Some people simply talk and others do. Tiffany R. Warren belongs to the latter category. When she tired of seeing the same groups being honored year after year at advertising awards shows, Warren took it upon herself to create a space to celebrate diversity in the advertising, marketing, PR and entertainment industries. Now in its 10th year, ADCOLOR has grown to include myriad events and programs aimed to not only champion diverse professionals in these industries, but also to truly prepare them to soar in careers with longevity and purpose. The theme of the 2014 ADCOLOR Awards and Industry Conference, taking place Sept. 17-20 in Beverly Hills, Calif., is “We Are Here” to further drive home the point that these industries are rife with diverse talent. This year’s awards will honor Judy Smith, founder and president of Smith & Company (aka Scandal‘s Olivia Pope) and Charles King, partner/agent in the Motion Picture Department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.
“I always felt compelled to do something that was of service. That’s just a family trait. My family is full of teachers and daycare providers and people that just give back. We have some sort of DNA thing going on,” Warren shares. Her altruistic gene must be strong because in addition to the transformative work she does in her roles with Omnicom and ADCOLOR, she serves on the boards for several organizations such as Ghetto Film School and GLAAD and somehow finds the time to mentor 126 people. You read that right. One hundred and twenty-six people.
Here, learn what it takes to be a true agent of change and find out Warren’s thoughts on the current state of diversity in the advertising industry.
Name: Tiffany R. Warren
Position: Senior VP and chief diversity officer, Omnicon Group; founder and president, ADCOLOR
Resume: Started her career as an assistant account executive at Hill Holiday and went on to work as an assistant account executive at Arnold Worldwide. At age 25, was the manager of diversity programs for the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Returned to Arnold and worked as VP, director of multicultural programs and community outreach. Founded ADCOLOR and the ADCOLOR Awards in 2005. Currently senior VP, chief diversity officer at Omnicom Group and president of ADCOLOR. Founding member of the Roundtable of Advertising Diversity Executives (RADE). Honored as a 2007 Advertising Age Woman to Watch.
Birthdate: August 17, 1974
Education: BA in liberal arts with a concentration in communications from Bentley University
Marital status: In a relationship
Media mentor: Marc Stephenson Strachan, VP of brand marketing for Diageo, North America
Best career advice received: “‘Don’t get too much ink,’ [meaning] don’t rest on your laurels and don’t read what people write about you. You’re as good as your last success and you’re as good as your last failures. When [Marc Stephenson Strachan] gave me those words he meant, you’re probably going to be written about. Don’t let that define who you are. Just keep moving forward.”
Guilty pleasure: “I just straight watch Bravo. Andy [Cohen]’s amazing. Watching Bravo is like playing the slots in the casino. You don’t know that time has passed.”
Last book read: The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer
Twitter handle: @DiverStar
How has the scope of your role at Omnicom morphed over the years you’ve worked there?
It’s really grown tremendously because I don’t just oversee the diversity and inclusion [D&I] efforts for Omnicom Group, but I’m very, very deeply involved in the direction our industry is taking around diversity and inclusion. So that requires me to work with people that are my competitors. But diversity is the great equalizer, so we really have it in our minds that working together helps the greater good. So you have that role of D&I. Then you have crisis management — you help agencies work through and mire through situations that come up because there’s a lack of diversity on a team or in a room. You have supplier diversity — you’re helping to get vendors in front of agencies so they can work with them to create really great work on behalf of our client.
I think for the past five years [my role] began as someone who was just sort of attacking problems like whack-a-mole, and it’s morphed into really being a counselor and being the head of a very incredible group of people now that we have CDOs at almost every single one of our networks.
Is being a change agent an innate quality or can it be honed as a skill?
I think it’s an innate quality, but you can certainly hone it. You have to like people. You have to like when people are hot messes and when they’re not. When they’re scared, when they fail and when they’ve failed you. You have to like every aspect of the human nature in order to be an effective change agent. We’ve had some not so good times in our industry and that’s [when] I grew the most as a professional and as a leader — during those times when people were doubting whether this industry could pull itself out of the hole of this lack of diversity.
We still have a long way to go. I’m not celebrating. There’s no banner above me saying, ‘We made it.’ James Baldwin said a pretty incredible quote. It’s actually going to be part of my opening letter for the Adweek special section that we do with ADCOLOR every year, and it says, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ That quote gives me calmness because it’s like I’m not going to change everything overnight, but I’m going to wake up every day trying to change it. And that’s how progress is made.
Why were you initially wary of calling ADCOLOR a movement?
Because it wasn’t [one] at the time. It was an awards show. When you start something I think it’s kind of audacious to say, ‘I’m going to start a movement.’ And then the feedback that I heard was deafening. ‘Tiff, this is something special.’ ‘Omigod, when I left ADCOLOR, I feel like I want to change the world.’ Those are heady things to hear from people when you’re just thinking it’s an awards show. So I had to eventually concede. So now it’s a movement, and I have the best team in the world helping me craft that. I’m so proud of the people involved with ADCOLOR. On a volunteer basis, a little under 100 people [work with ADCOLOR] just because they’re doing it from their heart. They want to give back.
What has inspired you during this milestone year of ADCOLOR’s 10th anniversary?
For the last decade we’ve really been proud to celebrate trailblazers and legends, but also support the rising stars by giving them a place to grow and to [measure] themselves against other people. [So they] have an achievable standard when they see what the lifetime achievement honorees have accomplished.
But the fact is there’s still work to be done because even though our nation is more diverse than ever — we have an African American president in office — the population of our country is not yet truly reflected in the walls of our agencies. But that’s why I think ADCOLOR is so critically important. That’s why in this 10th year, we’re going to push harder, we’re repositioning ourselves and we’re coming out with a new platform that’s going to be announced during ADCOLOR weekend that we’re excited to share with the world.
What’s the most poignant memory you have of someone telling you what ADCOLOR has done for him or her?
My mentor [Marc Stephenson Strachan] pushes so hard for it at Diageo, and he recently said, ‘Tiff, you’ve created something really meaningful and I want to be a part of that, and I want our company to be next to that.’ Our contributions vary. Someone could come to ADCOLOR and find their next great talent. Or they come to the conference and they hear something that makes them do something differently at their agency. Or they’re at the awards show and they’re just blown away by the caliber of ‘amazingness’ of our honorees and our nominees. I quantify ADCOLOR in terms of emotion and what you feel when you’re in that room — the awards show, the conference. I’m not challenging the industry to recreate what we do, but I do think we really have created something special, and we’re mindful of that.
When you look at the climate of the industry right now, what are some striking changes you’ve noticed within the last few years since ADCOLOR has been around?
I think the biggest change has been the types of ads being done. We added ‘Ad of the Year’ to the ADCOLOR Awards because there’s been so much incredible work being done by great brands. Diversity is the new black in the fact that there are some great ads from brands like Duracell and from a lot of our nominees (the ‘It’s Beautiful’ campaign from Coca-Cola and the basketball commercial from Guinness). We have some really powerful commercials that have diversity in them, and they’re emotional because they tell a great story. I see a lot of LGBT awareness awakening in advertising; I feel very positive that we’re going to get to a place where this is commonplace. I’m seeing more and more ads defining what’s going on in our society. And it’s a really exciting thing to be part of an industry that does that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.