"In the Room"

by Constance Cannon Frazier, Chief Operating Officer, American Advertising Federation  

Years ago, as a professor of advertising at Howard University, a historically black university, I took a group of college students on a Chicago industry immersion trip. We visited agencies and media companies like Leo Burnett and Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) to give the students a sense of the life and culture inside large agencies and media companies. 

It was at JPC (publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines) that I learned one of life’s lessons from it’s founder, and industry titan, John H. Johnson. 

By some stroke of magic, while at JPC  we found ourselves in the elevator with Johnson—three times! The third ctime resulted in an invitation to Johnson’s suite of offices. 

He shared many words of wisdom and interesting antidotes during the 90 minutes he engaged with the students. However, it was his account of closing an advertising deal that has stuck with me throughout my career.

For years, Johnson tried to schedule a meeting with the president of a major company to discuss advertising in Ebony magazine. Though his efforts had, so far, not resulted in securing an appointment, he did develop a congenial relationship with the president's secretary. Eventually, she revealed that Johnson would likely never be able to schedule a formal meeting with her boss, but that the president took the train from Chicago to New York every other Sunday. The secretary also shared when her boss would be taking his next trip. 

Soon after, Johnson began taking the train from Chicago to New York on Sundays, during which time he and the president would regularly see each other in the aisles or at the bar in the dining car. After a time, they began to exchange greetings and naturally their conversations led to what they did for a living. The president finally invited Johnson to come to his office to talk about advertising and eventually became one of Ebony’s largest advertisers. 

Johnson’s story is significant because it demonstrates the importance of repeated exposure, relationships, and being in the room with decision makers, movers, and shakers.

Being "in the room" continues to be a challenge for multicultural talent who want to progress in the advertising, media and communications industries. Quite often, the only time you see significant diversity in the same room as industry heavyweights is when it's a "diversity & inclusion" event or program. The D&I events are important, however multicultural industry professionals need to be in all of the rooms.

As the old adage goes, out of sight, out of mind. By not being in these rooms, industry professionals of diverse backgrounds are precluded from developing relationships with the people who control the future of the industry and, consequently, the future of multicultural talent within the industry. 

One way that companies that can remedy this problem is by inviting people who are typically excluded from these events to be their guests. They should also make a concerted effort to introduce them to other industry leaders and include them in the conversations they're having. This simple overture can have an enormous impact. 

In the fall, the industry's event season will commence again. It's up to us all to make conscious efforts to ensure that the room reflects our ever-changing society.

More information:
Diversity In Action

Last Updated: July 2017