The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

I Love This Photo …

… not just because I’m with a couple of mates I love and respect.

Nor is it that the angle of the pic means my physical horribleness – especially compared to their disgusting beauty – is partially hidden.

It’s because they’re two super-senior leaders, who got to where they are because of their talent and authenticity.

They also happen to be black.

Karrelle Dixon is the Managing Director of Wieden+Kennedy Portland.

Jason White is the Global CMO of BEATS.

Of course the colour of their skin shouldn’t matter – just like it shouldn’t matter what gender you are or what sexual preference you choose – but tragically it still does.

Especially in America.

To get to the top is an amazing achievement for anyone.

To get to the top while remaining authentic to who you are is something truly special.

To do all that and be a person of colour … well, that’s the highest accolade of all.

Of course I hope for a time where this isn’t news – it is just normal – and while neither of them should have to have the additional burden of being a role model, they are and, if I’m being honest, they should be because if you want to model yourself on anyone – regardless of your heritage or background – it’s them.

Smart as shit.

Charismatic as Clooney.

Total natural born leaders.

Tireless in their passion.

Focused on making the best work of everyone’s lives.

A real and proven desire to help young talent come through.

[In both cases, they have personally helped me help people I thought were bursting with talent but were not getting the breaks I felt they had earned, let alone deserved]

In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact I can consistently beat them at table tennis, they’d be perfect.

But the fact is, Karrelle and Jason are still anomalies in this business – and while that should not underestimate the impact they will have on people of colour who previously had little or no role models for believing they could get to the top – it’s also why I’m a bit conflicted with Adcolor’s Future program.

Let me be clear, this is not about Adcolor specifically.

They are an amazing organisation who have done more to promote diversity in the industry than anyone else, not to mention for longer than everyone else.

Their mission has always been to create a community of diverse professionals who support and celebrate eachhother and they have an incredible track record of doing just that … giving people of colour a real chance in an industry loaded with hurdles.

For hurdles, read ‘senior white men’.

And this is why I’m conflicted.

You see recently a couple of my colleagues applied to get in their Future’s program. They are talented, smart, passionate colleagues… who happen to be people of color, but sadly they didn’t get in.

Let me be clear they were OK with the decision.

Disappointed, but OK.

And I can say the same too.

Despite their talent, maybe they didn’t show how good they are in the way they needed to.

But here’s the bit that bothers me.

You see instead of being told what/where they went wrong … how they could improve … they were just told ‘no’.

Now I’m sure there’s a bunch of reasons for the limited response – for example. maybe they’re inundated with requests – but for an organization committed to helping people of colour move forward, a simple ‘yes or no’ seems counter to that commitment.

It feels like they are judges instead of coaches.

Deciding someone’s fate instead of helping it rise.

Now I fully appreciate I am not aware of all the facts.

I also appreciate that Adcolor as an organization is very open and transparent.

But I would have loved it if the people behind their Future’s program had given my colleagues some advice about what they could have done better with their submission, because the fact they wanted to belong to a group who wants to improve the industry means they’re already showing traits adland badly needs to embrace.

But lets be honest, success for people of colour should not just be down to Adcolor.

Nor the inspirational achievements of Karrelle and Jason.

We all have a role to play.

And that goes beyond just talking about it, but doing things about it.

One of the things America has taught me is that if you don’t act, you’re complicit in keeping things the same.

I’d love to think I have always acted on this issue – not just because I’ve spent so much of my career living in nations where I was a member of the [privileged] minority – but that’s how I was brought up.

By that I don’t mean it in a we need to give everyone a chance sort-of way, but in a ‘everyone is equal even when we’re different’ sort-of way.

And while the only way we’ll find out if I’m full of shit is if we ask the people of colour I’ve worked with – both in America and around the World – if I’ve fought for them and shown my belief and faith in them, there’s one thing that is absolutely not open to interpretation …

Diversity makes everything better.

It allows different experiences, understanding and cultural references to open up possibilities and opportunities for everyone and everything. From creativity to culture. Commerce to the potential of creating real change.

