I remember feeling optimistic earlier this month when HP demanded its advertising and public relations agencies ramp up diversity by hiring more minorities and women. It was right after General Mills issued actual quotas to its ad agencies, telling them that creative departments must be staffed by at least 50% women and 20% people of color.
So I couldn't help but be disappointed to find they weren’t out in force — or present at all, actually -- at a multiday gathering with just one purpose: recognizing and learning from professionals of color and diversity champions in the creative industry.
Last week was the 10th anniversary of the AdColor Conference & Awards. Shockingly few brands were present. To echo Campaign US’ own editor, you should have been there.
Maybe it’s because I’m the owner of an MWBE, or because I’m a sucker for authenticity, but I can confidently say that AdColor is singularly the most "human" conference that I've attended in my 25 years in this business. No industry event is as void of pretense and ego. And that’s not due to a lack of superstars in the room.
Trust me, if Bozoma Saint John – Apple’s global marketing leader for iTunes and Beats, who stars in a new ad alongside James Corden -- can find the time to show up, then you can carve out a few days in your calendar, too.
The balance of Futures and pioneers in the same room created a sense of commitment to making our companies more diverse. Rarely will you attend an event that allows a newbie access to the likes of Luis Carr, president of media sales at BET; John Seifert, chairman and CEO of Ogilvy Worldwide; Pamela Stewart, VP of national retail sales at the Coca-Cola Company, entrepreneur and influencer Tai Beauchamp; Lucinda Martinez, SVP of multicultural marketing at HBO and other industry leaders who were committed and engaged. These executives understand that giving their time to rising stars will pay dividends to the fully integrated future that they want – the future that we all should want.
To all the brands and agencies that didn’t show up: Your absence was almost insulting given how much time you spend "talking the talk." By not walking it, you missed the opportunity to interact with the people who will better help define your message to all, particularly the people of color, LGBT, disabled and women, who make up the majority of your market’s buying potential.
If there was one encouraging aspect to the attendance at AdColor, it was the presence of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo and Twitter. Silicon Valley has long been criticized as a big offender when it comes to diversity, but they too now appear to be eclipsing the marketing world when it comes to making strides for minorities and women.
The bottom line is that diversity is not a black thing, Latino thing, Asian thing, LGBT thing or white thing. It’s an American thing. Diversity is the fabric of our country and it should be the fabric of your brand or agency.
You can't change the makeup of your workforce unless you actively participate, and sitting out the most important diversity event on the calendar doesn’t help. Forget Cannes and all the "people-watching" and chugging bottles of rosé on the Carlton terrace. Don't go to AdColor to be a part of the "it-crowd" or as an excuse to be seen. Go to experience a free flow of participation, engagement and advocacy.
In the words of the award-winning blogger and activist Luvvie Ajayi (who did show up), "LISTEN." Because by not being present, you simply can't hear.