Up·ris·ing while reaching back

Posted on 8th Feb 2012 by Lincoln Stephens in Blog

The uprising of the marketing and media industry, a multibillion-dollar business, must start with the development of future generations of talent. After all, this continuously evolving industry cannot exist if it does not have savvy, strategic and digital natives at its core.

Over the past year the discussion of what the future holds for talent development has been the center of industry luncheons, articles and water cooler and C-Suite conversations, has heightened. Subsequently, as we look at the changing cultural landscape of America, the importance of developing, identifying and embracing the rich diversity of our country has also been elevated.

The question that most agencies often find themselves asking are not too dissimilar to a series of discussions held by leading industry organizations, such as The One Club have asked: “Where are all the Black People?” I would also add, where are all of the Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and what do we do with a half-Puerto Rican half African American from Brooklyn that is a spoken word artist by passion, looking to break in as a copywriter at a top shop where she might be the first of her kind?

While the issue of the lack of diversity on Madison Ave has been in debate since the 1960’s, it is time for an advanced conversation, as well as a closer look at the solutions, as our industry reinvents itself. Some complaints that I have heard as we examine this challenge include: “we don’t need another panel” or “it is easy to give a ‘diversity’ internship.” But the question still remains, how does an industry adapt?

One solution that must remain consistent is the access to exposure and opportunity. We live in a much more transparent society, where recruiting methods, which once were limited to the books from top ad-schools or from a client’s nephew looking to break in the business, should now include looking at the cultural resumes of a new generation who have decided to not just consume the media that clients spend millions on distributing, but who are creators and curators of a conversation that is shared with millions on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

A colleague of mine, Cheeraz Gormon, a spoken-word artist, turned photographer, turned copywriter turned strategist, turned teacher, has noted what some of the challenges that our industry has around this topic:

Five years ago, it became widely apparent to me that I commit to doing my part in adding, not only to the conversation, but also to the solution, by creating a non-profit called The Marcus Graham Project. For those of you that are reading and wondering, “who is Marcus Graham?” he is the hotshot marketing executive that Eddie Murphy in the film Boomerang, now 20 years old.

For young African Americans, this character served as inspiration to enter the advertising and marketing industry, as well as one of the most significant “career” films for the Black community, as recently noted by Black Enterprise magazine.

Over the last few years, our non-profit has quickly evolved into a cultural movement and call to action to wake up diverse communities about career options in our industry, as well as a training program that has placed a large majority of our graduates into careers at companies such as Wieden + Kennedy, RAPP, Butler Shine, Stern & Partners, and commonground.

As we have tested our curriculum, through an intense summer long boot camp held for a dozen aspiring leaders in Dallas, our concept has proved to inspire us to develop a long-term strategy in continuing to provide education and experience for “newbies” in the business.

We are currently in the process of developing and raising capital for a social enterprise that will serve as a hybrid marketing school and agency providing year round portfolio develop, real-world experience through client work, as well as a stronger system of mentorship, which is at the center of our mission.

Our expanded program will be centered on meeting the existing and emerging needs of today’s advertising and marketing landscape, while focusing on thought leadership, implementation of current best practices, development of new best practices and the creation of processes, methodologies and techniques that allows for globally and culturally inclusive communications.

This expansion, named Locomotus, will be a place of purpose, disruption, passion, process, rebellion and progress. It is the answer to the evolution of the question that I asked myself, now five years ago – how can I do my part – in the uprising movement of changing the face of the Advertising industry.

I challenge myself daily and extend the challenge to all of you reading to continue to find ways of providing more experience and exposure to future leaders. This is not only providing internships for college students, but also in allowing entry level and mid-level talent the opportunity to grow by continuing to spending necessary time in career mentorship, opportunities to learn best practices by travelling to global offices in your agency network or client’s customers, as well as opportunity (yes I said opportunity thrice), for individuals to transfer skills from similar industries into ours. Some of these may be disruptive to the standard practice and the status-quo, but I assert that we take Einstein’s advice and not do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. He called that insanity. Jay-Z and Kanye West say, “That Sh*T Cray!” Lets disrupt, reinvent, reach back and rise up. Got it? Ready. Set. Grow.

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