The industry now needs to turn fine words about diversity into action that creates change. Campaign asked a broad range of adlanders at different career stages to share their personal stories and plot ways forward from their experiences
I’ve always hated that description or, to be more specific, the use of the word "traditional".
It implies it was a glorious misadventure – full of fun lessons and good moments that would add to the stories I’d tell magazines like this one – something to make the industry feel better about itself. I do have stories to tell, but they are not for warm feelings or pats on backs.
For many people, the word "traditional" has meant no access, barriers, an excuse not to be questioned. It’s a lazy word that stops not merely change and progression, but culture, dead in its tracks.
Traditions should be reserved for Christmas and things like the same seats at cinema from yours and your partner’s first date. Not how we communicate or who is allowed to communicate.
A realistic description would instead be: "My route into the industry was tumultuous for no other reason than bias."
Before advertising I worked mainly as a photographer and film director. I shot for most of the big magazines at the time and worked with most of the big musical artists and brands. This naturally led on to art direction and more creative roles.
One of the last projects that I worked on as a photographer was for a brand that has been known for its problematic approach and was only recently "cancelled". The initial meetings were OK – "we really want your voice on this" – although none of my feedback about the approach was taken on board, and my concerns about appropriation ignored. Issues with casting, shushed. The problem was I was the only one in the room who had a lived experience that bucked inside of them every time a culturally sensitive component of the project popped up.
These were the early days of diversity; some of that industry had already realised (or else predicted) the cash cow that diversity would become and were ahead of the curve. A feeling had been creeping up on me for a while and I finally realised what it was – I was always the only black or brown person in the room, sometimes the only LGBTQ+ person and definitely always the only QPOC in the room.
You’d be right to assume that, at least when I worked on fashion briefs, there was a higher chance that other gay or queer people would be in some of those meetings. But it’s important to note that – in my personal experience, anyway – some of the worst racially motivated confrontations I have experienced have come from gay, white men. To think that racism has boundaries is naive.
I had become a token and I hated it
I decided I needed to be there at the start of the idea, that I needed to be a creative. I wanted to be able to open doors and keep them open. I thought this should be simple; answering a brief was something I’d been doing for a while, plus I could make and create all of my own work. Admittedly, I’d need to learn the lingo and a few other things…
Six months of meetings after meetings passed, and not one agency got me or my outlook. And, honestly, I didn’t get them. I would ask questions about current cultural views and their stance on diversity within their buildings, or how the agency works with culture. They’d look at me as if I were speaking a different language.
For the record, I have no qualifications; I did try out university to study photography once (I thought it would certify my talent and make me more creative), with my self-taught portfolio they made me skip the first year for fear of me being bored. I lasted three months and left for fear of them using "traditional" methodologies as a way to critique all of the creativity straight out of me.
Eventually, I made it into the industry but the behaviour that permeates adland has at times almost killed my creativity. Over the years myself and my old boss Nana Bempah became friends – family even – and founded Pocc, hoping to create a space that acts as a shelter and space to black and brown people within the industry. My work with Pocc has allowed me to talk to hundreds of black, brown, queer and othered people within the industry, and it’s clear that my experiences are shared ones.
Problematic behaviour witnessed either by myself or other Pocc members include senior members of staff trying to walk off with the junior person’s ideas and insights as if they had birthed them. Being told the wrong meeting room and that the times had changed when they hadn’t. The touching of hair, clients’ racist casting practices, being urged to fit in to the "culture", as opposed to being allowed to add to the culture, still happens today. What really hurts is when we see the biggest perpetrators of this sort of wrongdoing getting promoted.
My creative partner and I are now creative directors at Havas Jump, a new type of space that embodies all of the characteristics we’ve been searching for. My experience in the industry has taught me this: it’s all very well to talk about diversity and bring in new talent that don’t come from "traditional" backgrounds, but unless agencies are also hiring diverse senior members of staff with varied and – most importantly – shared life experiences, your initiatives are destined to fail.
Take this as a real insight into what many minorities experience in workplaces across the industry. Please use this article – take it to a member of staff you may not have been able to have a certain conversation with – and start that conversation.
To my fellow BAME talent: you’re not overreacting, you’re not overthinking your discomfort. You’re not alone.
When we talk about diversity, it’s important that we include representation and inclusion, and it’s important that it is spoken about by those that depend on it. Otherwise it’s like a fish talking about climbing trees.
Kevin Morosky is creative director at Havas Jump
Picture: Getty Images