But it does even more than that.

It can take our industry to places we might never see or experience without it.

Let’s be honest, our industry has been predominantly shaped by white males.

Hey, some of them have done a brilliant job. I’m not knocking them – or anyone who is white or male – I also happen to be one.

But imagine the possibilities if we let people who had different backgrounds, different experiences, different frames-of-reference to have a go.

Finally we might get to some genuine new thinking in the industry as opposed to the usual old ideas with a different name.

I know for a fact, all my years living in China/Asia made an astounding difference to how I think and who I am. Differences I still embrace and rely on to this day.

[Here’s a talk I gave in Australia on this: Part 1, 2 and 3 ]

And unlike many of us white guys, people of colour [not to mention members of the LGBT communities] have always been generous with their brilliance, talent and kindness, which given all the shit they have had to – and continue to have to – deal with, that makes them the sort of leader we’d all benefit from working with and for.

Put simply, every single person in adland should be pushing, embracing, celebrating and making room for diversity.

Not because it is ‘the right thing to do’ – even though it is – but it might be the only thing that can save adland and make it truly matter again.

35 Comments so far
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fuck me campbell, america has turned you into the arthur fucking scargill of advertising. it needs it, i just never thought it would be you.

Comment by andy@cynic

Arthur Scargill of adland. Nice.

Comment by DH

I don’t know how I feel about this … but as I know it’s meant as a rare compliment, I’ll take it.

And you’re right America has taught me a lot – but more as a byproduct of living here – because America doesn’t talk about the issues it needs to talk about, it just wants to focus on using words that gives the impression they’re into it.

The real lessons have come from 3 amazing and talented African American women who are in my team. What they have taught me has changed the way I will look and act for the rest of my life and I will forever be in their debt for that.

Comment by Rob

enjoy it campbell, it will be the only one you ever get from me.

Comment by andy@cynic

youre breaking american taboos all over the fucking place. white men here dont talk about race or equality with actual fucking things that need to happen. they dont write this stuff and come across like they actually know what the fucking situation is thats going down. theres a lot of shit wrong with you but this isnt one of them.

Comment by andy@cynic

I won’t lie … I asked some people of colour colleagues to read this post before I put it up. Not because I cared about pissing off the establishment, but because I cared about not coming across as judgmental about an organization – Adcolor – that I hold in the highest esteem.

They did me proud. Again.

Comment by Rob

of course you did. thats what people who actually give a fuck do. dont apologise for it you fuckwit.

Comment by andy@cynic

Bravo Robert. Beautifully and sensitively written. Your industry needs more people saying and doing these things. Proud of you today.

Comment by Mary Bryant

And bravo to Andrew for commenting properly.

Comment by Mary Bryant

george. your wife has complimented me. only taken 20 fucking years.

Comment by andy@cynic

For you to earn it?

Comment by John

Exactly John.

Comment by George

Just today eh … Ha.

Comment by Rob

One of the “reasons” for the lack of feedback may be a fear of litigation. I hope not but I’ve certainly encountered that.

Comment by John

Could be. Everyone here is paralysed with fear their words or actions could end up in a lawsuit. Fortunately Rob is immune to all that constraint.

Comment by DH

What an inspiring post. America has educated you well on the issues facing people of colour. This situation is not exclusive to Americs but maybe more severe with the current administration. I hope this post gets as much exposure as it deserves.

Comment by Lee Hill

Thank you Lee … but I do worry companies hide behind words like ‘diversity’ rather than actually embrace it fully. The problem with many companies is that while they appreciate the importance of it, they think it’s more about letting the minorities act like the majority rather than allow minorities to be authentic and not be negatively judged for that.

Comment by Rob

Trump supporters are going to hate you. Well done Rob, can I share it?

Comment by Bazza

Since when have you asked Rob for permission for anything.

Comment by DH

Of course matey.

Comment by Rob

In the defense of Adcolor, (who I know you are not attacking, but raising a valid point that helps them fulfill their vision) I have found them to always be committed to their charter so I am sure this is a case of simple oversight.

