By Megan Sayles
Years ago, a young Black creative attended a Christmas party at San Francisco advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners. While looking around the room, he couldn’t help but notice the lack of people who looked like him so he posed a question to the agency’s founder, Jeff Goodby: “Where are all the Black people?”
This query would become the title of Goodby and fellow advertising legend Jimmy Smith’s panel at The One Club’s Creative Week in 2011. The One Club for Creativity, a New York City-based nonprofit that supports the global creative community, decided that this question was too important to simply serve as a panel. As a result, Where Are All The Black People (WAATBP) became the organization’s annual diversity conference and career fair.
“It started with panels like one-off conversations, and then, it kept growing,” said Adrienne Lucas, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at The One Club for Creativity. “It became this must-attend event within the industry, and now it’s pretty large.”
At one point, the conference changed its name to Here Are All The Black People to show the industry that this was the place to discover Black talent. However, Smith, who is a board member at The One Club for Creativity, found that the using the word “here” instead of “where” implied that the diversity problem in the advertising industry was solved. In 2020, the conference returned to its original moniker.
“The onus is on the agency to hire us. When we say ‘where’ we’re not saying Black creatives and Black ad talent doesn’t exist,” said Lucas. “We know that Black ad talent exists. [We’re saying,] ‘where are we at the company? Why aren’t you hiring us? Why aren’t you creating space for us?’”
The 2021 WAATBP will be held for two days starting Sept. 29. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it will be virtual, which has allowed the conference to be free for all attendees. The event will kick off with a keynote speech from comedian Amber Ruffin and lead into a panel discussion on finance.
During the conversation, creators will learn how to price their work and how to negotiate their salary and contracts. There will also be a panel called: Healing from Racial Trauma in the Workplace, where speakers will address microaggressions in the workplace and how agencies can foster a more inclusive environment. On Thursday Sept. 30, WAATBP will host a conversation about being Black and disabled in advertising and how agencies can make the industry more accessible.
Both days of the conference will feature virtual recruiting and portfolio review sessions. The virtual recruiting will mimic an in-person career fair, and WAATBP expects 50 sponsors who will lead Black creators in a discussion about their resumes, career interests and goals. During the portfolio reviews, registrants will get the opportunity to receive feedback from industry professionals.
“The important thing is not only are they getting feedback on how to improve their portfolio, but, in some cases, they may be getting hired because the person on the other end works for the agency, and they’re impressed by what they see,” said Lucas.
New to this year’s conference is a creative workshop for historically Black college and university (HBCU) students. Lucas said she has heard numerous people of color tell her they were unaware that the advertising and marketing field was an option for them, which is why it is important that the conference targets HBCUs.
In order to create more opportunity, Lucas said agencies need to frequent career fairs at these institutions, be willing to train students and engage in class visits at HBCUs. “We also want to make sure that we’re tapping into the whole gamut of HBCUs that are available to us, not just maybe five of the most well-known HBCUs,” said Lucas.
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