Agency Diversity From An Account Management Level

Today, agencies are making big moves to ensure they have the right talent mix to be as diverse as their clients and to position their brands in the new modern marketing era. That’s great news for those who don’t fit the standard mold of an account team member.

Now we have some data to show what agencies are doing—and what they can do—to be standard bearers when it comes to having truly representative teams. Last month in New York, The Holmes Report hosted an event called “PR Diversity: The Struggle is Real”. Angela Chitkara, Professor and Program Director of Branded and Integrated Communications for The City College of New York unveiled new findings from the very first qualitative research study of PR agency CEOs surrounding diversity and inclusion.

The research findings showed near-universal agreement among agency CEOs about the importance of D&I for business reasons based on three major factors: 1. A more diverse population; 2. Client expectations; and 3. Greater diversity equals greater creativity. Chitkara also highlighted a few of the country’s top companies driving the need for more diversity on the agency side, including HP, General Mills and Verizon; each formally requested that their respective agencies submit plans for significantly increasing women and minorities in key creative and strategy roles.

Yet while the need for diversity was universally acknowledged among the top brass, the findings showed that there was less consensus about some other issues. Among them, the definition of D&I; the role of D&I in hiring decisions; approaches; and strategy vs. outcome. The goal of the research is to provide a self-examination to benchmark where we are as an industry, and to bridge the disconnect between what we say and what we do. In simple terms, how do we convert theories about D&I into actual change? Examining and acknowledging where we are in the process is an important step.

Hearing what the various CEOs had to say during Chitkara’s research was fascinating. Some of the findings were unexpected and insightful, like the amount of time and personal involvement the CEOs felt was necessary to implement new strategies and innovative approaches. Other findings were not a big shock. In fact, Chitkara’s very first slide – a photo compilation of the 18 agency CEOs who participated in the qualitative study – was a stark visual reminder of the work left to do to truly achieve inclusion. Not a single photo showed a person of color.

The good news is that the research provides agencies with an understanding of where they need to go to meet business objectives with a 2020 mindset. That means the vision for the future of the world’s top agencies puts D&I at the very forefront of the industry model.

Changing corporate culture takes time, so changing an entire industry is a tremendous feat. But all journeys begin with the first step. We can see the industry taking that step. Chitkara opened her presentation with a quote by the celebrated former Marine Corps officer and co-founder of Carolina for Kibera, Rye Barcott, “Talent is universal; opportunity is not.” However, I can see the efforts being made to change the very core of the industry and to provide more opportunities to more people. That creates a sense of optimism from an account management level.

As I sat among industry colleagues, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of progress at the mere fact that we were all there to learn more about diversity and inclusion through the eyes of the top-most leaders at the biggest agencies in the world. I can remember a time when there were very few people of color on any given account team, and even fewer in leadership positions. I’m glad to know that a larger conversation around D&I, particularly at the CEO level, is happening, and that there is a concentrated effort to change the industry – and subsequently the account teams – to be more reflective of the real world.

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