Less Talking, More Hiring: The Whiteness of Advertising Is Our Problem

June 9, 2020

The year 2020 has already unleashed a torrent of challenges upon each and every one of us. This past weekend, my parents were over for a patio visit, and they reminded me that this feels much like the summer I was born — 1968. With the Vietnam War raging overseas and protests at home, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and a violent Democratic convention in Chicago, the very essence of America was deep in question.

We find ourselves at similar points. On the one hand, we are fighting a war against an invisible enemy with the COVID-19 pandemic, one that many people are simply wanting to will away. On the other, we are fighting for our very souls as systemic racism hits a tipping point, and the other side of this moment must be long and necessary change.

To be perfectly honest, all I’ve wanted to focus on is the latter. Building community has been a driving force in my life, and it has been difficult to focus on “business as usual,” knowing full well that nothing has been usual in 2020 so far and there’s so much work to do. However, I’ve been galvanized more than ever to talk less and do more for our communities of color. As I wrote to our clients over the weekend, we are steadfast in our commitment to have the agency be more reflective of the community in which we live. It is no secret that the advertising and marketing industry has a real and sustained problem with being essentially a white monoculture. In fact, the advertising industry is 83% white. And yet we sell and create culture. That’s a massive problem.

To do my part to solve that problem, the most immediate role I as an agency owner can play is largely an economic and cultural one. In order to provide more opportunities for Black and Brown leaders and professionals, I have to continue to grow the agency. The fact remains: we’re in a recession. There’s no question about that. But we will prevail. As we move forward, we have the opportunity to grow as better companies, ones that actively pursue hiring Black and Brown professionals while building internal cultures that are truly representative of our communities. To become better brands, better agencies, and better stewards of cultures, we need advertising and marketing that’s created by the voices and hands of those from which they come.

Advertising is powerful. But advertising is fundamentally theater and deceitful if its bards and artists are only from the 83%. That’s Oz-behind-the-curtain level deceit. Over the years, Ciceron has made strides in some areas — for example, the entire agency is 80% women, and 4 out of 4 of my management team are women plus one white male (me) — but, despite my efforts, I have not closed our racial gap as quickly as I’ve dreamed about. I own that. But being disappointed doesn’t solve anything.

Simply put, we have to work harder. In doing so, we will close that gap. And we will all be better people as a result.

Footnote: As soon as I completed writing this post, AdWeek published this excellent piece. Please read. It’s more important than mine.