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That open letter... for demanding urgent action: The Drum editorial team’s best of 2020

600 Black ad professionals originally signed the letter

It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.

In May of this year, George Floyd’s death incited a pained response across America and around the world. Following global protests, Twitter became a popular soundboard for people to express their anger and grief, as well as show solidarity with the Black community.

On the platform, a fortuitous pairing occurred between Nathan Young, a group strategy director at Minneapolis-based Periscope, and Bennett D Bennett, a principal at Aerialist who was formerly a reporter at The Drum.

Determined to tackle systemic racism in the ad industry, Bennett and Young teamed up to demand urgent action via an open letter. Titled A Call for Change, it stated that “agency leadership has been blind to the systemic racism and inequality that persists within our industry”.

While acknowledging that there have been decades of well-intentioned diversity and inclusion efforts, the pair wrote that the industry has “seen little progress in making Black voices a more representative part of the creative process”, before offering 12 pointers on how to end racism in advertising.

The letter arrived amid the deluge of advertisers and agencies declaring their support for Black Lives Matter, alongside the signatures of 600 Black ad professionals. Within a few days of the letter rollout, Young and Bennett had also founded a non-profit, 600 & Rising, in a nod to those that signed the letter.

Since publication, the response to the letter has been significant. As of December, the signatory list now included more than 4,700 individuals from advertising and public relations agencies, as well as brands and freelancers including hundreds from sister organization Hold the PRess.

Promisingly, nearly 100 independent and held agencies have responded to the ‘Commit to Change‘ campaign by publicly releasing their diversity statistics and sharing the steps that they are taking to improve diversity and make their organizations more equitable workplaces.

One significant response was agency giant WPP, which announced back in June that it would “take decisive action on each of the 12 points, complete a fundamental review of our hiring, retention, promotion and development practices; and publish our racial diversity data”.

600 & Rising is now focused on partnering with industry associations to set representation and wage equity benchmarks for Black talent at their member agencies and brands, starting in 2021.

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on thedrum.com between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.

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