Good morning everyone.
America is not in a good place at this moment in time. And not because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is tremendous pain, sorrow, anger and concern across the nation. Americans witnessed on television news a black man murdered in police custody—an outcome very likely different had he been white. What we saw cannot be undone or unremembered. Not since the 1960s has such unrestrained, open violence against African Americans been so rampant.
This is not where America should be after so many years of interracial progress. And yet, the death of George Floyd inspires hope, considering the protests that are taking place and the resurgence of a civil rights imperative: Black Lives Matter. It has always been this way. Blood is spilled, people suffer, lives are lost, but more steps are taken forward to fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As bad as it is today, it was worse in the 20th century before the Freedom Riders of the early 60s; before the killing of Emmett Till; before Police Commissioner Bull Conner set dogs on protesters in Birmingham, Alabama; before the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation decision and before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Yet, here we are again. Another black life lost. Eric Garner was killed in July 2014, while being detained by police for selling cigarettes on a Staten Island street. His words were “I can’t breathe.”
And though Mr. Floyd and Mr. Garner died in police custody, the police are just one part of a much larger problem.
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when white neighborhood vigilantes chased him down, shot and killed him.
Teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed walking home with a bag of Skittles by a self-appointed neighborhood lookout in Florida.
If the reality in America for black people, particularly men, is that no traffic stop is routine, the police are just a reflection of the larger white society that recruits, hires, trains and advances them in their jobs. Their bosses are the elected officials that we put in office. The village mayors, the town supervisors, the city mayors, the county executives, the governors and the president of the United States. All of them have a hand in policing, all of them are hired by us and all of them have some degree of responsibility in the following deaths:
- School cafeteria worker Philando Castile was shot and killed during a police stop in Minnesota with his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter in the back seat; he wasn’t even driving.
- Sandra Bland was detained following an allegedly unsafe lane change near Houston and was later found hanging in her jail cell.
- Emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times by police officers who stormed into her Louisville apartment with a “no knock” warrant.
- Pre-med graduate student Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed while babysitting her nephew at her mother’s house.
- Freddie Gray died in the back of Baltimore police van after he was found to be possessing a knife.
- Accountant Botham Jean was shot and killed in his Dallas home after a day at work.
If so many of us in America and in the world are shocked, one reason is because we had come so far from the days of unrestrained, open racial malevolence. The Ku Klux Klan, the lynchings, the burning crosses, the kidnappings and killings, the church bombings.
Thus, we are shocked by those in America whose hearts overflow with hate and whose minds are filled with notions of racial superiority and white privilege. And we are shocked when President Trump urges police “to rough ’em up” when positioning people in police vehicles.
The death of Mr. Floyd has caused me once again to question the value of our outrage. I don’t mean how we feel, I mean what we think will come of it.
All the outrage we voice and exhibit, time and again, has been insufficient when we look at school shootings. A shooting occurs, children and teachers die, outrage is expressed, the media pay lots of attention, and then the matter recedes, and little is done to reduce the slaughter.
How has America come to this moment after so many years of progress? After electing—twice—a black man to be president of the United States?
Most of America is sick and tired of not just the racial injustice and violence directed toward black people, but of so much else: the ongoing efforts to disenfranchise minority voters, to roll back school integration, to eliminate the social safety net, including health care, disregard for the poverty of our tribal nations or the indifference to segments of America like Puerto Rico where people of color struggle to rebuild years after disastrous storm damage.
These things are all connected. A society is either right-minded or not. It cannot be selective about doing the right thing. Because a little bit of the wrong thing eventually grows into a lot of wrongs.
Several of you on Monday asked whether we as a company would make a statement about the death of Mr. Floyd. And I assume you saw my email later that same day. We may do so, but only if we have something more to say than the gratuitous comments being made by individuals and organizations who will now move on.
I have read many of the corporate messages made by CEOs in the last week. I thought some were hollow and predictable and some deeply felt and heavy hearted.
