In 2019 Agencies Should Stop Promoting Their Diversity Initiatives

Advertising agencies need to stop promoting diversity initiatives. That sounds counter-intuitive, I know. As marketers, we specialize in creating solutions to business problems and then talking about that solution. It’s in our nature to promote the things that move the needle — even if that needle hardly budges. We are all witnesses to the result of that thinking; The articles, proclamations, and awards given for diversity initiatives — lapping up all the press and awards and pats on the back they can muster.

“Everyone, look! Come look at this great thing we’re doing to help solve this problem. Isn’t it great? Aren’t we great?!”

The validation from our peers feels good, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing about validation: it kills your drive. By touting minimal progress, or sometimes even just the notion of intention and then receiving positive acknowledgment for it, our brains (and probably some egos) are tricked into feeling that the job is done. Problem solved. The goal has been achieved. But… it hasn’t.

Psychologists call this “Social Reality.” This is when our brain believes in an agreed reality, when in fact that reality doesn’t exist at all. For instance, we’ve all agreed advertising has made strides to become a more diverse community, when in fact it has not.

This effect has created a repetitive cycle in our industry. Proclamation of diversity initiatives leads to public acclaim, which provides agencies with positive reinforcement for achievements that are generally only perceived more so than actually achieved. The agency loses their incentive to accomplish the initial goal of their diversity initiative and becomes complacent. If you don’t believe me, just take a look around the agency floor plan. It looks a lot like it did last year and the year before that, doesn’t it?

Our industry isn’t getting any more diverse, we’re just talking about it more. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t be talking about the issue or setting these goals. In fact, the opposite. The only way to create a more intersectional community in advertising it by setting concrete goals and holding ourselves accountable to them so when we fall short, we know where improvement is needed.

Of course Agency PR influences new business, bolsters good client relationships, and is a gateway for talent acquisition. However, resist the temptation of premature praise until you have tangible results. I’d like to think that rather than working toward a splashy headline across Adweek, or a guest panelist slot at The 3% Conference, or a bump in website traffic, we’re all working toward a stronger and more complete community so the next time you take a look around the office, you actually see the change. Agency notoriety is great, but it cannot come first.