By Ron Owens

As a seasoned-marketing and advertising professional, who happens to be Black, I have faced or been confronted by many interesting challenges, bias and bigotry in my 50-year plus advertising career. While attending several recent industry functions, I have overheard fellow marketing professionals discuss “how to fill the talent gap” and the “need for better marketing to attract super-talented, more highly skilled people.” While I totally agree that recruitment is one of the major challenges facing our industry today, the solution to the talent gap and recruitment challenges may be, in part, due to diversity, or should I say, a lack thereof. Many marketing communications professionals point out the fact that despite the continuous chatter relative to the merits of diversity and inclusion, there is a hesitancy and failure by most business leaders, employers, and yes, top management, to embrace it. Diversity is not a “dirty” word and it’s not just about race, creed, color or ethnicity. It’s about differences and values including age, religion, the “physically-challenged,” generational, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented, hyphenated minorities. 

No matter the industry, a wider net must be cast for talent and get away from sameness, a “cookie-cutter” image or a workforce consisting of clones. Ad & PR people must rid themselves of the “one size fits all,” that black and brown people are “dark-skinned white people,” and “Black and Hispanic people are monolithic” mentality. In other words, “ignore them or they will go away.” Experience has taught me that diversity and inclusion stimulate candid, open discussion, fresh thinking, new ideas, different perspectives and different ways of looking at situations, problems and opportunities. Hiring people who look, think and act as we do, is not the total answer. It’s short-sighted, and simply, does not make good business sense. Today’s young adults “march to a different beat.” They have a different work ethic, different aspirations, and desires. They also have different tastes, brand preferences and “favorites.” Further, many surveys have concluded that firms which are diverse and inclusive tend to be more productive, profitable and are credited with having increased clients’ share of market more than their non-diverse counterparts. Let’s recognize that and make every sincere effort to create a business environment, climate, and culture, that is, not only diverse, but inclusive and respectful — one that creates, encourages and values employee contribution.    

Let’s face it…today’s consumer looks dramatically different than he or she did a decade ago, and most industries, like advertising, have failed to keep pace. Today, we can no longer ignore the significant growth and impact of diverse segments of our population combined with their over $2 trillion in purchasing power. In fact, if this trend continues, and the Census Bureau predicts that it will, by the year 2045, today’s so-called minorities, will be tomorrow’s majority. No doubt you have heard that before. It’s nothing new. If time permits, check out the latest Census Bureau statistics for population growth. For instance, today’s advertising workforce does not reflect or even come close to the American mosaic, and that, in and of itself, is not only a disservice to our industry, but to the clients we serve. We, in the advertising industry, are professional communicators, and as such, should mirror or relate to the consumer population to whom we communicate. Advertising is an idea business and good ideas can come from many unlikely sources.

Advertising and public relations are both under scrutiny and fire today by many threats and unnamed challenges to maintain our growth, profitability and our continued existence, while satisfying the goals, needs and desires of our clients. We have come to realize that for long-term business survival and success, we will have to become more diverse and inclusive. And that includes having a comprehensive, full-service supplier diversity program to help us. Simply put, from a purely business point of view, the color is not white, black, brown, or yellow. It’s green! We have also learned that talent, skills and the value that one brings to the table are the more important elements in personnel selection criteria.

I have also learned over time to dismiss racial bias, indignities and unfairness when encountered. I am now totally convinced that in this new America with its ever-changing demographics and consumer buying habits / tastes, that diversity, which began as a moral imperative, has become a reality and, an economic necessity.    

Ron Owens is a partner of MDB Communications; Co-founder /Principal, LMO Advertising; former VP, Bozell Worldwide; VP, TMP Worldwide; Governor, American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s); Vice Chair, American Advertising Federation (AAF); VP, Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and Past President, Ad Club of Metropolitan Washington, DC. Ron is a frequent guest lecturer at regional colleges and universities and can be reached via Ronowens221@yahoo.com   

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