How Will Advertising’s New Equality Advocacy Groups Grow While Staying Grassroots?

Organizations like Allyship & Action, Where Are the Black Designers? and 600 & Rising want to make long-term impacts on the industry

Screenshot from Allyship & Action’s summit
Allyship & Action’s three-hour summit drew 2,000 attendees with keynotes from industry pros including director, digital transformation and culture at Adidas Krys Burnette and global ecd at Samsung Mobile Jayanta Jenkins.
Allyship & Action

Key insights:

The past month saw an explosion of grassroots organizations formed by Black advertising professionals and allies to develop solutions to reverse systemic racism in the industry. New groups including Allyship & Action, 600 & Rising and Where Are the Black Designers? have gained momentum through support from peers and high-profile talent.

Each group wants to bring permanent, systemic change, which likely means bringing in corporate sponsors. But how can these new organizations with populist appeal keep their authenticity while working within the system they’re trying to overhaul? It’s a question they’ll work in parallel to answer, but also one where they can find guidance from the industry’s established advocacy groups, like Adcolor and the 3% Movement.

Choosing partners that won’t hurt your message

Work (and life) partners Nate Nichols and Steffi Behringer, who lead creative agency Palette Group, launched the first Allyship & Action virtual summit in June. They gathered industry pros to discuss what being an ally means and brainstorm solutions for improving industry diversity.

Nichols and Behringer were motivated after seeing companies post reactionary messages of solidarity and black tiles on Instagram in response to the publicized police killing of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.

Nichols said choosing a future corporate partner would depend on the actions the brand had taken to fight oppression. “Most statements from companies are performative,” Nichols said. “If you’re not going to be rooted in empathy in your decisions, then we can’t partner with you.”

600 & Rising logo
Young and Bennett gave themselves a 90-day timetable for next steps to enact D&I reforms. 600 & Rising has already amassed more than 2,600 members.
600 & Rising

Kat Gordon, founder and CEO of the 3% Movement, said finding the right partners was often tricky. Gordon advises developing fundraising strategies for financial stability to avoid needing partners that could potentially harm an organization’s goals.

“No one has a heritage completely untainted by missteps, and no one has an impeccable record, including 3%, on these issues,” Gordon said. “The problem with demanding only the most pristine brands is that there aren’t enough of them.”

Gordon continued that the best way for these grassroots organizations to get their bearings would be to assemble a board of advisors representing the different areas of the industry they want to reach, decide what type of funding makes the most sense for growth and involve young voices from the get-go.

Ad execs Nathan Young and Bennett D. Bennett launched nonprofit 600 & Rising to develop long-term programs advocating for Black employees and to hold agencies accountable. They already secured its first major partner (the 4A’s) to advise agencies on addressing racism moving forward. Young said the nonprofit is committed to being independent and won’t be majorly reliant on outside funding.

Tiffany R. Warren, svp and chief diversity officer of Omnicom and founder of Adcolor, said group leaders need to stay true to who they are and find partners that champion those values.

Building off initial fanfare

UX designers Mitzi Okou and Garrett Albury launched Where Are the Black Designers? in June with a virtual conference to expose industry inequality and offer solutions to improve diversity in design, creative and tech. The organization’s name poses a rhetorical question inspired by graphic designer Cheryl D. Miller’s 1987 Print magazine article “Black Designers Missing in Action” and creator of the Revision Path podcast and principal of creative studio Lunch Maurice Cherry’s 2015 SXSW presentation of the same name.

Screenshot from the Where Are the Black Designers? event
The first six-hour event of Where Are the Black Designers? drew 13,000 views since its June 27 broadcast. Along with Black and POC design pros, author Roxane Gay was a surprise moderator.

“We want to confront the industry with the obstacles Black and POC designers have to go through to achieve [half the success] of our white counterparts,” Okou said. “This is not a moment; this is a movement. We don’t plan on letting down. This means a lot, not only to us but to a population of people that have not had a seat at the table for a very long time.”

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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