Editor’s note: This interview furthers the big, bold question – Where Are All The Black People? – that found its answer at #aw8. More questions will be raised – and answered – on the path to #awIX. The AWSC will lead the diversity charge.
by Tamika Cosen
Besides the obvious need, what was the catalyst for the “Where Are All The Black People?” series?
According to agency lore – per Jeff Goodby and verified by Ed Crayton – there was an agency party at what was then Goodby, Berlin, Silverstein. In the early 90s, Ed Crayton – who I believe may have been the agency’s first Black writer – walked up to Jeff at the party and inquired, “Hey, Jeff, where are all the Black people?”
Jeff had no answers for Ed, and that simple question stuck with him.
So one day in early April, Jeff called me, told me the story about Ed – who I knew – and asked if I wanted to partner up with him. He said he had already talked to Mary Warlick of The One Club, and she was absolutely down for the cause. And that’s how “Where Are All The Black People?” was born.
Not in 2011, but around 1992.
Without Ed’s simple question, without Jeff’s heart and without Mary’s support…you’d have no event.
In addition to overall lack of exposure, what do you feel are some of the reasons that minorities don’t enter the advertising industry? And what can the industry do to change that?
It’s kinda weird. We’re ad people. We solve our clients’ problems.
We’re like that rap lyric from that song “Must Be The Music” from the 90s:
“There’s not a problem we can’t fix, because we can do it in the mix!”
That’s what we do! But when it comes to getting more people of color in the business, it’s our achilles heal.
You’d think that most of the ad agencies were run by a bunch of white supremacists. But in reality, of course, they’re not. Most of these cats are good dudes. Most of them even voted for Obama. So it’s quite odd that they’re comfortable with putting a Black man in the Oval Office, but they won’t put a Black man in the CCO’s office.
And the main reason for that is many of them refuse to think outside the box.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for through traditional channels, make like a creative and figure it out.
It ain’t rocket science.
Go to a comedy club, go to open mic night at a poetry slam, go to a college play, check out a T-shirt designer, follow a digital artist, hang with Kanye and have him point you to some lyricists.
Then hire the ones you like and train them.
Don’t say you don’t know what to do with them or you don’t know where to put them.
It ain’t rocket science.
It’s great that we are having this conversation – that a greater focus is being put on diversity in this industry – but why the wait? Why are we still having this conversation in 2011? In other words, when do you think we will stop asking “Where Are All the Black People?”
I kind of alluded to it, but the simple answer is that many people in the industry aren’t creative enough or care enough to figure out what to do with someone who doesn’t look, sound, think or act the way they do.
And the sad part is, this goes for Black CD’s, too.
I can’t blame it all on my White brothas.
I was at an event and this Black kid was clearly talented and he had more creativity in his pinky finger than anyone in the room. The White cats said, “He’s talented, but Jimmy, we don’t know where to put him.”
Well, I expected that.
But when the CD brotha (i.e., Black dude) said the same exact thing, I was like WTF!
Kinda like Black-on-Black crime.
However, having said all of that, I personally believe that events such as “Where Are All The Black People?” will not have a long run.
The world is changing too quickly.
And if you don’t change with it, you’ll be out of business.
So since EVERYONE digs money – Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Pink and Purple people included…I believe a change is gonna come relatively swiftly. Of course, it can’t come soon enough for many, and for some it will still be too late.
And that’s a shame. And that’s very sad.
Please name one thing that you want minority students who are considering a career in advertising to know before they get into this industry.
If you’re a person of color, you have to be crazy.
And by that I mean you have to go H.A.M.
And by that I mean, you have to believe in yourself even when everyone is telling you that you suck.
NEVER, EVER, EVER take NO for answer, but all the while…it is imperative that you keep honing your craft and improving.