Reonna Johnson is vice president and director of marketing and business development at RPA, an independent agency in Los Angeles. On top of her day job, she’s spent recent weeks spearheading an initiative that’s encouraging agencies to put more Black people in leadership.
The push is an extension of Three’s A Crowd, a two-year-old creative collective she co-founded made up of roughly 150 Black professionals who work in advertising, production and entertainment.
Johnson describes Three’s A Crowd as a safe space, one where members can be among people “who understand what it’s like to be the only one in the room.” It regularly hosts “soul sessions,” dinners where they can “vent and let their hair down” while sharing accomplishments or discussing microaggressions they’ve experienced.
According to Johnson, the group has aimed to increase Black leadership at agencies for quite some time. Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, she convened nine of the group’s members to create In for 13, an initiative with a simple ask: Raise the percentage of Black people in leadership roles to 13% by 2023.
The team landed on 13% after looking at numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. According to its population estimates, 13.4% of Americans are Black, yet workforce diversity numbers recently shared by holding companies show that Black employees typically hold less than 3% of executive roles. To help agencies achieve this goal, In for 13 has laid out a six-step process complete with toolkits to guide them.
Johnson said she structured In for 13 like a client brief to “speak the language that we’re used to speaking” in advertising. Considering brands come to agencies hoping to solve a specific problem or reach a certain objective, she’s hoping agency leadership will approach this issue with the same kind of thinking.
“It feels like a business problem that has a deadline, a goal and a structure,” she said. “This is the same sort of thinking that you would do if a client came to you. If you look at it from that perspective, then you’ve inherited a new problem and a new client, so why not be celebratory about how you’re going to fix it?”
Making it happen
Johnson said roughly 115 “pledgers” representing more than 50 agencies have started the conversation internally and are in the process of trying to get leadership on board.
Once an agency pledges to join In for 13, they began the six-step process, which starts with acknowledging the problem. This involves identifying a dedicated team within the agency that Johnson said should “own” this issue over the next three years. She also said this step gives agency leaders the chance to truly evaluate who runs the agency. For Johnson, this isn’t about simply looking at titles, but assessing who has decision-making power and holds sway within the agency.
“It’s up to the agency to get clear about who runs it and who has the most influence, because that’s where the Black seats need to be,” Johnson said.
The second step focuses on research and development. Johnson said In for 13 wants to partner with organization such as the 4A’s and American Advertising Federation on surveys, reports and studies that will help shine a light on where the industry stands when it comes to diversity and establish benchmarks.