Agencies at Diversity Conference Seek Diverse Talent
Continuing what we started in New York on Nov 8, yesterday Adrants and BDI held the second Ad Industry Diversity Job Fair and Leadership Conference in San Francisco, hosted by the Academy of Art in conjunction with BIG. Local and nationwide entities including Google, Modem Media, Draft FCB, Dieste and T3 (The Think Tank), showed up to trade paper with giddy be-suited candidates.
The set of pews and the wide church like set-up served as a good backdrop for what could be both parts keynote and sermon.
Larry Harris, EVP and Director of Integrated Marketing at DraftFCB, made a straightforward delivery on topics we expected to rise to the surface: the disparity of diversity in our industry, the changing face of marketing in the face of new media (iPods, internet, mobile phones, chip-reading billboards) and the importance of knowing what you want before leaping into the wild blue yonder. He also told an awesome story about how he infiltrated agency execs by pretending to be a message boy. "They let you right in!" he exclaimed.
Much of what Larry covered was revisited in the panel, which let loose a mindflow of experience and anecdotes. A big contributor to why the panel proved so rich was the variation of experience - Gay is a woman who built T-3 with her own two hands out of Austin; Rodney is a creative and witty agencyville Algier with a black perspective; and Larissa has a strong, warm and culture-oriented flair that speaks well for Dieste, which targets Spanish speakers and boasts robust agency-wide diversity, not merely in language but also in gender and sexual preference.
We've got a way to go in terms of escaping the catchy "chickens with asses plucked clean" metaphor, but it's safe to say the agencies of tomorrow won't be the Old Boy's Clubs of today.
Valuable tidbits popped out of the discourse as well. Rodney noted several times the "fast, fierce and fluid" nature of the internet, which has changed the creative landscape as well as competitive expectations for new recruits. Facebook (versus MySpace) was repeatedly mentioned as a rich resource for employee fact-checking and social networking. And agencies openly admit to Googling job candidates. Gay and Rodney oft repeated the importance of demonstrating integrity and humility on both resumes and social networking profiles.
Which led to the next unfortunate trend - the disparity in talent appearing in the future crop. Larry and Gay lamented it's hard to find creative, passionate thinkers, and their sentiments were echoed across the board. Panelists cited paltry starter salary, long starting hours, high turnovers, and more attractive offers from other fields drawing both talent and diversity away from advertising and marketing careers.
We considered this drought as Larry shot a question out at the audience: "What are you good at?"
We should all be able to answer that, or at least take a good shot. But having done our share of interviews, the responses were bland repetitions of what we learned at job fairs and career centers from when we hit job-courting age.
We know which suits to wear and how best to part our hair. We've learned to say things like, "I work hard until I get the job done" and "I'm a great mediator." We're paring down our social networking profiles out of concern that a recent drunken romp or our latent love of Marilyn Manson will come back to bite us in the ass.
The only question left to ask is, how does one demonstrate one's talent to the skeptical agency? And per Larry's mention that this industry rewards contrarians, how do you showcase your savvy out-of-the-box spark while remaining the starchy ideal candidate? Very carefully.
It looks like the first marketing job any candidate can expect to get is the biggest and the hardest - marketing yourself effectively enough to break the myriad barriers separating you from the outrageously-paid realization of the foosball fantasy job.
But based on what our panelists and keynote speaker said they had to do to be seen by the right people, it's certainly possible. Advertising is a fun and rewarding business in which to work. Yes, there's grunt work but it's a whole lot more fun that just about any other profession. Give it a shot.