What Makes a Minority Shop a 'Minority Shop'?

And Why I Don't Really Want to Run One

By Published on .

Derek Walker
Derek Walker
A Big Tent reader recently asked me, "Derek, as you're Black -- as well as the janitor, secretary and mailroom person at brown and browner (to quote your descriptor) -- couldn't we say you are indeed working at a Black shop? Is a shop defined by its employees or its clients' projects?"

I responded, "Easy. Brown and browner is a black-owned shop. But there is no way for it to be otherwise as long as I own it."

To be honest, I wasn't totally happy with my answer to the question -- I wanted to give it some thought. It feels like there is no way to answer that question without being pigeon-holed or lumped into a category that I don't want to be in. The underlying question really is: "What makes a minority shop a 'minority shop'?"

There's no quick or simple answer to this question. I believe the owners of agencies wish that their shops were defined by the clients' projects. However, being owned by a minority could, in the eyes of clients, agencies and potential employees, sometimes relegate a shop into the category of being a minority shop. This is wrong.

I wish there were only "advertising" agencies. (I believe that all of the segmentation of agencies from minority to digital or interactive to direct to social and everything in-between has weakened the industry as a whole.) I also wish that Warren Buffet would adopt me. But neither of these is going to happen. The reality is vastly different.

So, what makes a shop a "minority shop?"

For me, a minority shop is an agency that specializes and targets reaching a minority population. It is more about the work and less about the owner.

Here is where the smart people out there are going to come back at me with the "That's everybody, because no effort is aimed at an entire population" line. And that's true, but let's stop being politically correct for a moment. Even though whites may one day become a minority, they still wield power from a majority position. In this discussion and in the thinking of most Americans, if you are not talking about whites, you're talking about minorities. All the pontificating in the world won't change that reality.

Now that I've given my answer, let's talk about how a minority-owned shop gets past this perception. How does it get clients to see it as an agency capable of handling all of a client's advertising needs?

It must take control of how they are perceived -- it must brand itself.

"No duh."

Yes, it is obvious, but it isn't an easy task to accomplish and it won't happen over night. But isn't that what we tell clients who are trying to establish themselves in a marketplace?

I once heard our minister tell the young ladies at church, "Before a man sees you as a lady, you have to see yourself as one." Although he was talking to young ladies, he could have been talking to owners or leaders of minority-owned shops. "If you want clients to see you as an agency that can handle all the clients' business, then you have to see yourself as one first."

Develop some testicular fortitude (I love wrestling). If you know you're good, then don't be afraid to prove. Throw your hat into the ring for whole accounts, not projects or pieces. Ask for what you want.

Don't apologize for being unique. Embrace it and use it to your advantage to craft solutions that others would not consider.

Break the rules. The rules are a lie!! Often we minorities are playing by a set of business rules that are outdated. We have to become quicker and more nimble in our thinking. Wield your passion and drive well, become a master of your craft.

Now, none of this will negate the barriers we are going to have to overcome or breakdown. There are going to be those who cannot get past our race; to deny this is folly. But we can make it hard for them. Bring your A-game, stand out and use your voice. They still might ignore us, but not everyone in the room will. Real talent can only be denied but for so long.

Don't let them define you; take control of your brand.

Here's my question to you: What would a white-owned agency that decides to focus on a minority audience be? I say it's a minority shop.

That's silly and unlikely -- just like the chances of a white sorority winning a step contest. Ask Sprite how that's going.

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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