Perspectives: Diversity in Advertising, Wells Davis

"The advertising industry is still not even close to being representative of the diversity of the country."


Wells Davis
Managing Partner, Chief Strategy Officer David&Goliath, El Segundo
Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
I’m Wells Davis. I am a Managing Partner at David & Goliath. My specific roles are Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Pop Culturist.
What was the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome since you began working in advertising?
One of the main obstacles was trying to fit into the advertising culture. Before starting in this industry, I worked in research for a company that was located in the suburbs outside of Toronto. It was very academic, moderately paced and had a very formal culture. From there, I was recruited into advertising. When I first started in the late 1980s, I experienced a big culture shock. The ad world was faster paced, far less politically correct and quite intimidating for an introverted research nerd like me. On top of that, I was one of the first planners in the Canadian market so I didn’t have any fellow planners to help ease my transition from research to advertising. I was also the only black person I knew of outside of admin staff.
What is your opinion on the current state of diversity within the industry?
The advertising industry is still not even close to being representative of the diversity of the country. I’m not only talking about diversity based on race, I’m talking about diversity of ideas, backgrounds and experiences. I feel the word or concept of diversity is very present in the industry yet very few are really making the big effort it would take to truly seek out talent from underrepresented people.
What do you think causes agencies such difficulty in regard to attracting, retaining, and nurturing people of color?
Besides the obvious race problems in this country, which have existed for centuries, I also feel the will is not really there. I have rarely worked at any agency where there were major decision makers who were black like me. That goes for client side and agency side. I have only had three clients that were black in 27 years of advertising in Canada and the USA. It starts from the top, but they are not the only ones to blame. While I believe the C-Suite should really lead the way with true diversity efforts, the problem also lies at every level of the hiring chain. People are much more familiar with people like themselves. When they are hiring for experience and agency fit, it is much easier to dismiss people from different backgrounds, work experiences and life experiences. HR, mid-level managers, even account directors are looking for people with similarities, not differences.
While agencies are working much harder at diversity, especially for women in management and creative departments, I don’t think they really fear the consequences of not having enough black employees and managers.
The advertising industry has for years been talking about its many diversity issues, what do you think a long-term solution could look like?
The long-term solution is not complicated. It is about having the will. Agencies should not focus on merely hiring more black people to get to a specific number or percentage of staff. There are so many examples of black creativity, industriousness and resilience everywhere you look that I don’t buy that they can’t find enough “qualified” blacks. In every black neighborhood there are great writers, storytellers, artists, entrepreneurs, promotional experts, programmers, and photographers who all do not even consider advertising as an option. That is why at Leo Burnett we set up a program that forced us to go into black communities and find these overlooked creative gems.
What is going on within your agency to improve diversity?
While I was at Leo Burnett, a few of us started a program called No266. It was based on an industry statistic that said if we keep hiring blacks in advertising at the current rate it would take around 66 years to have a representative percentage of the American population. Our initial aim was to start with Leo Burnett and seek out creative talent in non-traditional places. We also issued the challenge to other agencies. It was making some impact but again the will was not there. However, the initiative helped us bring in some amazing talent from the black community who thought they would never get the chance to work at a big mainstream agency. So that was a plus. David&Goliath, I am proud to say, is the most diverse agency I have ever worked at, especially at the C-Suite level. We still have some work to do, but the will is definitely there and it’s an agency that has proven time and again that it walks the walk. I’m excited about some of the initiatives we are currently planning to help advance diversity in the workplace.
How do you plan to inspire the next generation?
I just try to be a role model by my words and actions. I will always speak out on the issue. I also use my platform as a black C-suite executive and partner to talk to people of color about getting into advertising as often as I can.


Wells Davis
Managing Partner, Chief Strategy Officer David&Goliath, El Segundo