Alison Kanski
Jun 11, 2020

Black employees from US agencies demand change from marketing leaders

Employees wrote that agencies’ Black Lives Matter statements “ring hollow.”

Black employees from US agencies demand change from marketing leaders

Black employees from more than 200 agencies are demanding better diversity and inclusion and wage equity policies and in the advertising industry.

The letter, signed by 600 agency employees, said the industry’s messages of solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters “ring hollow in the face of our daily lived experiences.” Job titles represented ranged from junior-level creative roles to C-suite executives.

Agencies across the industry have put out statements, made donations and established internal forums and programs for black employees after the death of George Floyd in police custody sparked large protests across the U.S.

The letter says that diversity and inclusion programs have made little difference to ensuring black voices are heard in the creative process or black employees are promoted to senior leadership roles. The group also denounces the “boys club” in advertising that keeps both women and black professionals from advancing in their careers and expressing their true selves at work.

“Though advertising agencies boast some of the most politically progressive business leaders in America, agency leadership has been blind to the systemic racism and inequity that persists within our industry. Many gallons of ink have been spilled on op-eds and think pieces, but tangible progress has eluded this industry for too long,” the letter reads. “We, the signatories of this letter, are calling out for change in the form of direct action. We stand in solidarity with our women, non-binary, LGBTQ+, disabled and [non-black people of color] colleagues who have made similar calls for change.”

The group listed 12 actions for all U.S. advertising agencies to take to address racism in the industry, listed below.

  1. Make a specific, measurable and public commitment to improve black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially senior and leadership positions.
  2. Track and publicly report workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the agency and the industry.
  3. Audit agency policies and culture to ensure the environment we work in is more equitable and inclusive to a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.
  4. Provide extensive bias training to human resources employees and all levels of management.
  5. Extend agency outreach to a more diverse representation of colleges, universities and art schools.
  6. Expand residencies and internship programs to candidates with transferable skills who may not have taken a traditional educational path toward advertising.
  7. Create, fund and support employee resource groups (ERGs) for black employees.
  8. Invest in management and leadership training, as well as mentorship, sponsorship and other career development programs for black employees
  9. Require all leadership to be active participants in company diversity and inclusion initiatives and tie success in those initiatives to bonus compensation.
  10. Create a diversity and inclusion committee made up of black and NBPOC employees to help shape diversity and inclusion policy and monitor its progress.
  11. Establish a diversity review panel to stem the spread of stereotypes in creative work and ensure offensive or culturally insensitive work is never published.
  12. Introduce a wage equity plan to ensure that black women, black men and people of color are being compensated fairly.

Employees from PR firms BCW, DeVries Global, Edelman, Golin, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, ICF Next, Ketchum, Marina Maher Communications, Ketchum, MSL and Weber Shandwick are among the signatories to the letter.

Employees from some of the largest healthcare advertising agencies are also represented, including Digitas Health, Havas Health & You, GSW, Klick Health, McCann Health, Razorfish Health, TBWA\WorldHealth, Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and Wunderman Thompson Health. 


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