Kamala Harris And Advertising. Could Kamala Get A Senior Job At An Ad Agency? Probably Not.
I pose the question about Kamala Harris and advertising as a thought-starter that leads to my discussion about the rather poor numbers of African-Americans in senior marketing and advertising roles. WOW, what an understatement.
I recently interviewed Wil Shelton, the CEO/Founder of L.A.’s Wil Power Integrated Marketing agency. Wil Power is a unique independent African-American market expert agency. The power of Wil Power comes from its work at “Harnessing the power of word of mouth in the African American market through Urban Beauty Salon and Barbershop marketing.”
In this interview, I asked Wil for his thoughts on what I consider the appalling state of African-American representation within leadership at the four major advertising agency networks (2 percent) and the CMO ranks at the Association of National Advertisers (3 percent.) That’s why I ask the question, could Kamala Harris get a job in advertising? Do the words Kamala Harris and advertising sound like a deal in 2020? Not in today’s advertising and marketing worlds.
Note that the marketing communications agencies Wieden+Kennedy with its Workforce Data and San Diego’s Basic are working to increase diversity and inclusion. My guess is that these two agencies, when asked if Kamala Harris and advertising could work together would be a YES. Would WPP say yes? That’s your guess.
This is inclusive “career” copy from a notice on Basic’s President Matt Faulk’s LinkedIn page. Basic is looking for some new people. I bet that Kamala Harris and advertising would work at Basic:
As we look to further develop a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, we’re currently looking for Creative Directors, Design Directors, Senior Designers, and Producers (all levels) to come join our team.
The Full Transcript Of The Wil Shelton Interview. And Why Kamala Harris And Advertising Might Not Have Been.
The interview was modified for clarity and brevity. This Interview Was Held Before Ms. Harris’ Appointment.
Peter: Hello, Advertising Stories people. Today I am talking with Wil Shelton, that’s with one L, and he is the CEO of the marketing agency, Wil Power Integrated Marketing. Again, with one L.
This conversation is about diversity, the lack thereof, and hopefully the opportunity of driving more diversity and inclusion in marketing and advertising. This must be a conversation you have often Wil, is that right?
Wil: Yeah, I do have it often. At this time, in this era that we’re in, yes.
Peter: Let’s just jump into that for a second. When you say this time, we have an increased consciousness of the lack of diversity, the problems of endemic… You fill in the next word. Do you think that the world that we’re living in now, the awareness of the really big idea of Black Lives Matter, do you think that will have a positive effect on the growth and expansion of diversity within the marketing and advertising communities?
Wil: I think it will. And I think it has already because what we’ve had is a colossal cultural collision in our nation and in corporate America. And at this time, the consumers, especially the African-American consumers, they’re holding these corporations accountable for diversity and inclusion.
First of all, a lot of people don’t even know what diversity and inclusion is, and the best analogy I’ve ever heard was diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance at the party. So African-Americans, they’re looking to see if we’ve been invited to dance on the floor, on the top floors of these corporations. And they’re looking under the hood, they’re doing 150 point inspection on these corporations, and they want to know, does your stance line up with your stats?
Peter: I’d like to talk about the problem and the opportunity. I did some research last week ahead of this conversation. I really wanted to see if I could come up with a quantitative perspective on the problem. There are four major advertising agency networks, WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic. I counted their senior ranks, I’m talking specifically about senior management and board positions. There are 111 people divided into 76 men and 40 women. I thought that was a somewhat decent gender ratio (OK, maybe). But… then I was really blown away when I saw that there were only two African-Americans in leadership, again, at these four major advertising networks. Out of 111… only 2.
And just to really drive the insanity home, and I think a really unfortunate point was that of the two African-Americans, one had the title of Chief Diversity Officer, which just seemed too freaking obvious to me.
So, can we all work to change those numbers? How do you, your market, your people, my people, all people of all colors that want more diversity, how do we drive that? Other than just having this “awareness” moment possibly slip away.
Wil: I think the best way, the messages I’ve given and the coaching I’ve given is to first let these corporations know that it’s not an insurmountable problem because a lot of them feel like it is insurmountable. And they feel like they’re going to miss the mark, so then they don’t do anything. And that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make, is not to take a stance and not to develop a plan and an agenda to address this. A lot of them just get highly ‘adjusted to the injustice’. I have to let them know that they really cannot look outside to find the answer. They have to look inside and at the convictions and look at the old, broken, systemic culture that’s been there in the corporations for years and decades. So that’s the first step that we have to get to. Because you get nowhere until you get real. So that’s the first advice but there’s a lot more.
Peter: Well, here are two things that I thought. I’m going to move down the ranks a little bit. Two things that I’ve always thought affected the issue of adding more diversity into the advertising world, which is way too white. And I’ve always wondered why. And I’m going to ask a few questions here. One is, does this need, it’s more historical because I think it’s shifted, but the need for MBAs moving into middle ranks at advertising agencies or the need for certain types of college degrees, has that impeded the numbers?
Wil: Yes. And that’s a great question because that’s what I’ve been addressing as well. I’ve always felt like creativity doesn’t need a degree. It’s really your degree of talent, your degree of your gifts, not the degree you get on paper. These companies say things like, “We can’t find the talent,” or I always felt like the degree was a false barrier to keep some people out of certain positions. So I’ve been helping corporations to try to develop a pipeline and bridge the gap between, and let them know that the young minorities do have the option. And a lot of them are wired for this and they are gifted.
