12+ state legislators have introduced bills reining in DEI programs in universities, more than 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures, and 1 in 3 DEI roles have been eliminated over the last year. Can DEI continue? It was a resounding “yes” at this year’s ADCOLOR 2023 Conference that encouraged DEI professionals to double down and double up to create lasting change in the face of adversity.
In a dynamic showcase of diversity, creativity, and inclusion, ADCOLOR 2023 brought together industry leaders, visionaries, and change-makers in the DEI space from November 9 to 11 at the JW Marriott LA Live in Los Angeles, California. The theme “Double Down & Double Up,” celebrated professionals at all levels and underscored the ongoing importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the creative industries. Sessions encouraged the consistent amplification of diverse voices, and reminded attendees that what happens in this world is a mirror of our world at large and by changing one, we can start to change the other. Tinuiti was honored to be on the ground at this event, gaining invaluable insights that will shape our future approach to advertising and DEI in the workplace.
In this post, we’ll cover our top highlights and key takeaways from ADCOLOR 2023. These are a sampling of just some of the stand-out moments.
“Our theme of ‘Double Down & Double Up’ makes it clear that even when there is a regression of support, the ADCOLOR community will stand strong and hold the line for diversity, equity and inclusion. ADCOLOR 2023 will be a safe space for our diverse communities and allies to activate inspiration and continue to push ahead the progress that has been made.”
– Tiffany R. Warren, Founder and President of ADCOLOR
ADCOLOR 2023 Sessions: Key Event Highlights
While ADCOLOR featured dozens of thought-provoking sessions, here’s a select glimpse of those that made the most impact on the Tinuiti delegation.
Inclusion Drives Impact: Where Marketing and Brands Converge for Real Change
In a captivating conversation involving marketing strategists and partnership leads, Disney’s Jan Coleman, Brittney Todd, and Erica Hansen explored the ways Disney elevated its marketing initiatives and collaborations, using films like “The Little Mermaid” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” to enrich narratives. The objective was to amplify and enhance these stories, fostering a positive impact on interconnected audiences, consumers, and the industry as a whole.
The leaders at Disney highlighted how the emphasis on inclusion extended beyond a business objective. They highlighted how inclusion became a fundamental requirement to ensure that audiences and consumers could see themselves authentically represented on screen.
“The person that is sitting next to me does not look like me and sometimes that’s a good thing so that you can learn from someone that’s different from you. Inclusivity starts with you as the individual and we don’t have to wait until someone tells us it’s okay to be inclusive. I think sometimes we feel discouraged if we don’t get permission from leadership, so don’t ever get discouraged. It starts with you and your passion.”
– Jan Coleman, Vice President, Global Marketing Partnerships at The Walt Disney Studios
Brick by Brick: Building Equity and Sustainable Growth for Black Women-Owned Brands
During this session, the discussion centered on the challenges faced by black women entrepreneurs in the U.S. Speakers noted that despite 17% of black women in the U.S. launching or running businesses, only 3% see their ventures reach maturity. Amazon facilitated a conversation featuring entrepreneurs such as Tracee Ellis Ross of PATTERN Beauty, Toyin Kolawole of Iya Foods, and Beverly Melbranche of Caribbrew.
These industry leaders shared practical strategies aimed at fostering long-term success for brands of various sizes…
- Consumer Research: Giving consumers what they are actually asking for, not what you think they need as a brand.
- Brand Creative & Messaging Alignment: Implementing messaging that resonates with consumers based on diverse voices.
- Resource Sharing & Investment: Tapping into resources in the market, specifically from other businesses who have done it well and sharing those between teams for amplified growth.
“It’s been very hard differentiating myself as a black woman in America but one of the things that I notice is that when we ask the right questions and get the right answers, we’re able to achieve that success. How do we get in touch with our customers in the right way? 2.7M businesses are black female owned. If you are in a position of power, call those around you to be a part of it, do that. It’s diversity equity and inclusion, people do the diversity and inclusion, but it’s the equity that fuels the inclusion.”
– Tracee Ellis Ross, Award-winning actress, producer, and CEO/Founder at PATTERN Beauty
Hidden Battlefield: Unearthing Safety Crisis in DEI Work
Lois Castillo, Head of DEI at Basis Technologies; Ronnie Dickerson Stewart, Tinuiti’s DEI Leader-in-Residence & Founder & Principal, Oh Hey Coach; Soon Mee Kim, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Omnicom Public Relations Group, and Aisha Losche, Chief Diversity Officer at Draper sat down for an important panel discussion delving into the challenges faced by DEI practitioners, highlighting hidden dangers, systemic hurdles, and the often-overlooked mental health outcomes stemming from their work. The session emphasized the need for updated industry standards, leadership responsibility, and proactive measures to address and mitigate these risks.
A significant focus of the discussion was on the uncomfortable aspects of DEI work that practitioners typically endure in silence. The session provided insights into a playbook, listed below, of strategies to establish allyship and safety nets, especially in the face of online harassment and real-life threats that contribute to burnout…
- Educate other departments about your role and involve them in DEI efforts, emphasizing that DEI is a collective responsibility, not confined to one person or team. Recognize the importance of seeking support and accessing necessary resources.
