EDITORIAL: Adland has to bury its racial prejudice

The conspicuous absence of black faces within agencies and in the

creative work those agencies produce has long troubled the industry's

collective conscience.

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

a career?

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.