Comment by George

Yes … I know how good they are and I’m sure it’s an oversight. This is less about that and more about the whole industry needing to be coaches and cheerleaders for people of colour rather than have them need Adcolor or a few inspirational African Americas to believe there is a chance for them to succeed.

Comment by Rob

I’m guessing Rob will explain a bit more about this when he’s ready.

Comment by Pete

What? Did Andy’s thousands of letters to the border patrol finally work?

Comment by DH


Comment by Billy Whizz

I’ll talk about this but not on this post.

I want this to remain focused on the issue at hand if that’s OK.

But yes, football might not be coming home, but after 24 years away, I am.

Comment by Rob

I hear you.

Comment by DH

What this post tells me is you are an individual who quickly and deeply gets in to the culture of wherever you live. The way you talk about the issues in America sounds like someone who has lived here a long time, not someone who has only been here a year. I know people who were raised here who would not have any understanding of the issues or the nuance you raise in this post.

I’m so proud of you Rob and you’ve written this post very sensitively.

Comment by DH


Comment by Katerina

You wonderful man. I miss you Robbie.


Comment by Jemma King

Hi Rob, I’m relatively new to your blog, but as an AA woman in advertising, this post rubbed me the wrong way so I felt the need to comment. To clarify- you’re aggrieved that your colleagues who weren’t accepted into a highly competitive program weren’t given an exit interview? Seems to me that there’s an easy solve for someone as well respected in the field as you are. Instead of placing the onus of on a relatively new organization (not the oldest by any means, as you stated- look up AAF/ MPMS) comprised of the underrepresented groups that you say make everything better, why don’t you, as a white man in a position of power, work to give those colleagues of yours the same mentorship that they missed out on by not being accepted into the program? If more people like you stepped up we could put an end to pipeline programs that have a limited capacity, and force us to pit our best and brightest against each other in a way that young white talent has never had to do. In asking for a followup, you’re contributing to the cycle of expecting marginalized people to perform additional labor (for free), when programs like Adcolor are already desperately trying to play catch in an industry that is just now cleaving to diversity as a buzz term, similar to “digital” before it. If you think that’s a harsh assessment, please ask why you thought to mention the business case of diversity as opposed to thinking that humanity was reason enough.

Comment by rr

Hello RR. Thank you got your comment and I understand why this may have rubbed you up the wrong way. For the record I do have a problem that my colleagues weren’t given help to understand why they weren’t accepted into the futures program for the reasons I state, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have utter respect in the organisation – and if that didn’t come through I’m sorry because I went to great lengths to try and ensure that doesn’t happen.

While you would have to ask my colleagues whether I ‘step up to the plate’, I would like to think I do, especially for people of colour as I know my privilege and the continual unfairness they face each day. There are countless things I could point to but frankly I still could do more and that is a fair accusation you level at me.

Yes diversity is about humanity but sadly that isn’t enough for a lot of business hence the reason I bring it up from a commercial benefits perspective – which is similar to the situation Adcolor and 72 find themselves in. Not right. Not good. But more effective than just appealing to human instinct unfortunately.

For the record, this post was meant to be a celebration of people of colour – something I have been privileged to witness from the countless countries where I’ve had the pleasure to work and live (which is why it’s not a buzz word for me but a fundamental foundation of strength and growth). It was also to highlight the huge and unfair disadvantage people of colour face around the World and especially America. That it didn’t come through saddens me. That you think my words are not sincere is something I would welcome to prove wrong to you should you wish to talk directly rather than through this blog.

Some things you might like to read before we talk may be:



Comment by Rob

did you read the post? apart from campbell calling out a lack of feedback, hes literally saying everything youre saying he should be doing. i dont like standing up for campbell but sounds like youre reading what you want it to say not what its saying. and hes saying it which is more than any other fucker in adland is doing unless they have a pr asshole next to them making sure its bland and soft.

Comment by andy@cynic

Defending Rob? I’ll call the hospital.

Comment by DH

[…] great irony is that the industry loves to talk about diversity, but they don’t realise it’s not just about who you hire – it’s how you let […]

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