4A’s Singleton Beato on Cultural Diversity in the Advertising Industry

SingletonNewHeadshotSmaller1 Singleton Beato is the Executive Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion and Talent Development for the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s). Founded in 1917, the 4A’s is the national trade association representing the advertising agency business in the United States. The Makegood recently spoke with Singleton about diversity in the advertising field and the future of Human Resources.

The Makegood: The Four A’s has been a great community within advertising for so long, when did it begin to delve into the multicultural, multi-ethnic realm? What was the reasoning behind it?

It started in 1973, hence this 40 year anniversary celebration. It had to do with the Civil Rights Movement. It had to do with Equal Opportunity. And in particular, from the 4 A’s perspective, because we are an organization over the industry, I am quite sure that its just like you heard today [at The Face of Talent 2013]: The conversation was about, “How do we find ways to lead change?” And to make sure that we do what we need to do to make sure that our agencies are giving equal opportunities to young people of color. How do we do that? How do we even start that conversation?

You can imagine back in 1973, 10 years since the EEOC passed Title 7. It was a bold move. I think even now, the 4 A’s spend a lot especially at our Senior Executive level, trying to figure out what we need to do to help our industry, be at the forefront of the change that’s necessary to sustain the business. So I’m assuming that back in 1973, the conversation was, “Look: Many of the other industries that we service (many of our client industries), are doing what they need to do to make sure that they are providing equal opportunity to minorities. We need to figure out how to lead the way and help our agencies to start to do the same.”

The Makegood: How do you see this Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP)  benefiting both the companies involved as well as the interns?

Well, here 40 years later, the conversation has changed significantly. We’ve moved away from, “let’s give minorities an equal opportunity.” To, “how do we make sure that we are best positioned as a community and an industry to do our jobs the right way?” And that’s really all about making sure that we can give our clients whatever they need, and help them ensure that their brands grow and receive the right attention in the marketplace.

In order to do that, we have to make sure that the environment in which we work is filled with different types of people. And those are multicultural people because the demographics tell us that today the consumer is multicultural. That means that there is a tremendous amount of buying power now in the hands of people that we need to be able to speak to authentically. And when I say authentically, I mean in a way that is relevant and respectful. And it is really hard for you to be able to have a point of view on something or someone when you have no background knowledge and no experience with that person or that culture or that thing. If we help to create environments or communities in our agency where we can experience each other differently and invite the right mix of people into that environment or community, since we all grow differently, we are all able to take just a little bit of an influence from one culture or another based on what is in our agency.

MAIP seeks to facilitate that. MAIP seeks to help agencies do what sometimes they cannot do which is reach out to the multicultural young professionals in the making and say, “spend some time with us, we need your perspective. We need to learn from your experiences and quite frankly, we need a little bit of our culture to be influenced by yours.” In order to make sure that when our clients come to us to create a campaign, we know what we’re talking about. Because we are now in a community that has the right mix of people, so we know far more about the world out there today.

The Makegood: I’m curious. The advertising industry was mentioned in a few of the speeches as very stereotypically filled with white professional males (look at Mad Men). I’m wondering, have you seen any struggles within the interns that they’ve had to go through being multicultural, or that you’ve had to face? How has that changed over the years?

In the industry, I will tell you, what I’ve experienced is that its an insular society. And I don’t think that anyone is guarding the gate and saying “nobody else can come in if they’re not like us.” I think that what happens is that as any industry grows, it grows based on who is occupying that community. It is easy to bring in people who you know, or who you’re comfortable with.

Our industry moves at breakneck speed. Our senior executives have to make a lot of really super tough decisions, really quickly, very often without the resources and the time that they need to make the decision the way they would like to. When you add on to that the prospect of making sure that you spend the time to think about: “Did I do what was fast and easy to hire people that I know and make a few calls to say ‘hey, I know your kid graduated from college, can you bring him in? I need some help.”’ Now you have to come out of your normal self. You have to reject your muscle memory and you have to literally defy the pressure that is on you and say, “wait, did we do it the best way? Can we take a step back and think about where we got some of our talent, and can we do things differently?” That requires time.

So I will say to you that the challenges that the interns may face is not particular to their skin color. Our industry has a challenge with talent and growing and cultivating talent the right way. Also in making sure that as an industry and as senior executives, we do deliberately take the steps necessary to welcome the talent that’s coming into our agency. To wrap arms around them. To look them in the eye and say, “I’m interested in you, I’m interested in what makes you tick. I’m interested to make sure that you feel comfortable enough to bring all that comes with you: your culture, your ethnicity, your gender, your different ability, and your sexual orientation. I’m interested in all that and I want you to bring all that to bare in this environment so that we can do the best work possible.”

We’re not great with spending that kind of time as an industry. One of the things that is challenging in this industry, no matter what color you are is being seen, getting visibility, being acknowledged. Which is why you have to sort of be present and lean forward. But our young people in college are not being trained to do that. They are not (most of them), naturally born with a competitive spirit, and a drive, and a will to win that lives outside of their body, that they can emit in their communications.

