Fast Chat: Jeff Goodby

The industry legend discusses the importance of diversity in the advertising world

So, Jeff, where are all the black people?
[Laughs] Well, that’s what we’re trying to solve. It’s a total enigma that black people have not been represented in advertising, especially since African Americans are so influential culturally, especially in popular culture. And we kind of wanted to create an avenue that would allow people to come forward and say, “I’m here,” and kind of have a forum where people who might want to meet those people could be present, like people from HR and the people from creative departments who, just as a matter of course, would send somebody to this thing. So it’s a little bit of a job fair in a way.
This event is a continuation of another one that you moderated during Creative Week earlier this year. What was the response of that discussion, and describe the audience.
It was a really heartwarming experience, I have to tell you. It was really, really, really wonderful, and there were a lot of people there who were very frustrated with their experience looking for a job. I think that it defused some of that frustration and allowed them to actually talk to some of the people who might or might not have been answering the phone calls and might or might not have been looking at their portfolios, and see them eye to eye—which was really nice. The audience was a full spectrum of people—people who had never worked in the business, people who were breaking in or trying to change jobs and get better positions, and people who were working in very small agencies that they didn’t think were worthy of their talents.
Certainly there are black men and women in the advertising industry. Where are they working, and are there success stories?
Well, one of them is going to be on the panel: Jimmy Smith [group creative director at TBWA/Chiat/Day]. But, yeah, I think one of the things incumbent on us is to create more of these stories. There are obviously a lot of people who are succeeding, but the number of them who are top of mind is not as great as it should be. That, I think, is what needs to really change in this business.
What are the solutions being batted around? How does the ad industry diversify?
Well, the real solution is to just actually face up to the problem—or the opportunity, depending on how you want to phrase it—and do something about it. And just be cognizant of it. Because I think that a lot of agencies just aren’t. With a lot of people, their answer is “I just don’t get presented with good candidates,” or “I have no way of meeting them.” Some people even say, “It’s racist to seek out black candidates.”
What’s the benefit of diversifying?
Obviously, one of the things we do is advertise to a wide range of people, and our clients want us to do that. And the only way to really do that is to actually have those people present and have them contribute to the solution of advertising problems.
What about other groups, whether it be women or Hispanics or gay men and women?
One of the things about women in advertising is that they’re numerous in certain departments and nonexistent in others, which is a different kind of problem. They’re numerous in media and account services and are hardly there in creative. With Hispanics, we have a really large supply of them in California, and so we have quite a few of them. But I think it’s probably a much bigger problem in other cities.
And what about the young white men? Where are they?
I’m afraid you know the answer. They’re easy to bump into and, you know, they’re not all talented. Believe me, talent is not necessarily the purview of just one color.