Advertising Inequality Lingers: Industry Heads Discuss Racial Disparity Within the Advertising Workplace


The notion that racial disparities still linger within advertising is very real. In an industry that continues to see its target markets grow, including those of multicultural audiences, it seems a bit ironic that the advertising sector has neglected to nurture its own ethnic diversity.

The Human Rights Commission in New York made it a point to investigate this issue last year when hearings were held on how the advertising industry hires, promotes and maintains its employees. In order to keep the conversation going, ADOTAS brought up this somewhat contentious issue to a pair of industry execs that head successful multicultural agencies of their own. By doing so, Bob O’Neil of Images USA and Richard Wayner (pictured) of the TRUE agency shared their perspective on diversity and revitalization within the advertising industry along with the way forward and what needs to happen.

Constantly criticized and publicized for being outspoken, especially in regards to the racial disparity topic, TRUE’s Wayner simply argues that he wants to “speak about the way forward because it’s a huge opportunity for Madison Avenue to revitalize itself.” Although unintentionally, the CEO of the True agency has become an unofficial spokesman on the multicultural dearth within advertising, stating the obvious when no one else did. Today, Wayner adds, “I think it requires some courage and creativity, but I think it’s a huge opportunity.” The opportunity which he speaks of, diversification, exists for all parties, including major advertising agencies, multicultural agencies, and more importantly for brands that would be able to genuinely reach their potential consumers.

For anyone that may question whether or not racial disparities exist in our arena, a simple glance at agencies and their demographics would prove in the affirmative. According to Bob McNeil, who cites the HRC inquiry, a racial divide within advertising is not only prevalent, but it’s been around for too long. “There’s definitely a lack of diversity within advertising. Last year, that lack of diversity was so paramount that the Human Rights Commission in NY held hearings, and you saw a lot of the large mainstream agencies sign agreements to increase their diversity or to diversify their ranks from a personnel perspective and so forth,” he says. While it is an unfortunate stain on the industry, McNeil adds, “At the same time it also has created some unique opportunities for firms like Images. Because of our expertise and because of that diversity gap within the general market firms, it’s created this niche marketplace for companies like [ours].”

In creating opportunity for multicultural agencies, the major advertising agencies that have been slow to integrate may have also shorted themselves on genuine delivery and multicultural expertise. Wayner sees all parties benefitting from partnerships, stating, “The front line of a general market strategy should be a transcultural strategy because transcultural people are going to be the icons, decision makers, thought leaders and trendsetters.”


  1. They need to quit waisting our time in the Advertising world. Tell them to go over to the Sports Industry and spout their multi-this and ethnic-that.

    They won’t! And neither will we.

  2. I believe there is a lack of diversity among cultures and genders. I find it interesting that Men are hired to promote brands to the Female demographic and maybe 1 Female sits on the account. Agencies have a long way to go as far as integrating everyone. People just need to be open minded and not judge based on looks or gender. Comments like the one above are luckily few and far between.

  3. What a put down to any “ethnic person”. The whole article is totally skewed towards the fact that preferential treatment should be given to someone for a job based on the color of their skin. Why a black mans face for the article? What’s wrong with Mexican or Chinese or Italian or Portuguese? Aren’t they ethnic enough?

    Then when someone of color does get a promotion or new job, the same writers will make them a “poster boy” by spinning headlines that displays such promotions as charitable acts or the company has done something cool. How pathetic.

    I’m an old school traditional person that believes you get your job or promotion because you actually worked smart / hard for it.

  4. I would have to agree with the majority of the article. I do have a great portfolio, great work expereince, great attitude as well great references and still unable to get these major advertising companies to hire me, which I believe are based on the color of skin and/or ethnic background.

    This should not be news to anyone since most of these positions in this industry are generally well paying salaries-the last thing these non-ethnic decision makers want to do is pay us minorities the same amounts their counter-parts are making.

    Look around your agency right now and calculate the ratio of minorities you have.

    To summarize, welcome to the corporate world. This does not just apply to the advertising industry, but all industries. Sad but true.


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