The conspicuous absence of black faces within agencies and in the
creative work those agencies produce has long troubled the industry's
And so it should. Because if ads fail to reach out and connect with
people from ethnic minorities, how can the industry hope to tempt the
brightest young people from those communities to consider advertising as
So this week's news that the IPA is launching an investigation into how
the industry and its output can better reflect the racial diversity of
modern Britain is a welcome development.
A good start would be the recognition that the industry carries some
cumbersome historical baggage. The racist undercurrent which once flowed
through adland is rarely discussed but real nonetheless. Many agency
bosses can tell tales of clients strongly hinting that non-whites on
their account team would not be welcome.
Even more shameful is the unprincipled way those same agencies took
refuge in pragmatism and cravenly capitulated to such blackmail. Against
such a background, it would be all too easy for the industry to embrace
political correctness to an unhealthy degree and to see positive
discrimination as its grand act of atonement.
It would be natural. But it would be wrong and may risk diluting the
talent pool from which agencies draw.
Agencies can only pick their trainee suits from the graduates who apply
- and the majority of those are Anglo-Saxon. Most creative departments
are more open and the success of Indra Sinha, Ray Barrett and Trevor
Robinson are testimony to their egalitarianism.
The IPA's task is to accelerate the positive moves taking place across
the media world. BT is among the major advertisers now treading where
others once feared with its mini soap series about a West Indian family,
even tackling the tricky subject of a mixed marriage.
At the same time, broadcasting has moved on apace since Trevor McDonald
was the sole standard bearer for the ethnic minorities. Today, TV is
better for Asian and Afro-Caribbean presenters and journalists and the
BBC is reporting a significant rise in applications from those
communities - and not just for jobs in front of a camera. Hopefully, the
IPA will take its cue from the BBC, which has found that the more ethnic
talent you showcase, the more that talent will be encouraged.
That means making a strong case to careers advisors and overcoming the
fears of young black people that advertising is not yet colour-blind.