Walk into your average ad agency in America and you could be forgiven for thinking you had traveled back in time, with many still resembling the white male bastions immortalized in the acclaimed TV series "Mad Men." That may be about to change as the industry redoubles efforts to recruit more minorities, sensing a chance to strengthen ties to populations that feel assaulted in the Trump era, and better reflect contemporary U.S. society. Outreach efforts towards minority populations have long been complicated by the paltry number of African Americans who work in advertising; they remain in the single digits as a percentage of staff, while Latinos also are underrepresented. For award-winning ad veteran Valerie Graves, who rose from being among the first black copywriters at the firms where she worked, to leading entire creative departments, the sector needs to recognize that non-whites "drive the popular culture of this country and of the world."
Nearly half of advertising employees believe the industry is "terrible" or "not great" at hiring diverse professionals, according to a 2016 survey by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's). To remedy the situation, the sector has put in place mentoring programs and scholarships to introduce young minority talent to industry leaders. But a key driver has been large clients, such as Verizon last year, who are increasingly demanding that their ad agencies step up the pace of change. The telecom company did not set quotas for minorities, but demanded "meaningful progress" from its ad firms, said Diego Scotti, its chief marketing officer.
"We have 130 million customers," Scotti said. "We appeal to everyone, so we have to represent internally the understanding of our audience. If we don't, we won't be successful." Her own success story aside, Valerie Graves fears progress will remain slow until there is a change in "mind and hearts."