It’s Black History Month! Is the Ad Agency C Suite More Colorful Yet?

"The customer is always right!" Iconic ad man Marcus Graham inspired a generation of African Americans to pursue careers in advertising. So what happened?

Welcome to Black History Month 2011! With the arrival of the month-long celebration of Black history and culture, we hoped to have positive news regarding African American’s growth and advancement in the world of marketing communications and advertising. Alas, we don’t.

When chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, John Elliott Jr., spoke at the 51st Annual American Association of Advertising Agencies‘ meeting, he called the failure of the industry to hire a greater number of African Americans “the great moral issue of our time.” That meeting was in 1968.

From 1975 to 2006, the percentage of African American managers and professionals in the advertising industry has only increased from 2.3 percent to 5.2 percent [Brandweek, Sept. 26, 2010 – “Perspective: View From the Front Lines“]. Even more alarming? African Americans earn only $0.80 for every dollar earned by their similarly qualified White counterparts [Madison Avenue Project, 2009]. Do you realize that during the 2010 Super Bowl not one of the 52 ads produced and aired had a person of color as the creative director? Only 6 percent of those creative directors were female. Well, we could go on with this dark cloud but there are rays of light that need to be recognized.

Read more on those shaking up the status quo

4A or AAAA (American Association of Advertising Agencies) and its President and CEO Nancy Hill have been and continue to eb on the frontline of improving diversity within the industry. Inspired by recent Federal Equal Opportunity Commission reports, reports presented by the NAACP, as well as other third party claims highlighting the lack of diversity and opportunity within the industry, Hill has partnered with Howard University and initiated a new program that will identify, prepare and place African Americans in mid-level positions with advertising agencies. The focus is not just about placement but also equipping the candidates for long-term success in the industry.

In this joint initiative with Howard University and the John H. Johnson School of Communications, Ms. Adrianne C. Smith has been appointed as executive director of the Center for Excellence in Advertising (CEA). The CEA works directly with AAAA in developing the curriculum for this new diversity initiative. Although the partnership was just initiated in 2009, it is already bearing great results! The program has recently graduated its first class of over 15 candidates who have been placed with major advertising agencies.

IMAGES USA is proud to be the only multicultural advertising agency that has partnered with this initiative since the formation of the program in 2009. We look forward to even greater results in the future and adding to the legacy of the celebration of Black History Months for years to come.

Editor’s Note: Thanks again to IMAGES VP, Account Service & Marketing Strategy, John “JC” Cash for this post.

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