A few days after Droga5 celebrated its win of the ADCOLOR agency of record account across industry press, the pushback began.
Walter Geer, executive creative director of experience design at VMLY&R, challenged ADCOLOR founder Tiffany Warren to explain why the organization, which is dedicated to uplifting and advancing underrepresented talent in the creative industry, did not choose a BIPOC or minority-owned agency to represent its creative account.
Geer, who is very active on the invite-only audio social network Clubhouse, asked Warren to discuss the issue with him publicly on Instagram Live.
The post, which has received 217 likes and 72 comments in the three hours it's been live since the time this story was published, has received support from members of the advertising community.
Gabrielle Shirdan, VP creative director of McCann NY, said:
“Exhausted. Frustrated. Disappointed. This decision and the heavy announcement around it was a blow to the culture, to the community, to all creatives of color and to Adcolor’s credibility. Just as damaging as when brands that require the Black consumer go to agencies with no Black creatives. But, Adcolor?! This could have been a powerful moment to lead by example. To demonstrate the true value of Black leadership, Black minds, Black creatives and Black owned or even just led agencies. What happened to practice what you preach. How about, “Do it for the culture, not the clout.”
"Dear Black / POC creatives + agencies, you all are so brilliant and necessary, please don’t allow this selfish decision to sway you. Agencies, when brands like this or brands that need the Black consumer, coin, culture and creative to exist... if you have NO leadership that reflects that audience...respectfully decline. Humbly admit, “we’re not the best partner for you...we recommend going to a Black owned shop...” What a statement it would have been if Droga5 made that call. They don’t need this work. Nor do they need this many people checking their leadership page for diversity. Yikes. #AllyShip”
Nathan Young, head of strategy at Deloitte Digital in Chicago, and founder of 600 & Rising, said:
“This is a conversation that needs to happen but won't happen. Glad you're keeping it real.I said what I said and paid the price gladly.
"Staying out of it this time around, but good to see people finally taking a harder look.”
Dabo Che, CEO at CHE Creative, said:
“I think it's called for. ADCOLOR Conference and Awards cannot be a shell for holding companies and general market agencies to hide behind -A haven to make themselves feel good about diversity. Truth be told, they've rarely celebrated BIPOC owned business'. More often than not, it's BIPOC talent working in the big house. This should be about ownership, empowerment, and leverage. I don't see that here.”
Reginald Osborne, Principal at Van Osborne Group, said:
“Yes, very disappointing to not see an MC agency selected. But not surprised. Very similar to when BLM hired JWT as their agency. Part of breaking down economic systemic racism is more opportunities for MC agencies to lead.”
Geer told Campaign US: “ADCOLOR is an incredible company. They do an immense amount of work for people of color, especially Black and brown people. When looking for an AOR, they certainly chose one of the best, most innovative creative agencies in the world. What I was thrown off by was that it wasn't an agency that has more representation, in terms of Black leadership, or even a multicultural agency.
“I could riff off a slew of names of agencies that could've taken the work, even pro bono,” he added.
Some respondents were specifically miffed by how ADCOLOR handled communication surrounding the announcement, which was covered with few details on diverse representation on the ACOLOR account team by major industry trade publications, including Campaign US.
The announcement could have been better received if it mentioned which agencies were in the pitch room, why Droga5 was selected and how much BIPOC talent was assigned to the ADCOLOR team.
McCann NY’s Shirdan added in the comments:
“Here’s a suggested cleanup: What should’ve been apart of the announcement... as apart of the deal, AdColor is requiring the agency to hire X number of POC talent and requiring that Adcolor recruits are given the opportunity for the creative. Perhaps. At least, it lessens the blow. Free advice :) Respectfully.”
Geer told Campaign US that his intent with the post was not to take a shot at Warren specifically, but to ask a broader question about transparency.
“I think it's fair to ask, can we understand a little bit more about how this occurred?” he said. “Because as one of the largest Black organizations in the country, [and Warren] has so many Black and brown people that follow her lead and even aspire to be her, when we're in a place now for the past 11 months where we've all said we need to commit to doing more, that was a perfect opportunity to lead by example.”
He adds: “What does it say when a black-owned company doesn't want to do business with another black-owned company?”
This is not the first time Geer has criticized the creative industry for its lack of progress on diversity, equity and inclusion promises. Earlier this month, Geer called out Gary Vaynerchuk for failing to deliver on a promise he made to add two Black leaders to VaynerMedia’s C-suite by the first quarter of 2021.
Agencies have made very strong diversity, equity and inclusion pledges over the past year, in the wake of a string of police murders of Black citizens and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s clear that employees of color are holding them accountable.
“A lot of agencies and companies are trying to do the work. A lot of people of color are demanding the results, but we also know making drastic changes across any organization and company is difficult and takes lots of time,” Geer said. “So its not about [saying] 'we've done all these 50 things we promised,' but more about [saying] 'we still don't have it right, but we're making an attempt, and here is what our attempt looks like.'
“It's simply about transparency. Executives and leaders shouldn't feel concerned or worried about being honest and candid.”
Droga5 and ADCOLOR declined to comment.