Dare to be diverse when you hire people in advertising

Adland: 

When I wrote ”Våga anställa annorlunda – på riktigt” for Sweden's leading advertising & media paper Resumé, it came hot on the heels of another opinion piece titled Our whiteness - a democracy problem. While I do reference that piece by naming our supposed white male "Anders", which also happens to be the Resumé's editors name and was who I reported to, I had this to say because advertising does have a "diversity problem" that it has been blind to for years. We hire our clones. Step into any agency and you'll find that despite the rainbow hair and skin, all other factors are the same. Non-religious, voted for X, reads Y, spends weekends doing Z. The agencies differ of course, but when they turn you down because you "aren't a fit", they don't mean it's because you're a woman or hispanic or whatever - they mean you don't think like them. You don't bro like them. At W+K you need to be "into sports", at 72andSunny everyone including the founding partners had Hillary buttons, at Crispin you need to be a workaholic with no interest of a life outside the agency walls. Actually that last one applies almost everywhere.
Jason Fox over at Adhole has written a piece called Advertising Across the Middle, where he notes that the recent media hysteria after the US election has big cities sneering at large chunks of the United States, as if these areas are inhabited by cavemen of sorts. Here at Adland Kidsleepy wrote The fly-over state consumer is not an idiot; she is your target market. Both come to the conclusion that there are creatives and creative agencies in every state. You don't have to be New York or San Francisco to do good advertising, and in fact when the big city media elite failed to have their finger on the pulse of the current political zeitgeist, it may be prudent to call in a local expert who does have a better understanding of the so called flyover states because they actually live there.

Here is my Swedish article published in Resumé May 9 2016 translated to English. Keep in mind that this is written for a Swedish audience in Sweden and not a global audience like Adland has, hence some references - like the name Anders - can seem a little local.

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They talk about how white the industry is, now that you've realized that women are actually working in the advertising industry and the constant cry of hiring more women can look a bit silly when you only have a single man in the office while the rest are women. Time to solve the next problem, there are too many people named "Anders" in the industry and too few who are named Mohammed or Priya. It's a disaster, really.

The basic idea is of course not that the level of melanin in someones skin is crucial, but that people with a different background can give a different approach and have different insights. This is true. But if you believe that is the issue then you've missed what kind of opinion-corridors we have in the office landscapes of Sweden.

A superficial otherness like mom's West African descent, coupled with studies in Sigtuna and fine grades from Berghs is the correct kind of moderately different, while the man who worked as a priest until he changed careers mid-life is a risky wildcard. You can walk into any agency on Söder and be secure knowing that everyone in there voted for the Green Party, went to the "right" schools, like Hyper Island or Berghs, and like all the right bands.

We're just like different if it's different in the right way. Why don't you hire what really distinguishes itself from the norm? Hire people who studied abroad. Hire the country bumpkin who moved to the city. Hire those who are religious, together with the religious agnostics. Hire the headbanger and the former cultural worker. Hire the entrepreneur who failed, for they have learned hard lessons in the school of life.

Hire the creative directors who can actually make a decision, and won't force you to work through the weekend on different approach because they "just want to test if it works." Hire the sales guy who actually sells, and doesn't just call his old pals all day. Hire the illustrator who never lets go of their pen. Hire the strategist who examines everything in search of the next smart plan.

In short, hire people who are good at what they do, because these people are rare in our business.

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about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm after growing up in Kiruna, Raleigh and Jiddah.