Philip McKenzie is Executive Director of AdvancingDiversity.org and Chief Strategy Officer, MediaVillage. Starting a new year is usually a time when all eyes and intentions turn toward the future. In that regard, the sentiments expressed for a fresh start in the early goings of 2021 are very consistent. But after a year like 2020 filled with such grieving and social unrest, the desire to move forward is even more acute. However, in our desire to move forward, it is crucial not to lose sight of why 2020 was so painful. The murder of George Floyd rocked us to our core. Cries of "I Can't Breathe" were mixed with calls to say "Say Her Name" as we also asked for justice for the murder of Breonna Taylor. Social unrest roiled our streets and demands for change in corporate America followed. The advertising industry was rightly taken to task for its lack of diversity. In response to that criticism, promises were made far and wide by leaders in the industry to do better. In Dear Advertising Community, a new open letter created by the Disney Ad Sales team, they ask the industry to hold fast to its 2020 promises and provide an intention for a better 2021. Signed by seven industry leaders: dentsu, ADCOLOR, Horizon Media, Omnicom MediaGroup, Publicis Groupe, Translation, and MediaVillage, this letter is a blueprint for a better advertising industry.
For Jeanette Herbert, Manager, Brand Connect, Disney Advertising Sales, it was evident that more work needed to be done. "Following the racial reckoning last summer, our Disney Advertising Sales team formed four executive committees, and there was a groundswell of passion and interest from our employees. This letter is one of many initiatives that we've mobilized" Dear Advertising Community speaks for itself in tone and candor. Its opening salvo speaks truth to power "It has been 241 days since the death of George Floyd." Let's sit with that for a moment. It has been 240 days since the death of George Floyd. Time has indeed passed, but the urgency for change in the advertising industry has not dimmed. Dear Advertising Community recognizes that the industry must resist the temptation to fall into its old ways. What is novel in the letter structure is the realization on the part of the Disney team that they also have work to do. The letter reads as much as an internal mandate as an outward-facing manifesto. The letter states, "A change in any system cannot happen without the intentional efforts of all those who are actively involved. For our industry, this includes us, and this includes you: agencies, brands, publishers, and associations to all be part of building."
The open letter format is not new, but the Disney Ad Sales team's approach was a novel one. There was an acute awareness that a "business as usual" approach would not work to rise to the moment. Herbert says, "Traditionally, we see these types of letters coming from leaders of organizations. As this letter was being written, we quickly realized that having this come from one leader would not be reflective of the efforts of all those who have raised their hands to be a part of the organization's diversity work." This distinction is picked up on and expanded by Marino Radovich, vice president, Disney Advertising Sales. He says,"The inclusion of all stakeholders brings forward diverse thinking, deeper awareness/education and ultimately, accountability to the unified goals. This letter's committee has representatives from the assistant to executive vice president level, from all different backgrounds and experiences. That's key for authentic and lasting advancement – representation of all kinds, at all levels." These are illuminating ideas that have, in turn, become process. It is fitting that a letter composed to call attention to the overdue work that is required regarding DIE would only make sense if it were the result of a collaborative and inclusive process.
The letter calls for industry accountability and makes three asks: (1) Ensure industry panel discussions and events are inclusive of diverse talent and topics of conversation (2) Define best practices for recruiting and development that enable diverse talent to move and shift within the industry and (3) Be more transparent on our progress and work together to establish strategy, analysis, accountability and metrics on diversity and inclusion efforts. Laying out this type of roadmap in the letter is essential, as Herbert says, "... it will be a focusing tool to keep ourselves accountable and motivated. Second, I hope this will inspire organizations to join us on this journey or at the very least, give ideas for tangible ways to approach diversity work."
I am on the record that rhetoric won't save us if we are serious about driving change in the industry. But that does not mean to suggest that thoughtful words reinforced with accountability don't matter. Just the opposite. Words matter as they can drive much needed and overdue action. Changing the industry requires work, and as Radovich says when quoting a colleague, "this work requires stamina and endurance …" Luckily, we have both stamina and endurance in abundant supply and are happy to do this work in solidarity with Disney Ad Sales and the industry at large.
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The opinions expressed here are the author's views and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet.