Agency Life: Notes on Diversity Initiatives From a Former Advertising Art Director

Diversity für mehr Innovation

I received an email blast this afternoon to apply for something called the ADCOLOR Futures. Complimentary trip to Las Vegas this October? Sure, you have my ears. I skimmed a press release about it here. I thought I’d share a few of my responses to the application questionnaire below; it’s roughly worded but might still be insightful for any readers that come across this post!

Thoughts on Diversity Initiatives in Advertising

9. What have you done in your career since becoming an alumnus of your ADS (Advertising Diversity Summit) organization?

Joined IPG’s InterAct Associate Program for 2 Year Rotational Fellowship. Was hired out of program early by Deutsch NY. With the holistic agency training as background experience, from 2008 – current I have freelanced as my own consultancy with arts/design/fashion clients – leading clients from beginning conception to end execution process in Branding/Identity, Marketing Strategy, Digital Web Programming, Marketing Materials, Photographic needs.

15. Can you tell us what kind of job you’re looking for?

I would love a position at a smaller experimental shop specializing in visual technology, like Breakfast New York which is based in Brooklyn.  Until then, I am out in the real world diversifying my interests and gathering specialized experiences you can’t pick up in the workplace. And running my own one man (+ occasional help) shop @ stevenchustudio.com

18. Why do you want to become an ADCOLOR Future?

Mentorship is invaluable. The right mentor that ‘gets you’ can send you shooting from an unseeming rough n unpolished rock to a sophisticated shining gem.

In 2008, after the AAF MPMS conference and the IPG InterAct fellowship, I had a very clear idea that in order to be the creative thinker I had the potential to be, I needed real world experiences. I wanted an aesthetics background developed in the real world- I began working as a fashion photographer which I still maintain to some degree to this day, began apprenticing and dipping in the art world + rudimentary knowledge of art history, and started traveling around the world to take notes/develop my visual palette/and encounter as many different experiences as possible.

But as a very strong candidate now for a wide range of fields, I need mentorship to harness the skills and solidify my career at a higher level- and I feel that ADCOLOR can help bridge that gap with exposure to the right creative professionals!

20. If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

1. Encourage life experiences. Not having factory cookie cutter churned creatives.
2. More international.

1. Life Experiences:
The one thing I thought that lacked from my agency experience was how imperative Diversity of Ideas is. I understand that a lot of it is a personal journey you have to arrive at the answer on your own to, and that agencies are at the end of the day deal with the bottom line… but it really is the only thing that will make a workplace progressive and innovative (I mean the actual definitions of those words, not just careless buzzwords!).

I worked in the agencies from when I was 22-24. I was super young, eager, and thought that having grown up gay and asian in an immigrant community on the east side of Los Angeles.. was bringing diversity to the workplace; not quite. Maybe it was one kind of diversity, but it was the kind you are born into.. not the kind you actively chose (diversity of life experiences) which defines and strengthens your character. In short, I hadn’t lived– and an top of that, I worked with a lot of frat boys straight out of ad schools who were more homogenous and even less diverse.. they hadn’t lived either.

If I were to run an agency, I would *encourage* each of my employees to maintain an active pursuit of their own interests (an outings group, a freelance business) comprised of a mix of people so it’s not just agency people outside of work. Then, I would want this actively/visibly present in the workplace- so peers would see all the different projects their teammates were working on in the real world, and pull in better ideas that way. The worst thing for an agency is to have their creatives cut off from reality– the ongoings of the real world… incl. emerging trends, technologies, new cultures..

2. More international:
I think diversity of color is a good step, diversity of sexual orientation, national origin, etc etc all the things you can’t discriminate on legally. But interestingly for better and worse, we are usually overwhelmingly American and share the American experience and perspective. A bigger breath of fresh air is to pull from an even bigger recruitment bag ( I see this more with companies here in Berlin!!) and invest in global diversity. Talented, driven people from around the world who also have the just discussed #1 (active personal projects) makes you really feel like you’re connected into the pulse of what’s going on right now.

22. How do you give back to your organization or community?

All the time, but from a digital podium and mentoring youth from all walks and fields. From advice and information blogging, to creating youtube tutorials, to in person career mentorship. And in all seriousness, trying to instill the thirst/curiosity/excitement for knowledge equally and generously with persons you come across in daily life.

If you have any questions on my experiences in advertising, feel free to leave a comment below or Tweet me!

About Steven Chu


Hi, I'm Steven! I'm an entrepreneur, photographer and art director in New York. Follow this blog for self expression, fun, and most importantly: looking comfortable, at ease, and amazing in your photos no matter who takes them! I dedicate this to my amazing friends who have let me inadvertently turn all of our hangouts and travel photos into a never ending photoshoot of fun. The proof is in the pudding-- our photos rock. My other projects: I'm the founder of InstaTechie.com, a face-to-face tech concierge service for NYC. Book a techie to walk you through something you want to learn! My work focuses on socially engaged art projects which use technology to create access to resources for communities. Visit Steven Chu Studio (stevenchustudio.com) for branding & design work or Steven Chu (stevenchu.com) for photography projects.

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