How 4 Marketing Leaders Are Inspiring the Next Generation of Black Talent

By Karim Mohamed

It's Black History Month, but is Adland doing all it can to help Black talent across the industry flourish?

Well, if you look at the latest industry stats, the answer is a definite "no." It's moving in the right direction – with a recent Association of National Advertisers diversity report suggesting 7.2 percent of the industry identifies as Black or African American, up from 6.6 percent last year.

But nowhere near as fast as it should be – and certainly not at the senior levels. And, frankly, I'm tired. Tired of having to read reports and listen to our industry leaders talk about "the business case for diversity", but year after year we only see marginal improvements.

"You can't be what you can't see."

This is not down to a lack of Black talent – it's down to the way the industry nurtures, grows and promotes people from diverse backgrounds to help level out the playing field.

I would love to see more people who look like me when I'm on calls with media agencies and brands. But I can count on one hand the number of black people I've come across.

Adland legend Derek Walker said it best: "Advertising agencies can't hire/recruit their way to being better places for Blacks to work. The pipeline is flowing fine. The problem is that talent is flowing into agencies that are dang near radioactive to Black people. Your houses need some fixing."

When our industry talks to so many different and diverse audiences, how can we expect to connect and communicate with them if there aren't people from those communities working on the strategy and/or execution, who truly understand what it's like to be them? I've had to stand my ground and repeat that I belong here, no matter what I tell myself.

What keeps me going are the few Black leaders in advertising talking about diversity in the industry and inspire me to keep fighting. So, I want to shout them out, as their visibility and courage kept me going (and hopefully it will inspire other Black people entering/working in advertising).

Deva Bronson, EVP global head of brand assurance at Dentsu

Talk about breaking the glass ceiling. Deva is currently an EVP at Dentsu, where she is responsible for brand safety, brand suitability and brand responsibility. She's held roles at top media agencies and has also worked on the brand side. Deva is passionate about making meaningful changes in the advertising industry and is an activist in her personal life and family roots.

Dentsu has made public commitments to DEI and equitable media buying in the last few years. There have been some advancements, and there is a really great cross-industry conversation happening right now. But more collaboration is needed: radical collaboration.

I've watched Deva move up the ranks of the industry – and it's so well deserved. We both stumbled into this industry and have grown to love it. The power of being vocal and connecting with people that you admire is special. When I think of the career journey that I want, I aspire to one day become a leader in the advertising industry. And, having someone like Deva to look up to is important for every Black talent entering advertising to witness.

Shannon Washington, U.S. chief creative officer at R/GA

Shannon is the first Black woman to become the chief creative officer at a holding company of any of the five major ad agencies. That's a major accomplishment for Shannon, and for us as Black people who can continue to see people who look like us flourish. I always wanted to work in a creative agency, but it just never worked out; the rejections were just a redirection.

Shannon is a member of the Unstereotype Alliance, a thought and action platform that seeks to eradicate harmful stereotypes in all media and advertising content. She's won multiple awards, including the Sephora campaign, which declares "Black Beauty is Beauty." Underlying all of Washington's work is her desire to distil complicated conversations about race and gender and commerce into tangible, memorable insights.

I watched the Black Madison Avenue documentary that dissects the culture of gatekeeping in the ad industry. Seven of only nine existing Black ECDs gathered for the very first time to get real about exclusion. If you haven't seen the documentary, I definitely recommend it.

Stacy-Ann Effs, senior director at Hearts and Science

Stacy-Ann has to be one of the kindest and most talented people I've come across in our industry. I first met her on a work call – my first with a Black person in a senior position at an agency. I still vividly remember having a little moment in my head (Yes! Finally, a Black person to connect with at work).

We stayed in touch, and I scheduled a meeting with her just to have a chat about learning more about media agencies. This one-on-one meeting felt like the first time I was able to have an honest conversation without having to worry about saying the wrong thing — and know that this person understands what it's like to be a Black person in this industry. It gave me the space to ask questions and let out some frustrations, while also gaining invaluable knowledge from someone so talented.

Stacy-Ann has worked at the majority of the big media agencies, from Mindshare, UM, and Carat, and landed a role at Hearts & Science. Stacy-Ann is also an adjunct lecturer at The City College of New York (CUNY), where she dedicates her time to teaching diverse students the art of media planning. Without individuals like Stacy-Ann, who continue to pour their time and energy into supporting the next generation of black talent and helping them navigate the tricky world of Adland, I don't think I would have stayed in the industry.

Bobby Jones, founder of Good is the New Cool & Conspiracy of Love

Bobby Jones is an awesome person I've had the pleasure of connecting with through my work at Good-Loop. We first met during my first-ever work trip to New York, when we had an open conversation about the state of diversity in advertising and how we can make it better. I vividly remember him speaking about how it was historically important to attend the BLM protests with his family and friends a few years ago. And how brands and agencies are now having to deliver on the commitments they promised.

Bobby along with Afdhel Aziz are good friends, business partners and top-selling authors of Good is the New Cool, a groundbreaking, bestselling book that championed purpose-driven brands and marketing. Conspiracy of Love is the global social impact marketing agency born out of the book, now working with Fortune 500 brands, startups and nonprofits who want to create a better world. A proud minority owned business and definitely worth signing up to their newsletters.

It's not all doom and gloom.

I often think about how many young talented Black people give up because of all the rejections and obstacles. I've been fortunate enough to work for Good-Loop, which has supported my growth and ambitions. Even though at times the odds feel so stacked against us, I believe that hard work and finding a group of like-minded individuals, passionate to fight the good fight can help you not feel so alone.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Karim Mohamed is Good-Loop's U.S. sales manager.