The issues of racial and gender diversity are faced by companies in every industry with increasing urgency. The advertising world is not unique in this respect. But because it is responsible for millions of messages and images that, like it or not, consciously and unconsciously help inform society’s view of itself, the need for diversity among its ranks becomes even more critical. Employment statistics aren’t encouraging. According to a 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, of the 582,000 people employed in advertising and communications in the U.S., less than half were women, 10.5% Hispanic, 6.6% were black, and 5.7% Asian.
The issue has long been the subject of conference panels, white papers, and other industry reports, but increasingly, more groups are taking direct action to enact real change. This week, the agency 72andSunny joins the fray with an intriguing approach, one that acts both as a playbook for other companies to follow, drawing on the agency’s own progress on these issues, and as a call for new ideas and collaboration to add more proven strategies to the playbook.
“The 72andSunny Playbook” aims to expand and diversify the creative class by covering everything from recruitment policy, to employee support and retention programs, all with the goal to attract and keep as diverse a talent pool as possible.
Agency partner and Chief Operations Officer Evin Shutt says there were three main reasons for taking the playbook public. First, they knew their goals were ambitious enough that one company couldn’t achieve them alone. Second, as they started to share their approaches towards diversity with others in the industry, they found that many of their colleagues needed the bare basics on how to broach the problem. And third, by sharing their own approach and acknowledging that it’s not perfect, they hope others will build on their ideas.
“There’s a lot of interest and desire to participate, but many people don’t know where to start,” says Shutt. “Our hope is that this playbook will turn that interest into action faster and easier. We’re not experts in this. No one is. We believe that sharing our ideas will act as a catalyst for implementing action. We’re also encouraging others to put pressure on our approaches to make them better. A rising tide raises all ships.”
The playbook is essentially a 10-point start kit for any agency looking to begin or improve its own strategies for increasing its gender and racial diversity.
“For smaller companies that want to get involved, but have felt like they don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to it, hopefully, this can provide some easy steps for programs that can be implemented today,” says Shutt. “For larger companies, we want to learn from them–what programs are working, what they’ve tried and hasn’t worked–and hope they will partner with us in our mission of expanding and diversifying the creative class, as making real change will take all of us.”
Some of the agency’s programs include partnering with a charter school network in L.A. to bring awareness of the creative industry to students in more than 80 zip codes, through workshops, curriculum development, bootcamps, internships, and mentorship programs. 72U’s creative residency program and “returnships” also give opportunities to mothers returning to the workforce. Employee initiatives include day-to-day support for underrepresented groups, so any issues or concerns can be addressed as soon as possible. It also actively works with industry organizations like The One Club and Adcolor.
So far, 72andSunny’s strategy has been working reasonably well for the agency, but this new initiative is a clear attempt to build on those gains. Through its various programs, it says it has introduced the creative class and opportunities therein to 10,000 people and is 6% away from achieving diversity on par with the total U.S. population. The long-term goal is to significantly over-index. Globally, 15% of its creative directors and 35% of its creatives at the group director level and above are women.
“By putting this playbook out into the world and working together with other companies, we are already closer to our goal by helping bring awareness that this is something we can’t do alone and by being transparent that this is bigger than us and we would love some help,” says Shutt.
The plan is to keep evolving the program, with a Playbook version 2.0 taking into consideration the nuances of what diversity in the creative class means around the world, and expanding its geographic reach beyond coastal cities in the U.S.
One of the biggest lessons the agency has learned so far is that, as with many things, often the toughest step is the first one.
“Just start trying stuff, approach it as ‘everything in beta,'” she says. “When we are upfront about this with everyone in the company and external partners, they quickly lean in and are willing collaborators on helping us evolve our programs and approaches. If we are too precious, it’s going to move slowly and we don’t have time for that as an industry or society.”