It's good to talk about diversity and inclusion, but for advertising to really become a career option for Black people, the industry needs to first invest in them, says Keiarra McLean.
The advertising industry, like many professions, has a very specific formula in place to garner prospects. A student goes to ad school, an ad agency hires the student, the student rises to seniority level in the ad agency, and then the cycle repeats, with the senior ad executive setting their sights on other ad school graduates they can bring into the fold.
The problem with this formula is that it completely disregards a huge population of talented minds who can’t afford to go to ad school or who have never been exposed to advertising as a career path. During Black History Month, not to mention throughout the year, it’s important for marketers and agencies to recognize – and tap into – different paths into advertising.
I am not saying that the formula of going to ad school does not work, but I am saying it does not have to be the only path for entering the industry. Take me for example: I am a 23-year-old Black woman from Southwest Atlanta with no previous ad school experience, working at a top agency in Atlanta as a junior copywriter. The reason for this? I was given an opportunity to explore this career path through The Ally Internship.
For years, I immersed myself in the creative scene of Atlanta and I started a blog in 2017 as a way to build up my portfolio work for post-graduation. While in school at Georgia State University, I met so many talented and artistic BIPOC peers who were either in school just to be doing something or on the verge of dropping out. I wanted to succeed, so I made connections that pushed my creative capabilities. The one thing you learn very quickly in Atlanta’s creative scene is that Cam Kirk Studios is the place to go for all your artistic needs; his studio is a dominant force amongst young creatives. I first heard about the Ally Internship via an email from the studio’s newsletter that read, “Internship Opportunity For Black Creatives.” As I read more about the internship, I learned that it was a dual internship with Cam Kirk Studios and the Atlanta office of Chemistry, where I now work.
I began researching Chemistry and became immersed in what an ad agency does and how it operates. After securing my role as a creative copywriting intern, I really began to understand what goes on in an ad agency. Some of my responsibilities as an intern included writing for various clients’ social posts, emails and weekly newsletters. Towards the end of my internship, I co-wrote a script for one of Chemistry’s non-profit clients, which allowed me to see my first social video for a client come to life. I worked extremely hard in my internship to prove that I belonged in this industry and my work paid off. I was offered a full-time position as a junior copywriter at the end of my internship.
Growing up in Black communities, advertising is never presented as a viable career path. It’s never even presented as an option. Black people are some of the most creative and innovative voices in the world, yet we are not given the same opportunities as white creatives. It’s well documented in the numbers. According to the most recent report on diversity from the 4As, under 6% of the industry identifies as Black or African-American, and only 4% of those Black/African-American industry members bear the title of vice president or higher, excluding C-suite roles. Meanwhile, according to the US Census, Blacks make up 13.4% of the population.
The truth of the matter is that Ad School = Money and, more often than not, young aspiring Black Creatives = Not Enough Money. As a Black kid, it’s hard enough trying to make it through college, let alone even thinking about spending money after college on ad school. And while the majority of the Black creatives I know around my age have little to no school experience, they are some of the most talented, creative-minded people I have ever met.
So, actionable things, like The Ally Internship, are just one of many steps that advertising agencies need to take in order to truly change. The saying, “Be the change that you wish you see in the world,” still rings true today. The only way that we will get to a more diverse and inclusive industry is by being that change.
Now, more than ever, advertising agencies have a massive opportunity to invest more in Black creative talent. Invest more in training and help educate young Black boys and girls on what it means, what it takes, and what to do in order to be successful in this industry. Give them the tools to build themselves up – as The Ally Internship, Cam Kirk Studios and Chemistry did with me – instead of expecting them to come pre-packaged with a bow on top. It will help your agency in the long run, because diverse perspectives are critical for businesses to survive. We are moving towards a more diverse and inclusive country, and people want to be able to see themselves in entertainment, such as movies, television shows and, yes, in ads. Representation matters, across all platforms. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s just good business.
Hiring voices that can speak to representation in advertising will make your work fresher, more unique and more relatable. The benefit of diversifying the industry is not one-sided, it is mutual. After securing my job in the advertising industry, I am focused on advocating for and creating more opportunities for Black creatives, because that’s all they need: the opportunity.