Diversify the industry to mirror the ethnic population of the U.S. And do it by 2005. That was the challenge Ed Wax, then CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, issued in 1995, in his last speech as chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
Wax's deadline will not be met. In New York, the city's Commission on Human Rights is investigating the minority hiring practices of the largest local shops, but few in the industry need to see the findings to know that mainstream agencies have a diversity problem. "I think the industry is catching up, but I think there's a way to go," said Bill Gray, president of Ogilvy & Mather in New York.
Hispanics, African Americans and Asians make up 13, 12 and 4 percent of the U.S. population, respectively, according to the 2000 Census. But in advertising and "related services," only the Asian population matches the nation's in percentage terms. Of the 507,000 people employed in the field, 9 percent are Hispanic, and 6 percent are African American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (In the U.S. workforce as a whole, 13 percent of employees are Hispanic, 11 percent are African American, and 4 percent are Asian.)
Things aren't much better in public relations. A survey conducted by the Public Relations Society of America last August that focused specifically on African Americans found 20 percent of PR professionals at corporations, nonprofits and government organizations are African American, but the number is only 5 percent at PR agencies.
"I do wish there were more diversity, and I think agencies have made efforts," says Tony Cregler, an African American senior brand planner at Arnold in Boston. "But I don't know if everyone is doing everything they can."
There are signs that agencies are starting to do more. Interpublic Group launched a pilot program in June in cooperation with the American Advertising Federation in which 10 minority interns began rotating among seven IPG shops in New York: Deutsch, Draft, Foote Cone & Belding, Initiative, Lowe, McCann Erickson and Weber Shandwick.
The program is part of a larger effort that chairman and CEO David Bell introduced at his first address to IPG shareholders, in May 2003. There, he announced the creation of the Diversity Task Force, IPG's first formalized effort in this area. The task force soon hired Heide Gardner away from the AAF, where she had been vp of diversity and strategic programs.
Gardner, Bell and the task force generated the Interpublic Fellows Program, the only diversity-recruitment vehicle of its kind among the large holding companies. The seven participating agencies are joined by three others —GMR Works, Octagon and Campbell-Ewald —on the task force. Fellows, all recent college graduates, receive a salary and benefits.
"Most every brief from prospective clients now contains diversity criteria," Bell wrote in an internal IPG memo in February. "Nearly three-quarters of them require that a culturally diverse team work on the client's account. ... We have to face up to this new reality by stepping up and setting the standard."
Gardner says she hopes the program will become an "institutional farm system" for IPG shops in the U.S.
Others are making efforts, too. This summer, seven more shops began participating in the 4A's popular Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, which launched in 1973: Mediaedge:cia, McCann Relationship Marketing, The Martin Agency, Grey Direct, Draft, Doremus and MPG. Under the program, 76 interns are working at 41 agencies, up from 56 in 2003 and 69 in 2002. Tiffany Warren, manager of diversity programs at the 4A's, says the increase reflects more agency participation rather than more applicants.
In March, Hill & Knowlton launched its Growth through Recruitment And Diversity (GRAD) program. The PR agency visits colleges and offers on-site recruitment for jobs and internships. Chief talent officer Ellen Shedlarz says the shop is focused as much on business goals as ideological ones. "Our client base is very diverse," she says. "If we don't have the same diversity in our employee base, we won't connect as strongly."
Advertising is hardly the only industry with such problems. "I didn't feel like advertising was less representative or the experience I had was less representative of society than other facets of corporate America," says Arnold's Cregler. Nonetheless, it's critical to understand why the field is still so far from Wax's goal. Some say the slumping economy kept many shops focused on other priorities. And ad agencies are losing qualified candidates of all ethnicities to corporations that recruit more actively on campuses.
Renetta McCann, CEO of Starcom North America and one of the most prominent African Americans in the field, says agencies must be better at reaching out to schools and making more internships available. "Someone has to put [diversity] at the top of their list, begin to tie compensation or reward or punishment to what does or doesn't happen in this area," she says.
Are there more complicated concerns at work? Bryan Lattimore, a graduate of the University of Missouri at Columbia and an IPG fellow at Lowe, says he is excited to be part of the pilot program. "Anytime you strive to be different, you're going to face challenges," he says. "I'm glad to be a part of a program where an organization isn't afraid of stepping outside its comfort zone and doing something revolutionary."
Still, Lattimore worries about his future job prospects. "A company may state they want the best and the brightest, but the fact is that they have attitudes and things that may be unconscious to them, and they may be uncomfortable hiring a black man," he says.
McCann doesn't expect the industry to become much more diverse anytime soon. "I'm a believer that when things need to change dramatically, it's probably not going to happen in an evolutionary way. [Instead], you can find some readily identifiable catalyst that changes the course of where something's going," she says. "Do I see the catalyst on the horizon that's going to get the general-market agencies to change? No."
Rhonda da Silva, for one, hopes the investigation by New York's Commission on Human Rights effects real change. "We want to do the right thing. We want to increase numbers. We want to be reflective of the population," says da Silva, director of diversity at Arnold. "If there are suggestions, we are so open to doing that."