AgenciesD&IDNA President: I can only hope that it’s a movement, not a moment

Independent agency leader, Chris Witherspoon, believes there’s much to be done.
Michael HeusnerSeptember 3, 202024 min
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Having been in the advertising world for nearly three decades, Chris Witherspoon, president and chief growth officer at DNA Seattle, knows what it takes to be a successful person of color in an industry currently undergoing a crisis of conscience.

We’ve all seen the impassioned LinkedIn posts, the letters from the CEO, and the thoughtfully laid out opinion pieces, but what do people of color truly need to thrive in Adland?

For Witherspoon, one of the first steps is for those already in the industry, to give back.

“I’ve had a great career,” Witherspoon, who has worked at some of the top agencies in the country, including TBWA/Chiat Day, Goodby Silverstein, and Publicis, told Marcom Weekly.

“But throughout my time in the industry, and even today, I don’t see mentorship from people of color happening.”

To that end, Witherspoon, joined Black advocacy organization 600 & Rising earlier this year, where he signed an open letter outlining 12 steps agencies can take to address systemic racism in the advertising industry.

One of the biggest steps is for agencies to commit to reporting their diversity data on an annual basis in order to track how agencies are performing on that front.

Witherspoon and his agency put their money where their mouth is, alongside dozens of other holding companies and independent agencies.

“We released our D&I data pretty quickly because we’re a strong believer in putting stuff out there. We know it’s not perfect but the goal is to improve on that year over year,” Witherspoon said.

As one of DNA Seattle’s top leaders believes there’s still much more work to be done, outside of the realm of grandstanding and posturing for the trade press.

“Here at DNA we’re taking concrete steps to tackle this issue,” Witherspoon said.

“In addition to releasing data, other things that we’ve done include unconscious bias training to get people thinking about the prejudices they might carry without realizing it, taking a look at our hiring practices and, reviewing our internship program as well.”

“One important thing is to address how people are hired, and that includes looking at who is doing the interviewing as well as which pools we’re gathering talent from,” he added.

For Witherspoon, the events of this past Summer have led to a positive movement for the industry, but there is much more that needs to be done.

“Agencies are changing their policies and their way of thinking. Obviously these issues are persistent, but we’re setting a foundation,” Witherspoon said.

“I can only hope that it’s a movement, not a moment.”

Michael Heusner

Michael is a senior correspondent at Marcom Weekly covering news, brands and feature stories.

2 comments

  • Pingback: DNA President: I can only hope that it’s a movement, not a moment - DNA Seattle | Seattle Advertising AgencyDNA Seattle | Seattle Advertising Agency

  • Tom Early

    September 16, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Very well said. One of the issues many hiring employers face is how to get more diversity into the pool. Everyone is kidding themselves if they think that only the white candidates they are interviewing are the best people for the job and that there is no one of color (or any other minority group) who is capable of filling their position. We should expect, no we must demand that every search include such diversity.
    A major hurdle recruiters face is availability of a diverse group of individuals. We must think about grassroots programs introducing advertising as a viable field for people of all colors and genders to EXCELL in and be excited to be a part of. We as an industry should should approach this at the high school level so participants can develop a path to follow. Mentoring and internships are great opportunities but they may come a little too to capture the vast knowledge and creativity we are missing. Very few agencies have embraced this challenge. My hope is that it becomes the norm and exits the realm of the exception. Real issues should be addressed with real solutions.

    Reply

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