anyone at the top like them. My hope is that some day a young industry aspirant or professional of color will say the accomplishments of the AdColor honorees inspired them to pursue or continue to pursue a career in the advertising, marketing and media industries.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." The AdColor Awards are dedicated to every professional of color in advertising, marketing and media whose achievements went unnoticed, whose success was never highlighted and whose creativity was never heralded.

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk
My nana always said, "Put your money where your mouth is!" Arnold did just that. I, and many others, am here to tell the full story of AdColor but most importantly I'd like to shine a light on one part of that story in particular that is close to my heart: Arnold's contribution. Since August of 2005, with every joy and obstacle this project brought, the overriding feeling at Arnold was one of the ways we can help propel diversity in our own company, is to help make our industry more attractive to diverse professionals. So leading an industry initiative seemed like the best way to do that. In order to propel that initiative internally, Matt Guerra, Arnold's own documentarian, created a short video about AdColor to share with our 1,000 employees. It's our way of reminding our organization about the leadership role we are taking on this issue and the responsibility that comes along with it.

The most exciting part of the AdColor story was partnering with outstanding minority-owned companies to launch The AdColor Awards. John Noe and Chung Ng of ROKKAN created and launched adcolor.org; Eric Johnson of Blazing Music & Sound produced an original soundtrack for the AdColor PSA and the opening credits for The AdColor Awards; and Sheldon Ross and Kristin Nilsson of Creative Printing Services donated one-of-a-kind printing solutions and banners for the awards ceremony. Their work defined and created an image for The AdColor Awards that directly contributed to the overwhelming success of the event. The AdColor Industry Coalition will continue to provide opportunities for minority-owned companies to be a part of its mission going forward.

In order to be a part of the change you wish to see, have vision, have passion and most importantly, be unafraid of what you stand for.

I'd like to end by saying that the old paradigm of leadership is based on a stringent hierarchy with a group of people following the instruction from one change agent. Whether that instruction comes from government intervention, a charismatic protester or a messy, public faux pas, gone are the days of waiting for one person, company or trade group to solve the problems of diversifying an entire industry.

To make a long-lasting change, it will take unprecedented collaboration across industry, gender, orientation, generation and cultural affiliation to help anyone feel like this is an industry they should be a part of. AdColor is the truest example of this type of collaboration and I will continue to believe in my own personal power and that of others to make a historic turnabout in the lack of diversity within advertising.

What is next for the AdColor Industry Coalition? You'll have to wait and see, or you can roll up your sleeves like so many others did and continue to help make change happen.

[Editor's note: If any other agency out there -- general market or otherwise -- has a video showing off their diversity efforts, feel free to let me know. I'd be happy to post it. -- KW]
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