But my instinct at the time of Mr. Floyd’s death was to remember that talk is cheap, and action is not. My reluctance to “talk” is, to some extent, based on a belief that despite the many thousands of hours we as a company have donated to community causes of all kinds, including programs focused on justice, equal opportunity and economic advancement, we have not done all we could have and should have to create those opportunities in our own company for people of color as well as others who are marginalized in terms of job opportunities.
I want us to make a statement—both literally and figuratively.
Actions do speak louder than words. And my desire is for us to adopt actions that will give us something of real substance to talk about.
Adweek published a feature story on Monday of this week in which six black ad industry professionals expressed their thoughts on the moment. There were three key insights they shared on what they do and don’t want to hear. The number one insight was that action and transparency are far more important than sympathy. The other two insights:
- Mental health—and safe spaces—are a must.
- Agency clients must be held accountable, too.
Their individual responses make clear that there is no one specific path forward that all will agree on. But they illustrate why it’s more important than ever for agencies to be turning words into actions and demonstrating the same level of creative intensity that’s brought to bear for client brands each day.
Action and transparency instead of sympathy.
While there appears to be a rush for people to say something or offer some level of comfort, one of the interviewees from a holding company agency said that’s not helpful.
“The thing we’re tired of is sympathy. Feeling sorry for us is not going to foster the change that we’re all looking for.”
This employee also pointed out the systemic inaction of agencies in finding diverse talent, only paying lip service when bringing the issue up.
“I feel like a lot of agencies give the excuse of, ‘We don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to fix this,’” they said. “And a lot of people let that pass and give the agencies the benefit of the doubt because they also feel like they don’t know what to do. To me, that feels incredibly lazy.”
Another interviewee noted that “It’s not that I don’t appreciate” when agencies speak out, make donations or host conversations and roundtables. “But it’s way too little, too late,” he said. “I’ve sat in those rooms knowing I don’t have a voice, so I don’t say anything because I know my voice doesn’t mean shit. I’m just there as window dressing.”
“This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be an ally or use your voice, but if you’re doing it just to do it, it’s better to refrain.” To that holding company media agency employee, making sure that brands are held to account—and pressed—is of great importance and sends an appropriate message.
Beginning in the 1970s, we aspired, as a company, when we set our sights on the goal of a fair and equitable workplace with equal opportunity. Where women would have no fear of harassment and no glass ceiling. And where people of every color and persuasion could enjoy a welcoming and respectful workplace. I wish I could say that we have been as successful with our goal of diversity for people of color as we have been for women.
Earlier this week, one of our industry trade publications reported that Edelman, the largest PR firm in the world, promised that “We will hire more diverse senior executives within the next year, to continue to change the face of our company in service of our clients.” I would like to see us make such a promise for every level of our company as just one of several actions we could pursue.
Edelman’s most senior African American executive, U.S. Chief Operating Officer Lisa Ross, spoke passionately about the need for Edelman “to do better in its hiring and promotion of diverse talent in order to ensure that they have a voice in the ongoing discussion and to expand our impact.”
So, what are we going to do at Mower that would make our statement truly, both literally and figuratively, meaningful? What is there at Mower that we can build on to meaningfully involve ourselves in combating injustice and opening the doors to greater opportunity for all people?
Those of us who can remember the riots of the 1960s are incredulous that the young people of today will now have similar horrifying recollections of such violence and hatred from the 2020s.
My message to you Monday expressed the following: “In my mind it is insufficient and unacceptable to object in the moment and then move on. More is required.”
What might some of that more be?
What can we do at a time at a time when our national leadership is not capable of mustering the good will, the human decency, the empathy and the compassion necessary to stem the enmity and move things forward?
First, our mindset.
Let us all know that racism and discrimination of any sort have never been tolerated at Mower. Never. It is toxic and destructive. It hurts people. And it will ultimately poison a culture. Since 1968 we have expressed good will, not ill will.
