It’s hardly a secret that adland in the U.S. doesn’t even come close to being representative of the population to which it is tasked with selling things. While things aren’t quite as bad as they were during the “Mad Men” days, it’s a fact that the racial makeup of most general-market agencies hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.
So rather than mark Black History month with yet another round of numbers that haven’t changed or with well-meaning efforts by holding companies and trade organizations that will have critics rolling their eyes, we figured we would simply talk to some African-Americans prominent in the industry.
Who are they? Whether on the marketer or the agency side, they’re leaders focused first and foremost on getting the job done: seeking creative ways to sell things to consumers.
We’ve compiled and trimmed answers here, but stay tuned to AdAge.com as we post the longer individual interviews over the next few days.
Ad Age: How/why did you get into the business?
Jimmy Smith, chairman-CEO-CCO, Amusement Park Entertainment: I said it before and I’ll say it again: “Bewitched!” Darrin Stephens and his wife, Samantha, introduced me to the ad game. If it weren’t for Endora, Darrin would’ve been living the life! And Larry Tate taught me to beware of account people. (Just kidding!)
Leontyne Green, U.S. marketing manager, Ikea North America:As a restaurant general manager, I became curious about the links between consumer behavior and purchase intent, and my ability to drive my business. I subsequently received my MBA from Clark Atlanta University as a way to transition into marketing. I started my marketing career at Johnson & Johnson‘s McNeil Consumer Healthcare.
Kheri Holland Tillman
Rob Jackson, U.S. director-marketing, McDonald’s: As a novice student, it was simply exciting. The ability to influence and understand consumer behavior was incredible. And to see it applied in a strategic format in the development of communications, plans and programs was fascinating.
Ad Age: Any advertising or marketing role models?
Kheri Holland Tillman, VP-trade marketing and sales strategy, Heineken USA: One person who stands out is Ann Fudge, who after being at Kraft Foods … went on to be president at Y&R . She has been a mentor to me over the past years. She and I worked together at Kraft . To be able to see an African-American female excel in business and in advertising was something that you don’t see that often — you don’t see it enough.
Ms. Green: During my time at CAU, I had the opportunity to meet and be exposed to Ann Fudge and Kenneth Chenault. Those discussions were great opportunities to listen and learn from other African-American leaders in corporate America.
Keith Cartwright, creative chairman of soon-to-be-named agency: Well, aside from Alma and Arthur Cartwright, I’d have to say Dan [Wieden]. You cannot look at that company, over the past 30 years, on so many levels, and not admire what they’ve created. Now, Dan’s not black. Although he told me once he wanted to be.
Mr. Smith: Pop owned a few different businesses. He had an entrepreneurial spirit. He even owned an Arby’s. So I learned a lot from him. I gotta give Alma Hopkins and Lewis Williams some dap. They both worked at Burrell, my first gig. At FCB in Chicago, Al Hawkins took it from there, along with Gwen Dawkins. … Jo Muse — the godfather of how I approach advertising today — gave me my big break when he hired me to work on Nike at Muse Cordero Chen. Then there was the “W&K and the rest is history” era. Dan W. hooked a brotha up. [Mr. Smith’s complete list will be posted online.]
Jayanta Jenkins, global creative director-Gatorade, TBWA /Chiat/Day, Los Angeles: My first role model was Jimmy Smith, who took me under his wing as a mentor shortly after I started at the Portfolio Center back in 1994 after graduating [from Virginia Commonwealth University]. … Once I got started (at The Martin Agency), Pam El [VP-marketing at State Farm] was someone who really helped when I first got in the business.
Ad Age: What are your thoughts on marketing segmentation?
Kimberly Paige, assistant VP/African-American marketing group, Coca-Cola North America: Market segmentation is important because you have to ensure your brands are connecting with the right people at the right time with the right message and offering. … This doesn’t necessarily imply that ethnicity is the only way to segment consumers. Like most characteristics, ethnicity is an important identifier, but the degree of its importance can be very situational or contextual. And sometimes people see themselves as more than one segment. Our approach is not an either/or but an “and” strategy.
Ms. Green: When the insights are used appropriately, in a manner that supports the values, beliefs or culture of their consumer vs. perpetuating broad generalizations, marketers can begin to build trust for their brands.
Ms. Tillman: [It’s] necessary, but it’s not as simple as segmentation by African-American, Hispanic and white. It needs to be the psychographics along with the demographics. … So you have to make sure that you’re breaking it down into more than just an ethnic group.
Mr. Jackson: Segmented marketing is critical. It’s an established discipline. Whether it’s based on ethnicity, age or sex, segmentation is a way to get to those high-opportunity consumers in a very efficient way.
Ad Age: What do you think about the diversity issue in adland?
Mr. Cartwright: The conversation has changed, and people are much more aware than five years ago. That said, the numbers across-the-board are still anemic … and don’t give a fair representation of people we’re marketing to.
Ms. Green: There is a huge opportunity to increase diversity among the more senior roles, on both the creative and account sides. There has been an increase in diversity among junior roles [in agencies] on the account side, but I [see more] opportunity for increased diversity on the creative side. And I think there is a need for African-American-focused agencies.
Mr. Smith: I’m not 100% sure, because I didn’t do a survey back in the day, but I could have sworn there were more black folks in the biz when I began my career. … If the African-American shops are smart (and they are) they’ll seize the moment, understand the opportunity, make like Don Cornelius and provide clients with the hippest trips in American advertising. Most general-market agencies can’t fake the funk, and African-American agencies should stop running away from the funk.
Mr. Jenkins: It has changed and continues to change for the better on a daily basis. … [But] I think until there is even more diversity in general-market agencies, there will continue to be a need for African-American, Hispanic and Asian shops.
Ms. Paige: Diversity is an opportunity in the ad agency space. Given the shift in the consumer landscape, and the cultural exchange and fluidity that is happening among all people, especially youth and millennials, it is incumbent that agencies continuously evolve to ensure they have in-depth knowledge and a grasp of all consumers.
Ad Age: What are your thoughts on African-Americans and entrepreneurialism in advertising and marketing?
Mr. Cartwright: Entrepreneurialism is a way of thinking. It’s an approach to life. There’s so much going on right now in media and tech, I think it’s a great time for anyone to start a company, regardless of race.
Mr. Jenkins: Prince left Warner Bros. a decade ago because he didn’t like the way record execs were taking a lion’s share of profit from what he created. … I think that’s what you’re seeing in our industry. People who want to change the business model and blaze new territory for the way our ideas are developed.
Mr. Smith: Starting my own company was an easy decision. It had nothing to do with being black and everything to do with wanting to take brands to the moon, Mars and the stars via advertising that didn’t look or smell like advertising. I just simply wanted to make like Bill Bernbach, Georg Olden, Lee Clow, Dan Wieden, John Jay, Jo Muse and Jon Kamen and change the game. … As for other blacks starting their own businesses, I predict in seven years we won’t be having this conversation — because many brands will be out of business if we’re still having this conversation in seven years. And the CMOs of most brands are intelligent. They know what time it is. They see the handwriting on the wall. They know what color the money is. It’s black and yellow, brown AND white.