At the Risk of Airing Dirty Laundry ...

The Behind-the-Scenes Debate Over AdColor

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
The deadline for the AdColor Awards, the first cross-industry coalition designed to celebrate and honor multicultural talent in advertising, media and marketing, is this week. The diversity of opinion in the value and merit of the awards and the industry's motivation and sincerity are as varied as the reasons for the need for such an awards program.

There are many companies and individuals that have enthusiastically embraced the concept and are seizing the opportunity to celebrate and award the accomplishments and talents of individuals blazing a trail in the industry. The advertising and marketing business is quite rich with individuals quietly holding crucial roles and creating amazing work. At the risk of generalizing, it can be seen as counter-productive to self-promote for black, Hispanic and Asian people. Their focus on doing the work and doing great work is more important than asking for recognition.

But none of that means they don't want or don't deserve to be recognized for what they do.

It should be painfully obvious that the "Human Rights 15" -- those agencies targeted by the New York City Commission on Human Rights -- should be at the forefront of support and nominations. These are the agencies under the most light for their lack of diversity hiring and should enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to celebrate the talent currently on staff. But that doesn't let other companies off of the hook. The absence of support or nominations by a company in this industry speaks volumes to current and potential talent, vendors, clients and customers.

The debate over AdColor among companies and talented professionals has been quietly stirring for months in e-mails, phone calls and conversations. Feelings range from enthusiasm and excitement to rebellion, mistrust and to simple lack of awareness and misunderstanding.

As you can tell, I am a big supporter of AdColor. I don't want to make a sales pitch but want to share and shed some light on a privately debated topic.

"It is too much work to submit a nomination" (or "We don't have anyone on staff that can take it on"). Translation, it is not important enough to us. We all know that this industry is built on awards and there are staff whose responsibility it is to submit nominations. The cost of retention and negative attention in a highly competitive industry should raise this to the top of the stack. The industry is about competitive advantage and we all agree talent is the most valuable.

"It is all about Arnold." Every new idea and mission needs fearless, persistent, persuasive leadership. If it is not going to be you or me, then who will take the lead? That Arnold is one of the founders of the program shouldn't be an issue.

"I am afraid my people will be poached." People everywhere have a desire to be recognized, rewarded, paid competitively, be productive, make a contribution and have fun in their jobs. If you aren't doing this, they are going to leave anyway.

"Why are we being relegated to a separate awards program?" There have been awards programs for multicultural marketing from most of the industry organizations -- AHAA, AAF MOSAIC, AEF and ANA -- with little debate. If this industry -- whose success is built on the talents of its people yet, as we all know, desperately needs to retain and broaden its talent pool -- can come together for the first time, we should celebrate people unapologetically. Plus, Miami in November. Need I say more?

"I don't want to be singled out." You can't hide. Build your personal brand. Make a way for others. We know you want company.

If you are top management, get your people to get in gear.

If you are in Human Resources or Public Relations, getting nominations in should be at the top of your pile this week.

If you are a talented individual in this business, don't wait to be tapped, stand up.
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