Next, I hope everyone in our organization sees recent events as intensely, inescapably painful and distressing for those who live their lives and are directly impacted by racist behaviors. As a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality, we still have a long history of discrimination and denying the rights of minorities. Women, LGBTQ people and immigrant populations have had to struggle for much too long and much too hard to get what many of us take for granted. If you are black or brown in America, discrimination is a daily fact of life.
All people of color—African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, Pacific Islander Americans and Native Americans—have had to endure an unimaginable burden. Black and brown Americans have been actively discriminated against for all of American history.
We must acknowledge this reality in our everyday dealings with colleagues, clients and our community contacts.
We need to examine our company and identify What more can Mower do?
We must acknowledge that we don’t have the power to legislate or to change what is in the hearts and minds of those who hate. Overcoming hundreds of years of racism is a monumental task that requires enlightened leadership from every level and sector of our society. But what we do can contribute to the progress America needs to continue.
After mindset come actions. What can Mower do?
Here are some starter ideas:
1. The economic conditions caused by COVID-19 have reduced our plans for hiring during 2020, but we will be adding some people to fill specific needs and to replace some people who leave our organization. We have always tried to identify minority candidates for open positions. As soon as the virus makes it possible, we will actively recruit—with greater urgency—qualified minority candidates so that we increase our level of diversity moving forward. This won’t be a passive effort, or one left solely to members of our HR team. Everyone can play a part in identifying the people we need to have in our organization. In the past, when we have discussed why we fail to add more people of color, we have been too forgiving of all the excuses. I have suggested on more than one occasion that we just not fill some number of jobs unless they are filled by diversity professionals. But I failed to override the objections.
2. We’re going to focus greater energy toward supporting small businesses owned by minority entrepreneurs. Our production team has lists of certified MWSBEs that we’ve created in the past. Starting now we will determine a designated minimum percentage of our production dollars to spend with these companies. We will also work with our clients to include minority-owned media in a larger portion of our media spend. If all companies in America would do the same, we would start to quickly address the economic inequities in minority communities in this country.
3. We must remove any passive tendencies and realize we are in the persuasion and motivation business. We can build bridges and communicate ideas. Hate is a powerful thing, but so is love. We need to use the tools we have, including the Mower social media channels, to raise our voices in constructive ways—provided that we can pass the test of walking the walk before we talk the talk.
4. As part of unrelated discussions, Mower leadership has been addressing things that we need to do as a group to raise the agency’s profile in the cities we call home. For many years, Mower has been active in a variety of community organizations. We are going to accelerate these discussions with an eye toward placing more senior and mid-level Mower team members on boards at nonprofits that work for social, economic, education, health and housing equality. We will call upon several of you to take on such responsibility and help our company be a greater force for good.
5. Our work needs to reflect the true makeup of America. Many of our campaigns do feature minority talent, but we can do better. Starting immediately, let’s put in place measures to review casting and stock photo selections so that the work we produce clearly reflects the population of our nation and our attitudes on inclusion and diversity.
6. We hope to restart internship programs in the coming months. In anticipation of this resumption, we will make contact with those colleges and universities we have existing relationships with and the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in some of our markets to find talented minority juniors and seniors who will be given priority in filling any open internships we have.
7. For roughly 20 years, Mower had a Diversity Council that worked to recommend activities, training programs and other steps the agency could take to make our organization a more welcoming place for all people. The group disbanded a few years back. It was a decision made by committee members, not by senior management. Bad decision. We need to revisit that purpose. The best ideas and solutions for how we should further the cause of racial justice and equal treatment will likely emerge from different levels of our organization, not just from the top down. Leadership will have a very important role to play, but we all need to be actively involved.
8. Last, but not least, we need a big idea. I am challenging everyone in our organization to submit an idea that could be a significant vehicle to honor Mr. Floyd’s life and at the same time create a significant public benefit. This would be a pro bono effort on our part.
All our efforts will require extra work, financial underpinning and long-term commitment. But actions are what will make progress happen, and we are open to ideas you may suggest for things we can and should be doing.
I grieve for Mr. Floyd, but I celebrate his life for what I believe will be the good to come of it. May he rest in peace.