Mr. Mehri Goes to Madison Avenue. White Agencies Beware!


Just as the proverbial Mr. Smith went to Washington to clean things up, it seems top civil rights lawyer Mr. Cyrus Mehri is on his way to Madison Avenue to clean up the ad industry's diversity mess. A top civil rights lawyer, Mehri conducted a study of diversity in advertising agencies and found it woefully out of whack when compared to diversity in other business sectors.

While the study is still underway, it seems Mehri may already be setting his sights on an industry he says has only paid lip service to the issue with hearing, conferences and hiring efforts. He claims the problem isn't lack of interest in advertising among minorities as some have surmised, rather the seeming unwillingness of agency management which he sees as a closed country club filled with white men who just don't want to address the problem.

Mehri told Advertising Age, "It's not a matter of forming affinity groups among the excluded,. What needs fixing isn't the African-Americans; it's the white guy running the agency. We want to relentlessly focus on not the excluded groups but the excluding groups, the people who control the power and make the decisions. That's where people are running into barriers. The leadership has to come from the top."

It's unclear what, if any, next steps Mehri plans to take but as his past track record indicates, should he choose to attack Madison Avenue, agencies had better get out their pocketbooks and be prepared to pay large legal settlements. That, or go on a diversity focused hiring binge.

And, oh look, there just happens to be two diversity in advertising efforts going on during Advertising Week this year. How very convenient. GenerationNext aims to open up the advertising industry to young people looking to check it out as a career. ADEx 2008 is "designed to connect leading agencies with top diversity professionals in private and confidential recruiting sessions."

Of course, Mehri would have us believe these efforts are pointless and nothing but lip service. Since Adrants is a sponsor of both events, we feel a bit differently and would like to think these events represent a serious efforts to do at least a small part towards addressing the quandary.

by Steve Hall    Sep-15-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Agencies, Cause, Industry Events, Opinion, Trends and Culture   

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This white guy says "Godspeed, gentleman. More power to you."

Posted by: Mark Trueblood on September 15, 2008 2:00 PM

Not to sound petty or anything, but Cyrus Mehri told Advertising AGE ... not Advertising Week.

Posted by: Ken Wheaton on September 16, 2008 3:38 PM


All you ad pubs look alike. Just kidding.

Posted by: HighJive on September 17, 2008 12:25 PM


You are a dear and valued friend, and I know your heart is in the right place. But the events that Ad Rants is sponsoring are a disgrace to the intelligence of any minority job candidate that has attended. For agency representatives to turn candidates who have waited in lines for hours wit comments like, "Well we can't actually take your application here." or "It's best if you apply on-line" or "I'm sorry, but I don't have any business cards with me," is inconceivable. It is obvious that these events are money-making schemes for the promoters and smoke screens for the agencies involved. Consider doing your own fact-finding efforts. Send a few minority candidates of your own to the Advertising Week events you are sponsoring. Then publish their experiences at the hands of these carpetbaggers. I think the result will be very enlightening. BTW I have applied to every major agency in the 4A's with my extensive list of accomplishments and experiences. I have yet to receive ONE response. In fact you might say that I am the poster child for this problem.

Posted by: Harry Webber on September 18, 2008 12:49 PM


If that is, in fact, that case, then I would agree with you. All I want is for the situation to be dealt with. I'm trying to do my part but I'm sure anything I do...or anyone does...isn't going to be perfect. I don't have all the answers.

The scenarios you describe are certainly disheartening. The events in this series that I have been to, seemed to have been well received though I admit I certainly didn't dig all that deep into attendees' experiences. Perhaps all I heard were the positive comments.

In terms of making money well yes, all conference organizers are out to make money. They do, after all, have to make a salary as much as they'd like to do it pro bono.

I can tell you for a fact the organizers of this series of events are wonderful people who truly believe the diversity is an important issue. Their hearts, too, are in the right place. I'm sure they could do some things differently, then again, every conference organizer can.

If attendees are being told their applications can't immediately be accepted or they are presumably being told someone doesn't have a business card (in a veiled effort to, perhaps, avoid getting contacted by the applicant, I agree, that's bad. Very bad.

I'm not able to make it to all of these events and your suggestions might be worth exploring. To get an insider's look at what attendees really experience.

No conference is truly going to address the real problem. Only top management in agencies (who never attend these conferences) can really make a difference.

I take your comments to heart. You've been around and have deep insight into the industry. I'd venture to say what you're experiencing is ageism. I say this as politely as I can. Once your over 40, for all intents and purposes, you don't exist in the advertising world.

For the perceived notion a person's advanced age and incorrectly assumed cultural cluelessness to be seen as a bigger negative than the powerfully positive years of experience someone such as yourself possesses is, in some ways, worse than minority discrimination. But that's the youth-obsessed ad industry for you.

I wish I knew what the answer was.

Posted by: Steve Hall on September 18, 2008 1:34 PM