So if you don’t do that then its very easy for you to feel like, “no one really knows I’m here. I mean I do work, the work is interesting, I’ve got a nice team, we lost a few people, I’m working harder, working weekends. Is this right for me? Would anybody notice if I wasn’t here?” I don’t know if you saw that movie What Women Want. That was all based in an ad agency. There was a young woman (and I am certainly not saying that our young people would go to this extreme), but in her head it was like, “I doubt you would even notice if I was gone.” Well, that’s easy because everybody’s running around with their hair on fire trying to get work done and the clients are [not only] demanding, they’re leading the conversation now. So in order to make sure we service them, we manage for their priorities. They’re not saying, “where are the people of color?” They’re saying something very different.

So at the end of the day, that’s why the 4 A’s forms the service that it does. Because our intention with all of our diversity programs, especially as it pertains to talent, is to make sure that our agencies have to spend all their time trying to keep their clients happy, trying to keep their businesses operating. Trying, as best they can, to keep people employed. We can help them on the other side. With talent, finding talent, sourcing talent, and as we did today, and as we do every year at the face of talent: Present that talent for hire.

The Makegood: I know you’ve worked in HR and I’m wondering  as you’re talking about reaching out to the millennials, what do you see changing within HR’s role for working with this new group of people?

I think every generation gets a reputation, right? So that’s the first thing. The next thing I would say is: HR has to really transform the way that it thinks in general, with regard to talent. At the end of the day, we have to become much more progressive, especially in this industry. HR is going to have to become much more progressive in the way that the leaders think and the way that they manage and influence their operation within the agency. Because more and more, HR and talent are going to have to lead the charge for the change that is required within the culture.

What we’re not quite doing the way that we should, is bringing the HR and talent lead together with the CEO to talk about how we grow this business. Because the only way you grow the business is through the people, period. But what we have right now, for the most part is: The CEO going off on his path to run the business, and the HR person is sort of following up, if you will. I think we’re going to have to move from the responsive posture to the more proactive posture. And so HR is going to have to do the work to become I think a little bit more pushy and assertive about being a part of the dialogue that has to do with the business and where we want the business to grow. Because unless you understand what you want to see in the business for the next 5 years, you can’t really effectively position the talent in a way that is sustainable. You just sort of go after whoever is out there.

So I think with millennials, because we hear that they want a different type of worplace which is funny because sometimes when you talk to them, they’re like “Why do you guys think this is strange?” But I think at the end of the day, what is going to happen with millennials is HR is going to have to slow down and be more thoughtful about how we handle people practices, how we acknowledge talent within the organization in a way that is consistent, how we help these young people feel like they matter, and that their presence has been taken to account, and appropriately utilized for the work. I think we also are going to have to help them see where they are in the world, because sometimes, you go about your day, you do your work and you don’t get that you’re really a part, and that you may be just a thread, but you’re thread is part of a tapestry that ends up being this big amazing campaign for a brand that can now go out into the world and do great things. And sometimes those great things are socially oriented, and sometimes those things are about sales.

But at the end of the day, we’re going to have to, as HR people and talent people help millennials recognize where they are in that tapestry and in creating those messages. And we’re going to have to work to help grow them. And that’s not easy. There are things, if you believe some of the conversations: These are people that want work-life balance, well we can’t provide that. So for us, if that’s what we believe then its really about changing our environment so that while we might not be able to deliver work-life balance right now, in 5 years, maybe we’ll be able to. But right now, we can’t do that. What we can do is we can create a culture and an environment where you feel so bright when you’re there that maybe its OK that you don’t leave at 5 o’clock every day to go ride your bike in central park. Maybe that’s OK, because you work with great people, you’re highly appreciated, you’re acknowledged, you have opportunities for growth. You’ll feel like people see you, really see you, and that you are making a contribution that you can feel proud of. So I think with millennials, that’s what HR is gonna have to reassemble to try to do.

The Makegood: That sounds great, well that’s all of my questions, do you have anything you would like to add or tell the public?

I’m really pleased that you’re here! I’m so pleased that you got an opportunity to witness the 4 A’s efforts to bring together the advertising industry and community in a way that they can welcome and embrace this next wave of talent. And I hope that you got to see how much the young people that have come through this program appreciate what we do. How excited they are about the prospect of being a part of this community, and taking it to the next level. That’s why we said: transcend, transform, and make it happen. Because, that’s what they intend to do. And so I feel like its important for people like you to really see those words and that activity take place. And its important for the industry, too.

Some things we did in our AdAge article really talked about the fact that we’re not there, we’re not there, I mean, make sure you print that we haven’t solved it all. We’ve got a lot of problems. The point is that we have done something as a collective. MAIP has a 40 year legacy, because this industry said it would. This is something that the industry did. There are a lot of programs where the help and the support and the initiative of the program come from outside the industry. This one is carried on the shoulders of the executives and the HR talent people in this industry. And that’s saying a lot so when we say, “the industry is doing nothing,” I might say, “nothing is a pretty big statement.”

The Makegood: Thank you, Singleton.