So I told them, “Look, look beyond universities, go to junior colleges, go back to the eighth and ninth grade and develop these career days where you go in and you let them know you have apprenticeships in the summertime.” It’s kind of like in baseball, where you have a minor league and then you bring them up to the majors. So you can do the same thing in helping develop that pool of talent without having a degree or these other barriers that are put up.
Peter: The degree thing has always seemed like an interesting issue for me because I look at a world like hip hop, where billions of dollars have been made. I mean, this is the primary style of music in the world. And the entrepreneurs or solopreneurs that have driven the awareness and power of hip-hop often started in parking lots or went door-to-door. Very similar to your approach to using barbershops and salons as a marketing tool. I mean, these are guys that stood out, handed out CDs. I’m not saying it will happen to everybody, but all of a sudden we’ve got billionaires, we’ve got people running the entertainment industry, and they didn’t necessarily get that Harvard MBA, NYU marketing degree and they didn’t need it. They just needed some energy and brains.
I want to point the audience to a great series of documentaries called Hip-Hop Evolution — they are on Netflix. In the days when people traveled on airplanes, like a couple of months ago, I watched the entire series on a flight from Delhi to Vancouver. I was really blown away by, not only the talent but the marketing skills. So these skills are clearly resident in the community and I’m hoping that we can get away from the degree issue. I’ll re-quote Elon Musk, who said recently that college is, “basically for fun’ but ‘not for learning,’ and that a degree isn’t ‘evidence of exceptional ability’ .” So I’m hoping that, again, marketing leadership is realizing this. I hope it happens. Let’s face it, Ludacris is a lot more successful than the CEO of Saatchi.
Here’s one more, which I’m sure you’ll have a comment on. It’s the issue of names. People identify with names. I worked at a very wasp agency when I started. Everybody had a name that sounded like they got off the Mayflower, right? And there’s no question that names matter. I’ve seen research about this, that names like Robert and Noah, when they send in a resume, get a response. Denzel might raise a flag to some of these people, as well as the positive response to a nice name like Emma. Nice name, again, so Mayflower, versus Latasha’s. Not very Mayflower.
Do you find that names matter?
Wil: I think names do matter. And I think that a lot of African-Americans over the years have had to kind of hide their names. And one of the things that result is, many black executives become psychological contortionists to play the corporate game, and African-Americans twist themselves in knots for the illusion of inclusion.
Peter: I love those words. I love those words – illusion of inclusion. Well, we’ve got a pretty tough road ahead. Again, back to what I said earlier, I hope that the world does change. I have another stat here. I’ll read it. I’ll read the words because I just found it on the internet. African-Americans/Blacks comprise 3 percent of ANA member company Chief Marketing Officers, but are approximately 14 percent of the total population.
I think that it time for action, not the same old same old words.
Wil: I think it’s time to go beyond more than act, because that’s like a flagrant foul. Another thing that happens because of this is what I call the silent agreement, that African-Americans have made with white corporate hierarchy. And I have a good analogy for that. It’s a boxing analogy that a lot of people probably… It’s very obscure.
I used to love watching Mike Tyson fight in his prime. And he used to have to pay sparring partners because he punched so hard he knocked most of them out. And every so often he’d get one that he couldn’t knock out and his trainer would say to him, “Mike, you’re making a silent agreement.” And that silent agreement was when Mike started holding that sparring partner because Tyson couldn’t knock him out. And his trainer told him one day, “Mike, you got to stop making these silent agreements because one day you’re going to get a guy who won’t sign the contract.” And black executives who’ve made that silent agreement with corporate America almost always find out the hard way that the other side hasn’t signed the contract. And what happens is although they don’t completely stop fighting, they don’t fight with the same intensity anymore. Instead, they start throwing don’t hit me punches because they no longer are trying to win anymore, but mentally survive, waiting for the conflict to be over, Peter.
Peter: While I’ve never looked forward to being in the ring with Mike Tyson, I can certainly understand this. This also reminds me, just sustain boxing for a second, of rope-a-dope a little bit. I don’t know which side the African-American management is on. Either against the ropes, which was of course, Muhammad Ali, or punching yourself out like George Forman. Boxing is a very good metaphor for some of the problems here.
I want to move to more positive thinking. I found a document on the Wieden+Kennedy website. Wieden+Kennedy is one of the most creative advertising agencies, and they are pushing for more diversity. But what’s interesting and why they have to push, and I thought this was fascinating, is that of their Portland leadership team only 2% of leadership are African-American. Now, the good news there is, I think Wieden+Kennedy, by publishing this information on their website, is alerting themselves and the world that they have to do something. So I laud them for publishing the information that doesn’t make them look great.
And then there was one other thing I wanted to point out. There’s an agency in San Diego called Basic. Matt Faulk, the CEO just posted on LinkedIn that they are looking to “hire a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace and they’re currently looking for creative directors, design directors, senior designers, and producers, to come join their team”. So maybe the good news, is that we’re starting to see this action happen. I think it’s something I’ll track. I’ll do a google alert to see what’s happening in marketing diversity. So I’m going to challenge you to… No more rope-a-dope WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, etc., okay? Let’s all get out in the middle of the ring and get on with it. And, hey, Mike Tyson has lost. So we know the guy actually can be beaten. Any last words on this subject for the world?
Wil: I think that what I would say to the world is just make sure, as corporations start to make a shift and try to improve their diversity inclusion, make sure that your solidarity is solid. Make sure that your thinking is, “Did black lives matter before Black Lives Matter?” And does your stance line up with your stats? And I think if you start off with that, you may be able to make the impossible possible.