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Reflections from IPG's Black in Advertising & America Seminar

By Mansura Ghaffar, corporate communications manager, New York
“We’ve had this conversation before,” exclaimed an audience member during the IPG Black Employee Network-sponsored Black in Advertising & America seminar.
He was right.
The advertising industry continues to ponder and question why minorities are underrepresented in the field. Sure, the numbers are inching up and more minorities are holding leadership positions. But, not enough.
Vita Harris, global chief strategy officer of Draftfcb, joined the panel of authors and industry professionals on Feb. 19. The panel, moderated by CNN anchor and special correspondent, Soledad O’Brien, looked at old challenges and new opportunities faced by African-Americans in advertising.
The honest, insightful, and no-holds-barred discussion applied to multiple ethnic and minority groups, including my own South-Asian background.
Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, observed that the most successful black professionals in advertising have learned to assimilate into Caucasian culture – a necessary business tactic since the ones who need to be impressed are primarily White and looking to work with people with whom they can “relate.”
Although this can pose an unfair challenge for minorities, Harris argued that as a homogenous and culturally melded American society continues to evolve, so will the industry. The advertising industry, like the country, is moving in a direction  that is being forced to embrace cultural differences, she said.
Because the industry has been slow to change, Leonard E. Burnett Jr., co-founder and group publisher for Uptown Media and VIBE Lifestyle, encouraged attendees to continue the conversation. The millennial generation and those following in their footsteps, he said, are growing up with a different understanding of race relations. Burnett argued that personal interests and experiences are influenced more by ethnic idiosyncrasies than race.
The event was necessary food for thought.

For more information on this and other D&I initiatives at Interpublic, visit theMERGE website.