A Curious Turn of Events…

bldtr040035I’m always looking out for new design opportunities to learn and grow. That’s part of being a creative person—that need to continually learn and use it to help the group, business or client you’re working with. Recently, one such opportunity came up. It was as a creative director for an educational non-profit. It really piqued my curiosity. I had several meetings with them and one of the key messaging points was the aspect of diversity—marketing for and experiences in developing diversity.

Having had such experiences with AIGA chairing its Diversity Task force, my years of design experience along with my childhood background being very similar to the audience they serve (black and latino kids from underserved communities), I saw myself as an ideal candidate. The more I progressed through the meetings and learned about the group, the more I felt the connection. Through the last meeting before the final decision, I sweetened the pot by presenting a digital publishing app I created off the initial exercise they asked for in the beginning of our process. Along with this and the issue of diversity experiences being highlighted again, I felt extremely confident about this opportunity.

A couple of weeks past when I finally received word about their decision. “Everyone was very impressed with my skills and greatly appreciated my efforts but for the better mix of skills within the group they went with someone else,” I was informed. Shock is all I could register. I felt in my gut this opportunity was mine. “What was the better mix?,” I kept asking myself. No answer came to me. So a few weeks after, I checked the website to see who they hired. Naturally, I did a Google search on the person but nothing really came up other than a resume. Their experience was relatively short and I had no reference to their work (I always find it curious why a designer wouldn’t have an online portfolio) but what irked me a bit was for all the diversity mentions and philosophy, their hire happened to be a white male.

Now, I’ve been in this business for a while and I firmly believe whoever is the best for the job should get that job. And I believe that in this situation as well. However, what’s disappointing to me is here’s a marketing team tasked to create campaigns targeted to black and latino children, their parents and funders for the program but they happen to be all white. My first thought is exactly how do they understand these student’s experiences, issues or daily life and how does your new creative director help you connect to that market? There was a former member of the team that I meet via phone conference who was a woman of color in full disclosure. But this setup is typical of too many marketing/creative teams that are targeting diverse markets yet don’t have anyone on the team that might share an experience with that market. As a result, we get a mix bag of marketing that comes across at times insulting, patronizing or just downright offensive.

I will say that all the team members I met with seemed very committed and sincere about the program’s mission and I hope everything goes exceedingly well especially for the children’s educational path. Yet, I just can’t help feeling bewildered why for all I brought to the table plus having similar shared experiences as their audience that I just wasn’t the better mix for the group.

Just a real curious turn of events.

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One thought on “A Curious Turn of Events…”

  1. I think that more often than anyone would like to admit, hiring comes down to “who can we be around for 12 hrs a day, under tight time pressure, and still be friends and have a beer with after work”. In the arts and entertainment industry, it has been my experience that this buddy trait is the most important for homogeneous groups making new hires. I worked in the movie business in LA and saw it all the time. At first it bothered me. It didn’t seem fair. But as I matured, it seemed like the most natural choice in the world to make. Still unfair, but natural.

    In your case, there may be a new campaign for the group to execute within the next 6 months. It’ll have a different target audience and a different message. But their group will be the same. The bonds formed during the diversity campaign will continue and grow during the next campaign. They want to hire a buddy to make the continued journey with. I’m sure you’re a good friend, team player, hard worker, and everything else you’re supposed to be in order to be successful in your business. But ask yourself this; if you had to hire one of two people whose qualifications were equal, would you hire the one who reminded you of your business minded older brother, or the one who laughed like your 2nd semester roommate in college, or the one who liked obscure music artists like your fiance? Or would you hire the really smart white girl who you didn’t have much in common with other than the job?

    I hope your real opportunity shows up for you. The one where you intimately understand the message and the intended audience, and you have a like minded team who gets you and enjoys helping you execute the campaign.

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