600 Black Advertising Professionals Demand Meaningful Action From Leadership in Open Letter

The signatories represent talent from nearly every major agency in the country

Black agency professionals have an unequivocal response for U.S. advertising agencies: release your diversity data and reform your practices now.
Kacy Burdette

The recent outcry over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black men and women both known and unknown has forced formerly “apolitical” brands and advertising agencies to reflect on how they should respond to the racism pandemic, both internally and externally. Many participated in #BlackOutTuesday, several have opened their purses and donated millions to causes committed to addressing injustice and police abolition, and some have even made Juneteenth a company holiday. But Black advertising professionals want more than symbolism and one-off actions.

Nathan Young, group strategy director at Minneapolis-based Periscope, lives four blocks away from where Floyd was asphyxiated by now-dismissed police officer Derek Chauvin and was compelled to do more. A weeklong effort resulted in over 600 signatories (see the full list of signatories here) representing Black talent from nearly every major agency in the country coming together as a collective to pen an open letter, “A Call for Change: Black professionals in advertising demand urgent action from agency leadership,” that outlines the steps agencies can take to make the industry more  equitable.

As loud as these protests are, it is impossible to overstate the pain that has been felt by your Black colleagues as the still-fresh wounds from Ferguson, Baltimore and countless other flashpoints of racial violence were once again re-opened,” the letter states. “We hurt because we have seen this movie before. We hurt because we expect that, once again, when the streets have cleared and the hashtags have been retired, little will be done to address the systemic racism and economic injustice we face each and every day.” 

The letter provides 12 steps agency leadership needs to take immediately:

  1. Make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially Senior and Leadership positions
  2. Track and publicly report workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the agency and the industry
  3. Audit agency policies and culture to ensure the environment we work in is more equitable and inclusive to a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives
  4. Provide extensive bias training to HR employees and all levels of management
  5. Extend agency outreach to a more diverse representation of colleges, universities, and art schools
  6. Expand residencies and internship programs to candidates with transferable skills who may not have taken a traditional educational path toward advertising
  7. Create, fund, and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Black employees
  8. Invest in management and leadership training, as well as mentorship, sponsorship, and other career development programs for Black employees
  9. Require all leadership to be active participants in company Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and tie success in those initiatives to bonus compensation.
  10. Create a Diversity & Inclusion committee made up of Black and NBPOC employees to help shape diversity & inclusion policy and monitor its progress
  11. Establish a diversity review panel to stem the spread of stereotypes in creative work and ensure offensive or culturally insensitive work is never published
  12. Introduce a wage equity plan to ensure that Black women, Black men and people of color are being compensated fairly

You can read the full letter to agency leadership here.

How the letter came together

Like many modern-day efforts, the impetus to demand decisive action from agency leadership was borne organically. It began with an informal conversation between two industry friends— Young and Bennett D. Bennett, principal and content lead at New York-based creative consultancy Aerialist and former staff writer at The Drum. “I saw the protest situation start to unfold in real time on Twitter and kept an eye out for agency pros in the area,” Bennett said, noting that he had covered Twin Cities agencies like Colle McCoy and Periscope in the past. “[Young] had replied to a tweet I made, and we connected through there.”

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