Four years ago, in 2016, the #blacklivesmatter movement was thrust into the cultural conversation. It offered an opportunity to have a much needed and overdue conversation. That conversation happened and went away. Diversity officers were hired, conferences were held, and actions were promised, but most of this was token BS. Real change never happened, and now we look stupid, dumb, and complicit.
Today, we are being told to listen, watch, and learn, but most importantly, to do something. We can no longer be blind and ignorant. It is up to us to lead by example and to lead the change.
We need to take an in-depth look at our business and its terrible track record on hiring and promoting black Americans. The excuse of not being able to find the talent is no longer tenable. The talent is there, and they can be found, and they will make us, our work, and what we do better.
This week we will see continued protests across America because not only do people want to see justice for George Floyd, they want to see change.
Companies like Netflix, Amazon, Nike, and Adidas are coming forward with messages, which many are mentioning as a good start, but they will be judged on their actions that back up and support those statements.
Let’s not be surprised if agencies and holding companies make similar statements, but if they are just making statements, shame on them.
Now is the time for action - to open up opportunities for black Americans in advertising, to promote black Americans in advertising, and to face up to an eliminate the insidious acts of racism that the few black Americans who work in advertising experience every day.
Strategists have a responsibility to help their fellow agency colleagues get smart. They need to know the truth, the reality, and the challenges that black Americans face trying to get a job in our business and career. Strategists you need to wake up your colleagues- make them smarter.
Let’s start a conversation, but one that needs to change. I can already see some rolling of eyes and the immediate pushback because right now, the industry is in the middle of the worst crisis in its history and struggling, but as Rahm Emanuel said, ‘Don’t Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste.’
America needs to change, and the ad industry can and needs to play its part in this change, but it cannot legitimately do this without more Black Americans in its ranks and senior leadership.
Finally, and significantly, we also need to start treating their current base of Black American employees with the respect and dignity they deserve.
If anyone wants to talk about this, let me know.
Ed Cotton is the former CSO at BSSP and now works as a consultant for brands and agencies.