Culture Hack

Culture Hack

Will DEI Be the Death of the Small Independent Minority-Owned Agency?

In June of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement led to a new wave of business morals. A wave of promises from big-name businesses flooded a variety of industries, promises that implied the undoing of a system set in stone by the racial prejudiced history. From Instagram posts to sincere-sounding newsletters, these vows to their followings ensured the diversification of companies that have been unanimously white-employed and run for decades. And the giants of the advertising world were no different. 

DEI — Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion — is the current buzzword agencies that ad giants are implementing as they navigate this BLM-ignited world. There has been much support in the pursuit of diversifying the advertising industry which, for nearly 50 years up until now, only had 5% of its workforce consisting of BIPOC. Now, in a post-George Floyd BLM era, we are finally starting to see more accountability and a desire to change the archaic tradition of exclusivity. A tradition that can only be defined as a preservation tactic driven by a conscious bias to keep BIPOC oppressed. 

The road to embodying DEI seemed to manifest out of thin air; movements that help agencies accountable to their campaigns for societal progress. A notable campaign was launched by 600 & Rising: a non-profit organization known for its complete advocacy for black advertisers. This organization’s #CommitToChange campaign gathered a number of agencies under its wing of truth and progress. PMG, one of these agencies, launched a page on its company website pledging to do better and revealing previous diversity percentages in the workforce, the majority of jobs taken by white employees. Setting a goal of 50% new BIPOC hires by 2022 among other points of change, the agency detailed the steps it would take to make these ideas realities. 

In establishing themselves as beacons of revolution, agencies that once had more than half of their workforce filled by white people were also letting possible business ventures know that they were ready to do any campaign, any advertisement that aligned with their newfound mentality. But as initiatives such as #CommitToChange has gathered larger agencies under the promise of reform, one question hangs above our heads: will our oppressors now become our liberators?

While the past year may have been the first where large ad agencies recognized their exclusive hiring ways, independent and minority-owned agencies have existed for a while now. The missions of these smaller agencies were also never informed by racist histories but were in pursuit of representation for the BIPOC people they consisted of. It seems like society will not only give the companies now advocating for change an opportunity to admit to their past faults and redeem themselves but most likely celebrate them for their transparency. And with this large triumph over discrimination could potentially come the death of smaller, BIPOC-run agencies. 

The more agencies that open up to a hub of employees of color, the less determined and innovative workers in the industry will be compelled to contribute to companies that fully share their ethical ideals. And as the big agencies diversify their workpool, big brands will now have a reason to justify consolidating all their work with these big agencies, further allowing them to justify that they can do culture driven work themselves. While we all wish to see change, the currency for this forward-thinking renovation of the ad world could ultimately be an end for the companies who have been trailblazing this path for years.