by Darren W. Martin Jr.
CEO, Bold Culture
It is time the advertising industry rethinks the construction of its diverse talent pipeline. As the world continues to connect through technology, politics, and social movements, it is more important than ever for the companies responsible for crafting the story of consumer brands to mirror the consumers influencing engagement and global purchase decisions.
In the US, multicultural consumers will become the majority of spenders by 2020. This new age wave of multicultural consumerism is arguably present, emerging in a time where technology has amplified the democracy of creation and speech.
Traditional advertising agencies have not aggressively filled the gap between global advertisements and diversity. Well aware of a cultural shift, consumers and former agency employees are building consultancies to teach brands how to speak to their communities.
There are programs such as the Marcus Graham Project, MAIP, IRTS, CCNY, Miami Ad School, and others that have built communities of diverse individuals who are interested in the future of advertising. Many alums now work in the industry, including myself. I am a former fellow of IRTS and am well aware of the shortcomings these programs may face. Programs need support from their agency counterparts, including resources and a renewed commitment to talent recruitment. This renewed commitment from agency partners could materialize in a few ways, including rethinking the source of talent acquisition, providing unique career mapping opportunities, and investing in diverse partner agencies and contractors.
To bridge the gap between multicultural consumerism and global campaign management, large companies must connect with skilled creatives that may not have the financial backing or top-tier educational experience. A ton of today’s strategists and directors did not attend portfolio school, intern for a top agency or company, or participate in a competitive program, and yet are still producing work that organically exceeds some paid media campaigns. This leads to a fact: those accolades are not the only indicators of befitting agency talent. Creating a template for the perfect agency employee is what leads conscious and unconscious bias practices in hiring. We must expand our expectations and focus when it comes to talent makeup.
Rethinking where and how we recruit might be one of the most significant industry adjustments. As consumers demand creativity authentic to their individualistic community and values, we must face the truth regarding the people we hire. The most diverse creatives might have delayed college or portfolio school for real-world regional or national work—many times underpaid, with little time and resources. They are self-taught, learning from the many online outlets currently available. On another note, those who may have attended college could have studied an alternate major and now work in an opposing field. They, too, are self-taught and have ventured into the world, creating, learning, succeeding, and failing. Some people experience rewarding programs that support traditional advertising pipelines, and others do not. These same burgeoning creatives are not aware of top tier programs that pour into your companies. Visibility is necessary—we must remain present in communities and talented hubs that are overlooked. Visibility includes visiting and supporting students in community colleges, Southern demographics, HBCU students, middle and high schoolers, and more.
It was not until a friend and mentor joined a program, experienced its transformative powers, and guided me to the application that I encountered the complexities of this industry. That referral allowed me to assist others in joining the program. We need this type of guidance at scale. We need agencies and organizations to make a concerted effort to impact diverse communities.
In addition to restructuring the source of talent and building impact in unconventional communities, there must be an industry compliant career mapping initiative for talent once hired. In our 2019 Executive Roundtable, we surveyed marketing, advertising, and tech directors on the state of creatives in their industries. Executives confirmed hiring diverse talent was a minute problem in comparison to its expansive attrition rates. Many mentioned multicultural employees are staying at an agency for 3-5 years, where others are leaving after year 1. The most consistent missing link we discovered: agencies are not investing in talent career mapping. What if today’s talent wanted to stay in a role for a year when you’ve planned for them to support you for 3-5 years? Could attrition be tied to unparalleled expectations of career advancement and corporate talent need? More importantly, does the workplace setting and culture influence attrition?
Question: How can companies lament the attrition of diverse communities if we have not adequately prepared for today’s workforce’s needs? We cannot merely talk and listen anymore—there are capable individuals ready to shift how talent moves through companies and our industry, and we have the resources to change the mismanaged flow. The industry has to change in this direction, or we will continue to see high attrition and diverse talent will ultimately work with competitors or become competitors themselves.
Working with a person to create a career map plan shows you understand their long term goals—and if that long term goal includes transitioning to a freelancer from a full-time position, or starting their own small (or large) agency, it should be welcomed. Welcoming diverse talent to become freelancers or business owners reinforces the notion that you are invested in various suppliers and their holistic development.
Outside of mapping a talent’s career and encouraging them to take their most rewarding journey, consider working with diverse suppliers in the freelance realm while developing partnerships with small agencies. Companies should fill their databases with diverse talent consistently, including feedback confirming who would be valuable and insightful on particular projects. When hiring diverse talent falls victim to the 6-12 month bureaucratic cycle, various agencies and freelancers are a more immediate touchpoint to ensure authenticity. Understanding this strategy will ensure your campaigns stay authentic and resonant.
Rethinking the pipeline is equivalent to re-defining what it means to work. Redefinition is a necessary undertaking for the industry and must be implemented by the agencies and the parent companies – they collectively have the resources and capacity to reinforce the shift. Traditional talent pipeline organizations should support this change as well and continue hold the industry accountable in more bold, transformative ways.