Arnold Responds

The issue of diversity in our industry—meaning, the profound lack of it—is complex, and, with a few notable exceptions, runs deep and wide historically, currently and emotionally.

What my column painfully lacked was an overt recognition of the problem. I do not for one minute imagine this problem doesn’t exist. My intentions with the column were simple and twofold: to urge minorities—the ones who still feel they’re being excluded from this predominantly white business, and want in—to take advantage of the demands of the recent HRC agreement signed by some 11 general market agencies, and come bang on our doors. What the hell, it’s a start—and it will demand that these agencies at least meet you halfway. Secondly, I wanted to share my own experiences and the personal privilege of being part of some genuine multicultural and ethnic advertising and communications successes inside general market agencies, and early on with the Budweiser business.

Fortunate as I’ve been to be part of diverse teams whose only issue was the work and its genuineness—along with the shared joy of making it happen (and yeah, it was “all about the music”)—it’s clear that many, if not most, have not had the benefit of such experiences.

And so I heard from some of you. I’ve responded to every one of you, and invited you to meet with me and at the very least continue the dialogue, regardless of point of view or tone. Two of us are going to work together to see if we can find an agency for a black internship. One of you has invited me to join the New York Advertising Club’s diversity committee, and I’m honored to accept. I’ve also been accused of embracing “colored stereotypes” and been called an unknowing, “grinning old white man,” which I’ll accept as only half right. Maybe the point is, in a small way, we’ve ripped the scab off an ugly, insidious wound. And isn’t this kind of dialogue every bit as valuable as the more formal, and more removed, HRC hearings?

Remarkably, last Friday I’m sitting in Memphis Marroitt’s restaurant, still feeling the unsettling impact of the responses to my column, and none other than Rev. Jesse Jackson passes. You cannot mess with this kind of thing; it must be embraced. So I go over and introduce myself. And tell him that after 30 years in the ad business, and having the great experience of running the Bud account back when he came to St. Louis, I’ve written this column about agency diversity. He asks me to send him the piece, which of course I do. Maybe he’ll be moved to respond. In any case, encountering him at this juncture speaks volumes to me.

Yes, there’s a problem. But why not call it an opportunity, and agree to do something about it, together? I’m not done with this issue, not even close. Neither are you.