GS&P Hosts Open and Honest Talk Shop Sessions About Challenges Faced by Minorities and Being Black in Advertising

The ongoing series came out of the agency's Voices diversity and inclusivity initiative

GS&P's Crystal Thomas (middle) leads conversation with creatives Rony Castor (left) and Anthony O'Neill (right). Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Several great initiatives came from agencies to support and celebrate Black History Month, and upon closer examination, Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ new Talk Shop series merits watching.

The series was born from GS&P Voices, an agency diversity and inclusion initiative that was created as a platform for minority groups to have unfiltered discussions about life and work. While other seemingly uncomfortable internal agency discussions around race, diversity and inclusion are generally kept in-house, it’s refreshing to see GS&P put talent’s point of view out there for all to see.

“It’s important to carve spaces for people to have open and honest conversations about issues affecting diversity and inclusion,” said Crystal Thomas, a GS&P account manager and co-founder of GS&P Voices. “[The show] aims to normalize uncomfortable dialogue across a variety of topics.”

Thomas serves as host of the show where she balances the importance of the discussion and the unfiltered responses. In the first episode, the panel addressed the use of the word “woke” and how it has been co-opted by broader culture.

“We created it, and though it was associated with the African-American struggle, it’s not ours anymore,” said GS&P acd Rony Castor. “We don’t have control over it.”

“That’s part of white privilege,” added GS&P video editor David Sullivan. “It’s not to have to think about anyone else’s struggle other than their day-to-day. Every day we have our own personal struggles as human beings. But as minorities, we have that extra level of struggle.”

The role of Black History Month is also discussed in the first episode. Thomas noted that people tend to “look in the past” to help “shape who we are today,” but she also challenged the panel to discuss “how we see ourselves [in] 10, 20, 30 years from now.”

“I think you want to get to a point where it feels normal to have multicultural [advertising] sets,” noted Olaitan Oladipo, part of the GS&P broadcast production team. “It becomes normalized, and it’s not a big conversation that has to happen every time, but it’s a reflection of the world that we live in.”

“You can’t mess with stats,” added GS&P strategist Briana Patrick, referring to Gen Z. “There are 47 percent ethnic minorities and that’s only going to grow, and I feel really hopeful that our industry is going to change with the times.”

The second episode hones in on the experiences of African-Americans in advertising. “Advertising While Black” tackled some of the past year’s most profound work, such as Nike’s ads featuring Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams and “The Talk” from P&G.

For his part, Castor felt that the efforts weren’t actually genuine and more of a “PR thing.”

“I don’t think they actually want to lead in terms of ‘this is what we stand for,’” he said, noting that ads like this may be a person’s first glimpse into the black experience.

One moment discussed is when black creatives pitch their ideas to white creative leads.

“You’re trying to sell them on something they’ve never seen before, and it’s very hard to bring that to life,” said GS&P acd Anthony O’Neill. “All I want you to do is trust me, and I think it’s hard to get that if someone’s not coming from the same space.”

“So much of our media that black people are in is stereotypical,” added Sullivan. “It’s gang-affiliated or has us talking a certain way or has this income level. That’s the perception. When you try to get out of that, that’s where you’re going to find that pushback.”

Wrapping up the 10-minute chat, Thomas asked the panel to weigh in with one thing the industry could do to be more culturally relevant in its creative work. While others brought up hiring practices and stepping out of comfort zones, GS&P copywriter Shareina Chandler made a significant point about access to the industry in the first place.

“[We need to] lower the cost of entry into the advertising industry,” she said. “Ad school is expensive, college is very expensive. If you look at the things young black people are doing online, these things are incredibly interesting and cool, and they’re using very little money to do it.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.