Despite recent strides, diversity in the advertising and marketing industries remains rare: A recent study by the Association of National Advertisers found that only 6% of its members are African-American, while 8% are Hispanic.
Events like The One Club for Creativity’s Here Are All The Black People exist to change this. At this year’s event in New York City, which pulled in more than 650 advertising students and professionals from diverse backgrounds, attendees had the opportunity to network with recruiters, attend workshops and participate in portfolio reviews.
During one of the panel sessions, Love Malone, who formerly served as a global director at Ogilvy, shared how she’s turned one of her passions into a business that’s set to formally launch early next year.
Malone is founder and CEO of The Gradient Group, a platform that connects diverse talent to the creative, media and entertainment industries. According to its LinkedIn page, it will also provide networking, education and employment opportunities.
The Gradient Group is still in its prelaunch phase, but Malone said 6,000 people have already signed up. Companies and agencies are admitted to join The Gradient Group on an invite-only basis, and must commit to hiring talent from the platform if they want continued access to it.
Upending the status quo
Before she got her start in advertising, Malone held sales and marketing roles at GlaxoSmithKline and Merck. She then joined BBDO before becoming a global director at Ogilvy, where she realized her passion for getting diverse talent hired.
“The one thing that I enjoyed most when I was at Ogilvy was being able to find places that we could bring people in,” she said. “I’m not a recruiter at all, but I like to get people into an industry that people should be able to get into.”
Malone said part of the reason she started The Gradient Group is out of frustration with agencies blaming their lack of diverse talent on not being able to find qualified candidates.
“Qualified to do a commercial?” she quipped. “I literally worked with people who were curing cancer. We’re talking about a commercial for chocolate.”
She also brought up the fact that even as brands become increasingly obsessed with being culturally relevant, agencies often overlook the very people that drive culture. For instance, she pointed out that black music is ubiquitous within the advertising industry, from events like the Cannes Lions or being used in ads—even as black people struggle to break in.
What’s more, she said focus groups are often made up of people of color, yet the people making the actual work are often overwhelmingly white.
“If you tell people your target market is 30% Latino, and you don’t have anyone on the team that’s Latino, how are you getting the best work?” she asked. “If you want to talk about innovating the creative industry, you have to look at the people for innovation. If you have the same 10 people that all look alike, you don’t have a team that’s innovative. Period.”
Going out on her own
It was for these reasons that Malone set out to start The Gradient Group, which officially debuts in January. So far, agencies including BBDO, Ogilvy and Edelman have signed up, as well as brands such as Estee Lauder.
Malone acknowledged that starting a business is no easy feat; she told the audience that anyone who is thinking about doing it should make sure they’re truly passionate about what they’re trying to achieve, as it’s “a lot of lonely days.”
Even so, she said that those who want to do it shouldn’t let anything, particularly money, get in the way.
“There are a lot of things you have to make a decision on when you’re starting a business. But I would say, just start it,” she said. “The great thing is, there’s money out there. You can figure out ways to pull money in.”
For example, Malone said she recently sat on a company’s board as an advertising advisor and put the money she earned for the gig back into the business instead of taking it as a paycheck. When Coca-Cola bought a minority stake in the company nearly two years later, Malone said she ended up receiving “several million” from the deal as a result.
On top of that, she’s managed to raise seed and angel investments from family offices, which are wealth management firms that serve ultra-high net worth individuals or families.
“You can find money in a lot of places, so don’t let money be the reason why you don’t start your business,” she advised, noting that investors are particularly interested in companies founded by women and people of color thanks to movements like #MeToo. “I don’t think you should let anything stop you.”
She also recommended that freelancers establish themselves as an LLC, as many companies are searching for diverse suppliers. Companies including Coca-Cola, Kroger and T-Mobile have supplier diversity programs in place.
“A lot of companies are looking for supplier diversity,” Malone said. “So if you’re an artist and you’re doing something that you can actually sell as a freelancer, just do it as an LLC.”