Diversity can sometimes be a buzzword when it comes to corporate culture, but a number of agencies are putting their money where their mouth is and amplifying black voices in celebration of Black History Month. Adweek sent out a call to learn more about what agencies are doing to honor minority contributions for Black History Month and beyond.
Deutsch is pulling together efforts from its New York and Los Angeles offices to produce several experiences in a nod to Black History Month. Mikaela Liboro, who serves as vp and director of communications for the agency, said Deutsch will host a panel discussing the experience of black women in corporate America moderated by Bridget Kyeremateng from Tumblr with panelists Marieme Sall of Deutsch, Kai Deveraux Lawson of Mixed Company Podcast and Shannon Ross of Spotify.
Taking it a step further, the agency is presenting a workshop series, an Afrobeat dance class and two art installations from artists Jill Knox Powell and Zahyr Lauren.
The agency said its core is in its talent and that “creating an inclusive place for our employees is our number one priority.”
San Francisco-based agency Argonaut recently kicked off a gallery along with a panel that features black leaders from varying industries in honor of Black History Month. The gallery showcases an exhibit featuring African American photographer and podcast host Erik Umphery, who has worked with Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah and countless others.
The gallery is Umphery’s first, and the artist has vowed to help the next generation of creators by “donating all art sales, profits and proceeds to a local organization geared toward providing support for local, underserved youth communities with resources to grow, learn and express themselves creatively through the arts.”
Maura Heilbron serves as Argonaut’s head of culture and said the agency’s goal, as “advertisers who have the privilege of telling stories on mass-viewed canvases, is to truly reflect the change we want to see in the world.”
Black History Month is about “recognizing and paying homage to the individuals who have trailblazed, built, led, contributed, created and inspired the U.S.,” said TBWA\Chiat\Day chief diversity officer for North America Doug Melville. The agency said that while many of those trailblazers’ accomplishments were never acknowledged, “it is our duty to take the time to understand America’s past and to lay a pathway through creativity to celebrate the contributions of all black Americans.”
The agency is hosting two events to celebrate the month, including Intermission, a monthly event celebrating artists and those who create spaces for artists to thrive, which will showcase a performance and conversation with the singer and rapper Angel Haze. Additionally, their next installment of the Disruptor Series will feature Debra Lee, the former CEO of BET and the founder and CEO of Leading Women Defined.
According to the agency, the company recently launched an ongoing project called OneSandbox, a curated search platform built to showcase diverse makers and vendors in the creative space and connect them with brands and agencies looking to develop a more inclusive supply chain.
Over at Anomaly, the agency is celebrating Black History Month by taking a closer look at black identity and culture in its many forms.
Expect a panel where experts in media, journalism and culture discuss what it means to be black. There will also be musical performances from British rising talent Samm Henshaw and hypnotic singer-songwriter Niya Norwood.
For those hungry for more, a cooking demo highlighting tastes from the African diaspora is planned. Culinary artists and educators Cleopatra Zuli and Travis Young will explore black food history through an interactive cooking demo, preparing an Afro-Italian version of ragu alla bolognese, a traditional Italian favorite that found its way around the globe and onto African diasporic dining tables.
Finally, the agency will also host a cultural trivia night inspired by everything black and pop culture.
“We strive to have an excellent culture, which importantly, must be born out of a culture of excellence. And to be truly excellent in our business requires a genuine understanding of people of all backgrounds, colors and identities,” said Franke Rodriguez, partner and CEO of Anomaly New York and Toronto. “That’s why we’ve made Cultural Awareness Programming an agency priority over the last three years; it gives us a chance to celebrate all of these diverse cultures.”
Cleveland agency Marcus Thomas is focusing its efforts on representation by honoring “the power and resilience of black professionals who have left a mark on the advertising industry.”
Internally, the agency will feature the stories of creative directors, CMOs, and diversity and inclusion thought leaders. A social campaign recently kicked off where agency staff shared whom they admire most in the industry, resulting in thoughtful observations about their own African-American staff and local leaders.
The holding company has a number of initiatives across its network.
First, Publicis Groupe’s talent engagement and inclusion team developed an awareness campaign specifically targeted to senior agency leadership that brings visibility to several black executives who have and continue to leave their mark in business. The email campaign includes profiles of former BET CEO Debra Lee, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, Vista Equity founder Robert F. Smith and others.
Individual agency and business leaders have also created their own programs to call attention to the myriad contributions to celebrate the men and women of color who blaze trails.
Publicis Groupe’s Men of Color Alliance (MOCA) took the opportunity to launch in the Chicago market. The Collective, which is made up of Starcom’s BASE, Spark Foundry’s NOIR, Digitas’ ONYX, Leo Burnett’s Shades and Publicis Groupe’s VivaWomen of Color business resource groups, is collaborating to make Black History Month programming available across agency silos.
The Minneapolis MDC shop is hosting special activities throughout the month, including an exhibit called “Where Are All the Black Designers?” created by Augsburg University design student Olivia House.
As a black graphic designer, Olivia wanted to showcase the work and contributions of her predecessors. Giving specific focus to black designers during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, Olivia spent months researching and compiling designs from the artists she uncovered. The result is a series of 18 posters featuring eight designers that can be viewed throughout the agency.
Additionally, Colle+McVoy is hosting an agency event with The BrandLab called “Identifying Racial Blind Spots in the Creative Process.” The conversation will dissect and discuss recent and historical advertising that has crossed the line of racial or ethnic sensitivity.
The Havas network will, once again, have its #BlackAtWork experiential activation and programming across its three offices in the U.S.: Havas New York, Havas Chicago and Arnold. With an eye toward creating a more accurate reflection of the community, the platform seeks to celebrate, educate and positively influence the network.
Each office will have this interactive experience, and Havas is raising funds for Black Girls Code, and locally, has developed partnerships with black-owned businesses, influential black artists, and diversity and inclusion networking groups in the industry and beyond to ensure conversations about representation.
Every year, the activation is led by black employees and allies, who design a concept rooted in the current black experience at work. In this way, the activation remains, according to the agency, “authentic and culturally relevant.”