October 1, 2023

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How celebrity-owned agencies are managing the risks and rewards for brands

Helping to bring more diverse voices to the industry

The ad industry has a history of doing a poor job recruiting and retaining diverse talent, and some celebrities are out to remedy that.

A recent report from the 4A’s, the industry trade group, found that the number of agencies owned or run by white CEOs jumped to 90.2% in 2022 from 73% in 2021, and the majority of all agency employees (64.6%) in 2022 were white.

Farhang, former chief creative officer for Momentum Worldwide, enlisted the help of the NBA great O’Neal to start Atlanta-based Majority, whose employees are 75% people of color and LGBTQ+. The actor Jordan co-founded Obsidianworks with Easterling to foster more authentic storytelling of people of color within advertising. The singer and producer Williams started Mighty Dream with Edelman to “produce creative work that solves challenges facing communities of color through social action campaigns, product development and policy change,” according to the agency.

Also read: DE&I efforts to know about now

An executive of one Black-owned celebrity agency, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they left big holding company agencies because of the lack of representation of “Black and brown talent.” They said a lot of top diverse executives are doing the same.

Farhang said he pitched his idea to create an agency that employs multicultural talent doing “general market” work “to anyone who would listen.” After his original plan to get backing from an established agency fell through, his brother, who has directed O’Neal’s commercials for 10 years, introduced him to the basketball Hall of Famer who was receptive to the idea, he said.

“I came to learn Shaq had a similar ambition of his own for an Atlanta-based agency, but the only thing he was missing was the right partner. So, kismet,” Farhang said.

O’Neal, speaking on the “Talking To Ourselves” podcast with Farhang, said he always liked the idea of being the “first” at doing something, stemming from his ambition to be the first “big” basketball player (which is what it sounds: a player who is large and typically is positioned near the basket) to land a brand deal (of which he has many now).

More news: Shaq talks AI, memes and The General’s brand refresh

So, O’Neal, who is 7-foot-1, liked the idea of launching an agency comprised of multicultural talent that does what is called “general market” work—campaigns targeted to the “general” public versus campaigns that target multicultural audiences. That model is rare, as many big brands only hire multicultural agencies to do multicultural work.

“The fact that nobody’s doing this, me and you are going to jump on board. And that’s why I’m your partner,” O’Neal said on the podcast. “I would like to see our people get similar opportunities. Just the same opportunities. I know it’s been a good old boy business for a long, long time. And that has to stop.”

Diversity is also a business advantage. Brands increasingly want to work with diverse agencies and teams, and it’s been proven that companies that prioritize diversity are more profitable. A 2023 McKinsey & Co. report found that there is $2 billion in potential revenue for businesses that broaden financial inclusion efforts for Black Americans.

Procter & Gamble, which declined to comment for this story, is one such company that has been calling on its agency partners to improve their staff diversity. The consumer packaged goods giant recently started working with Kevin Hart and his agency LOL Studios on its Old Spice “The Writer’s Room” campaign.

“This partnership is helping Old Spice grow the personal care market, and the Black-owned and operated media market, where P&G brands have already doubled spending and intend to double again and further expand the market,” P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard said of the LOL Studios partnership during a speech at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June.

Cannes news: Pritchard on pushing growth, judging and more


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