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