January 23, 2022

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Aaron Walton: Equity in agent-client relationships


Applying an equitable lens to these barriers would require the industry—clients and agencies alike—to acknowledge the historic and current uneven industry playing field as it relates to agency assignments, budget allocations, and fundamental respect.

It seems that, in 2021, clients would want to align with those agency experts who are already prepared to not only be inclusive but to strategically market to specific segments as well as cross-culturally. The mainstream of today, particularly the younger cohorts, are the multicultural segments that general agencies of record have often ignored. So why are these AORs still perceived as having an upper hand insofar as a mass target is involved? In contrast, the agencies with deep cultural expertise, which often includes a broad understanding of the so-called general market, are asked to take consultant seats so “dominant-culture” AORs learn from them, all the while holding on to the lion’s share of budgets and assignments.  

When it comes to client-agency relationships in a changing America, where is the equity? What would equity look like?

Equity would suggest that clients would shift some work away from those agencies who ignored or rejected obvious cultural opportunities, a dominant industry trait from inception. This would create space, and funding, for agencies who are truly culturally connected to drive initiatives relevant to younger influencers of color and culture.

Equity would suggest that agencies that have no history with diverse communities be honest about their areas of expertise and resist the urge to claim capabilities they do not have. Trying to position oneself as a cultural, polycultural, transcultural, or ambicultural  agency without having done the work in specific cultural spaces is not only harmful to the industry but to communities that need our industry to take their needs seriously.

Equity would suggest that clients look to cultural segment partners with a wider lens and give them an opportunity to show the full breadth of their work. In some cases, those partners are indeed generalist agencies, but have not been recognized as such because of their cultural segment ownership and/or expertise.

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Equity does mean hiring and retaining diverse talent across the advertising ecosystem. But it also means honoring talent and leaders who always knew that the demographics of this country were shifting and who prepared themselves for 2021 and beyond on behalf of their clients and in service to diverse communities. 



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