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The advertising industry is facing a reckoning on at least two fronts. On the consumer side, an increasingly diverse marketplace expects the brands they support to take civic action to champion the values of their consumers. This shift in consumer expectation has put pressure on the employee side, where diversity numbers in both rank-and-file and C-suite positions are not only dismal but also embarrassing.
In order to meet these emerging marketplace demands, it’s clear creative agencies need to take rapid strides towards attracting, retaining and promoting people of color. This is easier said than done.
Diversity initiatives are decades old and have yielded marginal, albeit important, gains. Job pipelines and platforms are often stymied by prejudiced hiring practices. All the while, people of color are more eager than ever to gain entry into a field they know helps shape public perception.
So, how do we get to where we want to go? I believe the answer is in asking the right questions. At Q+A (Quantasy and Associates), the 60-person full service creative agency I’m CEO of, our leadership and staff reflect the demographics of our city and the browning of the country.
We discovered early that there was a hidden power in asking new questions. While there’s an understandable instinct to cover the immediate questions, a common approach yields common results. If the advertising industry continues to ask the same questions around diversity and inclusion, we’ll continue to get the same bleak answers. We need new questions.
Here are three questions I think you should ask if you’re a creative agency looking to identify the holes in diversity in your organization.
1. Who are we?
Like a biological organism, your brand identity is driven by both DNA and environment (or context). In this analogy, your agency DNA is reducible to its core values and your environment is defined as where your agency’s sphere of influence operates in culture. Your values and context, then, will drive your brand behavior as sure as seed, sunlight and soil produces flowers.
What are your agency’s foundational values? Are they explicitly detailed in your agency’s mission? Do they include a commitment to a more rightly ordered world? Is that mission evangelized throughout the agency?
At Q+A, our DNA is collaborative, creative, entrepreneurial and committed to resetting the marketplace so that it puts people and culture above profit. You can see it in the work we do, as well as in the work we won’t do.
2. What do we want our story to be?
It’s been said that your brand is what they say about you when you leave the room. In many ways, it’s true that your agency’s story is in the hands (and ears) of the people who hear and retell it. It’s equally true, though, that your brand’s story is cemented by your agency’s principled and consistent action. Even more, your future story can (and perhaps, ought) be different from your past and/or present stories.
At Q+A, our commitment is to push culture in the right direction. As it relates to our hiring, retention and promotion practices, it means centering and empowering people and communities of color. It’s part of our brand manifesto: “We value culture and the people who create it. We value real stories of struggle, perseverance, and triumph no matter where they come from. Our ultimate goal is to disrupt the industry by shifting the existing power dynamics and funneling resources to creators of all kinds.” We want our work to matter, not just to our clients but in the world at large.
What do they say about your agency? What do you want them to say? Which values and behaviors will get you there?
3. Which issues do we want to address?
There are often many stops along your employees’ career paths. Your creative agency can address issues on that route starting as early as training and recruitment, all the way up and through hiring, mentoring, retaining and promoting your talent. What issues do people of color face before they get to your agency? How might opportunity for professional development and increased compensation play into their decisions to stay? How might your C-suite more accurately reflect the story your agency wants to tell about itself?
At Q+A, we’ve identified both short- and long-term objectives. In the short run, we’ve aggressively recruited, retained and promoted people of color across our four areas of
expertise: content, strategy, design and platform development. For the long run, we’ve established the Quantasy Foundation, an internship program in greater Los Angeles that works with high school girls interested in the creative services industry.
Good questions often yield more questions. New answers are on the other side of those questions. Doggedly pursue those new questions. We have, and we’re bigger, stronger, better and more profitable as a result. Why not do the same?