Where Are All The Black People?

Several weeks ago I got this event notice on Facebook that really grabbed my attention. “Where Are All The Black People” was the title. How funny was that…as that’s been a mantra of mine since my early days at Pratt. This was to be a frank, no-holds-barred discussion about the lack of black people and others within the ad industry moderated by Jeff Goodby, co-founder of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners along with Jimmy Smith, Group Creative Director of TBWA\Chiat\Day/Los Angeles. The were three other panelists there: one was a black woman whose name was Cheeraz (like the wine) Gorman. She was a copywriter/planner. One was a British white woman whose first name was Danni, I believe. She’s a recruiter for agencies. Lastly was a young black man whose name I couldn’t hear. He is a soon to br graduate of Morehouse. Now I’m not an advertising man, matter of fact I hate it, but I thought it gave a diverse range of perspectives from the industry. The lack of color within the ad industry has been a raging topic since the ’60s. So we are talking over FORTY YEARS! It’s 2011 and still no real, tangible progression. I attended just to see just how frank it was going to be.

Well, let me tell…it did get very frank and very real during those two hours. From the panelists to audience members, there were some real thoughts spoken and some real frustration (rage) voiced. The great thing was folks didn’t shy away from answering back to the viewpoints. There was disagreements on various points but it was a healthy discussion and I do mean discussion. It never became a shouting match or a scream fest. Just a real, healthy conversation about the perceptions of color in the ad game. One consistent point from the discussion that conversations have been going on for the past 40 years but what can be done NOW. The time for baby steps are over. Totally agree however I’d presume most of the people attending last night are all in agreement about what needs to happen. What was missing were folks who could ACTUALLY make it happen. No senior to upper level representatives of some of the big agencies (minus the two moderators) and none from the 4As. What a wasted opportunity on their part.

That really bothered me. Discussions like this can only be effective if two sides are working together. As I said, for the folks attending I presume we are all on the same page. It’s the folks not on the page that REALLY need to hear these discussions. We all know that the ad industry is one of the most hostile and oppressive of all the creative disciplines. It was only in 2006 that the NYC Commission on Human Rights had hearings about the dismal diversity records of Madison Avenue. About 16 big firms were named while the rest hid behind them. After this big song and dance, nothing major came out of it. Some fines and lip service agreements to do better. Wasn’t that the same refrain in the ‘70s?

Some good points were made on how to confront this issue such as educating/exposing students of color on the HS level, practicing ad folks educating cultural communities about the validity of advertising as a career and having white recruiters/ad execs not judging all applicants of color by the faults of one. Other points made were common sense approaches that everyone should just know as a given.

One attendee really brought the point home though. He was doing everything he needed for a position at an agency, networking with industry people who tell him to contact them but they dismiss him (some who were in the room he stated), keeping his skill set relevant, complimented on his work but time after time he was not offered a job. His intense frustration showed as he said he’d have to say BULLSHIT to the solution points saying that you can do everything you’re supposed to but folks are still not looking at you. “So then, how can you really break in?” he asked.

Without the conversation really being put into the faces of those ad executives who can actually affect change, this brother’s frustration will continue amongst him and numerous others. While last night was very good, if it stays underground and not in the executive suite, we’ll still be having this same conversation in 2021.


3 thoughts on “Where Are All The Black People?”

  1. Thanks for the summation. Having worked in advertising for over 20 years and in recruiting, the sham (not shame, just sham) of it is that the discussion isn’t being had with folks who can really have it. Jeff and his colleagues can, because they are creatives and can effect change. But you can’t make the other creative directors of managers work with these young black kids and teach them something. I have tried by working with my HR colleagues on this subject, but frankly I just think that because the recruiting arm doesn’t understand how to recognize creativity, the issue falls by the waist side. So, until folks stop being afraid of black folks, you’re going to continue to have this problem. Engaging creatives is something that needs to be learned, regardless of the industry, but especially in advertising.

  2. Thanks for the wrapup. I just read in Adweek that Jeff Goodby announced two scholarships for African Americans and was looking for more info about the event.

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