- Gain a comprehensive understanding of the current and future requirements of your work in DEI.
- Review and redefine your job responsibilities by clearly delineating what you are paid to do, what you are asked to do, and what you need to do. Embrace the assignment with confidence, holding your head high.
- Assess the security measures required for your role and familiarize yourself with the existing company policies that support DEI efforts. Advocate for necessary changes or additions to enhance your support.
- Recognize that mutual support is a crucial resource in DEI work. Acknowledge the potential isolation and weightiness of the role, emphasizing the need for a network of trusted individuals around you.
The session’s bottom line conveyed a powerful message: DEI professionals are not alone in their challenges, and the importance for organizations to prioritize the well-being of those dedicated to taking care of their people in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“People in positions of power need the audacity to reset the room.”
– Ronnie Dickerson Stewart, Tinuiti’s DEI Leader-in-Residence & Founder & Principal, Oh Hey Coach
Dismantling Disinformation: How to Reframe and Refocus DEI Efforts
Brands committed to inclusivity and DEI practitioners are in a perpetual struggle against misinformation surrounding equity and inclusion. During this session, industry leaders advocated for winning strategies to counteract this challenge, such as reshaping language to secure executive buy-in and investment, transforming “inclusion” from a source of inspiration into a tool for growth, and setting enduring, consistent goals.
They encouraged DEI professionals to ask the question, “What is your company doing internally to reflect the image you are showcasing externally? How are they matching?”
“Don’t ask for permission to do it, ask for the power to do it.”
– Adrianne C. Smith, SVP and Senior Partner, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at FleishmanHillard
Raise the Volume: Why Amplifying Diverse Voices is Good for Business and Culture
In this panel session, Scottie Beam, Joe Hadley, Kristin Jarrett, Sylvia Obell, and Jazmine Settles, discussed the impact of sustained support from brands on diverse creators. The conversation focused on empowering underrepresented talent and implementing strategies to broaden audience engagement and profitability, all while ensuring that external voices align with internal commitments to equity and inclusion.
Joe Hadley, Global Head of Artist Partnerships & Audience at Spotify, noted that you can’t support black, brown, or queer artists if your executive team isn’t reflective. He noted brands to be deliberate in budget placement, ensuring it goes beyond typical areas. Hadley also highlighted the importance of breaking historical patterns and showcasing diverse voices where they may not be expected.
The discussion delved into creating equity programs within brands, emphasizing the necessity of having the right leaders to empower the right people in the right rooms. Settles emphasized the importance of an “always-on” mentality, placing diverse creators at the center of campaigns and utilizing platforms to fill white spaces and close gaps.
The panel also provided “Green Flags” for working with partners, emphasizing honest and direct communication, understanding the audience, and addressing imposter syndrome. The significance of diverse agency partners was stressed, with a call to ensure diversity not only within the company but also among agency representatives, as they play a crucial role in representing brands.
“Hire people and agencies who are also very diverse – don’t just make sure your company is diverse but also your agency partners because they represent brands – you have to have like minded partners to learn from.”
– Scottie Beam, Podcast Host, Media Personality, Radio
Bridge The Gap: How to Increase LGBTQ+ Engagement in Advertising & Branding
Marketing leaders discussed GLAAD’s latest research around the current sentiment of brands investing in campaigns related to the LGBTQ+ community. The panel, featuring Meghan Barterly from GLAAD and Ravleen Beeston from Microsoft Advertising, delved into the study’s findings, offering unique insights into the evolution (and lack thereof) of LGBTQ+ representation in advertising.
Key points from the discussion included the industry’s fear of potential boycotts for including LGBTQ+ content and that one-third of the industry reported having no budget specifically allocated to target the LGBTQ+ community. GLAAD cited specific concerns often heard from brands: featuring the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t have enough value to include in campaigns compared to the risk and backlash they may face , featuring transgender and non-binary people will detract from messaging; potential risk of lawsuit was too high.
The main takeaway emphasized the need for executives to have tools and support, particularly from partners like GLAAD, to effectively engage with and represent the LGBTQ+ community. While recognizing the business growth opportunities, the panel stressed the importance of focusing on case studies to showcase the value of such engagements.
“Executives need tools to help them do the work and they need support from partners to show the work that drives value and business growth – show them the case studies.”
– Meghan Bartley, Director of Agencies, Brands, and Engagement, GLAAD
“We’ve been a leader in DEI policies and resources for our employees for 30 years – companies need fundamental policies and strategies to drive systematic change.”
– Ravleen Beeston, Regional Vice President, Microsoft Advertising, UK, Microsoft
“Let’s make the pledge to harness the power of our collective, to push forward even when the road is bumpy, to double down and double up.”
– ADCOLOR 2023
The 2023 ADCOLOR conference highlighted the enduring importance of DEI in advertising. This year, the imperative to double down and double up on DEI conversations is more vital than ever, emphasizing that DEI is not a passing trend but a critical part of our industry. The call is clear—to come together, renew our commitment, and engage in conversations that lead to substantial investments in organizations and brands to drive fundamental changes for a more inclusive and equitable future.