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Advertising executives have all spoken out against racism. But the industry has a terrible track record on diversity, and some black agency employees remain skeptical.

BLM
  • CEOs of the major ad holding companies have issued statements supporting the protests over the death of George Floyd. But the industry has failed to live up to its promises to be more inclusive.
  • This isn't just a PR problem — marketers pay ad agencies to help them reach an increasingly diverse public.
  • Trade groups like the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program have existed for decades, but almost all the industry's leaders are white men.
  • In 2006, the New York City Commission on Human Rights forced the five largest holding companies to agree to annual diversity goals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics later found that only 5% of employees at PR and ad agencies were black.
  • Some black ad professionals expressed hope and skepticism that the protests will lead to real change in their industry.
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"We have a negro problem."
Mike Paul, a crisis PR specialist who formerly worked for advertising holding companies Publicis and WPP and often advises corporations on diversity issues, said that phrase — taken from a mid-50s agency executive memo — was the earliest mention he could find when researching the industry's lack of diversity.
The problem remains 60 years later, even as the US grows more diverse and some of the biggest advertisers, like Nike and Pepsi, draw heavily from black culture to sell their products.
Since the May 25 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked protests around the US and the world, agency executives have promised to do things like mandate anti-racism training for all staff and review how they hire and promote people of color. But holding company and agency leadership remains overwhelmingly white.
Paul said advertising still has a problem with prejudice and that until leaders begin to put more black people and other minorities in positions of power, hashtags and internal memos are unlikely to change anything.

Marketers pay ad agencies to solve their business problems, and right now diversity is one of the biggest

In 2015, the US Census predicted the US would become majority-minority by 2044.
The trend is a critical business challenge for marketers as they try to tailor their messages to consumers who are increasingly nonwhite.
To reach and sell to the public, CMOs have begun insisting that their ad agencies become more diverse in turn. And agencies often don't act until clients force them to.
In 2016, HP, General Mills, and Verizon issued ultimatums requiring their agencies to report how many women and people of color they employed, particularly in leadership roles.
Three years later, Verizon CMO Diego Scotti said his company's 20 agencies had increased the minorities on their payrolls by around 25%. But this change was not good enough, he said, and the number of women in top agency roles actually decreased in that period.
Clients aren't doing any better. According to a 2018 survey by the Association of National Advertisers, only 3% of US CMOs and 6% of marketing professionals are black, though black people make up about 13% of the population.

The ad industry has made little progress despite decades of diversity programs

Trade group the 4A's launched MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Intern Program) in 1973. Since then, more industry programs like Adcolor Futures and The One Club's Here Are All the Black People have been created to connect young people of color with careers in the ad industry.
Still, in 2006, the New York City Commission on Human Rights determined the number of minorities — particularly black people — employed by WPP, Omnicom, IPG, Publicis, and Havas had barely increased since the late 1960s, when the same commission first criticized the industry's diversity efforts in hiring.
The five companies signed an agreement that year to meet annual diversity goals over a three-year period and avoid being forced to hire consultants by the city. Two years later, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that advertising and PR agency employees were only 8% Hispanic, 5% black, and 3% Asian.
A 2008 report from civil rights law firm Mehri & Skalet found the number of black people in upper management positions to be around 3.2%, or less than half of the same total for comparable professions. And in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of black employees in the creative field was still only 6.6%.

Agencies promise change, but black employees say they'll wait and see

Industry leaders continue to support diversity in the abstract.
The CEOs of IPG, Omnicom, MDC Partners, Publicis, and WPP signed the Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge in 2018 along with more than 400 other companies, saying they would "have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion."
But the pledge made no specific promises, and holding companies have generally been less than transparent when it comes to the racial and ethnic breakdowns of their workforces. In 2013, IPG shareholders overwhelmingly voted down a proposal to make equal employment opportunity data public.
Publicis Groupe US chief diversity officer Ronnie Dickerson Stewart said protests over the death of George Floyd and others feel like a tipping point as the company holds unfiltered conversations about racism.
Some black ad agency employees questioned if holding company executives' most recent statements related to the protests would be any different.
Bennett D. Bennett, a consultant and former copywriter at Omnicom agency BBDO, said he's skeptical that real change will happen until every holding company and major agency begins publishing diversity and equity reports at least once a year.
A black senior-level agency employee, who is known to Business Insider but requested anonymity to protect his job, said he hopes that's true. He also said: "There's not a lot of real evidence that [my agency] is committed to diversity in a material way."
A second black ad executive who also requested anonymity said leadership at his company promised to do more than pay lip service to the cause this time, adding, "I'm waiting to see what they come up with beyond unconscious bias training."
Got more information about this story or another ad industry tip? Contact Patrick Coffee on Signal at (347) 563-7289, email at pcoffee@businessinsider.com or patrickcoffee@protonmail.com, or via Twitter DM @PatrickCoffee. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.
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* This article was originally published here 
https://www.businessinsider.com/the-ad-industry-has-a-longstanding-diversity-and-transparency-problem-2020-6
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