Feature

IPA picks stylish role model for ethnic diversity drive

Jonathan Mildenhall wants a greater ethnic mix in ads and adland. By Ian Darby.

Advertising and media agencies claim to be cool, exciting, diverse places to work but the depressing news is that in one respect they are failing to reflect the diversity of the UK culture that created them.

According to Jonathan Mildenhall, the co-chair of an IPA drive to improve the understanding of ethnic minorities by the ad industry, just 4% of UK agency staff are from an ethnic minority and 60% of these work in finance, admin or IT. To put this in context, 30% of London's population is from an ethnic minority.

Mildenhall, 35, became involved with the IPA project after being promoted to the role of joint managing director of TBWA\ London. With his mixed-race background (his mother is English and his father is Nigerian), he sees himself, and the few other senior figures in the business from ethnic minorities, as role models.

The IPA's project aims to educate the advertising and marketing world about the economic and cultural influence of ethnic minorities. It will also encourage creatives to portray a more balanced view of ethnic minorities in advertising and wants to attract and retain a "more visibly diverse range of graduates" to the industry.

Mildenhall, who grew up on a council estate in Leeds, was attracted to advertising after hearing a college lecturer at Manchester Polytechnic explain account management. He had to battle through prejudice from careers advisers who tried to put him off but argues that since he landed his first job, as a graduate at McCann-Erickson, he's had no regrets.

He's certainly a stylish role model in his Oswald Boateng suit and Paul Smith tie. But how much of a fight has it been as an openly gay man from an ethnic minority background to build a successful career? "I've never experienced racism in advertising and have never felt that my career has been held back because of my race," he says.

Mildenhall's experience includes running three car accounts and TBWA's The Sun/News of the World business. This is "traditionally macho" territory, he says, and argues that his success on this type of business shows how open the advertising world can be.

The issue is not one of prejudice within the industry, he explains, but of getting advertising as a career on the agendas of Asians and Afro-Caribbeans. Among the Asian community, advertising is not viewed as a respectable profession and the business is hardly on the radar at all for many Afro-Caribbeans.

Another of Mildenhall's aims is to encourage "credible and frequent use" of minorities in advertising. He cites Steve Henry, the creative director of HHCL/Red Cell, as a pioneer in this field (through advertising for the AA and Egg among others) but argues that creatives could do more.

"Advertisers are comfortable using black celebrities, sports stars and street kids but they're not comfortable creating great characters who are black. We're a long way off seeing Tesco creating campaigns that use a black Dotty. Howard in the Halifax ads is the closest we've got but it would be good to see more black characters," he says.

The IPA does not have spend details of top advertisers' ethnic marketing programmes but Mildenhall is shocked by their lack of use of specialist media, arguing that prestigious brands such as Audi, BMW, Rolex and Versace are key to many ethnic minorities but little is done to target them.

And targeting of specific ethnic groups in advertising is almost non-existent, Mildenhall says. "It's quite embarrassing but I've not once had a strategic conversation with a client about various ethnic minority groups in the UK. I'm surprised at how few major advertisers have ethnic marketing programmes."

An IPA programme, supported by Campaign, starts on September 22 and will continue indefinitely. Activity will include an online guide and a celebration of great examples of work that have featured ethnic minorities.

Mildenhall is the man to lead the effort, according to Anjna Raheja, the managing director of Media Moguls, who is also involved.

"Ray Barrett [the creative director at Barrett Cernis] and Jonathan's involvement is fantastic because it shows you that you can make it even if it is tough. It's easy to point the finger at people and ask them what they've put back but you can look at Jonathan as an example of where it's all about talent not positive discrimination," she says.

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.

Topics