Dear Milwaukee ad community: now is your chance to live up to your namesake

Dear Milwaukee Ad Community:

This is your time. You have the opportunity to be fearless, to step into a new space and create significant change.

The #MeToo and #TimesUpAdvertising movements have surfaced via the dismissal of Laughlin Constable’s CCO, Dan Feitsam, after the public accusation at the recent United Adworkers event.

You can’t go back. This is real and Milwaukee is not immune. Yes, it happens here. It happens everywhere.

Your community is full of amazing creative talent, progressive thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and genuinely good people. Conversely, you are also one of the most segregated cities in the US and continue to have strained race relations. Your up-and-coming female talent probably outnumbers your male talent if we simply look at the enrollment statistics of Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design: 62% female, 38% male. Yet, your agencies are overwhelmingly white and agency leadership is largely, historically male.

Milwaukee, you are the place I grew from a graphic designer to a creative director and executive producer. I was fortunate to be taught and mentored by many, to learn hard lessons, and gain invaluable experience. The depth of your talent is amazing.

I had the opportunity to work in a variety of in-house and agency environments, particularly Core Creative, whose culture allowed me to achieve and shine. I’m also grateful this city provided me the chance to be an integral part of Greater Together, an AIGA and Boys and Girls Club partnership. We created internships for underrepresented high school students within Core Creative, Hanson Dodge, 371 Productions, Maldonado and Morgan, and Posts by Ghosts, although we struggled to gain traction within the Milwaukee advertising industry as a whole. We also brought renowned and respected senior creatives of color to town to speak to our community so they could “see it, be it.”

The name "Milwaukee" comes from an Algonquian word meaning "good" or "gathering place by the water.” This is your chance to live up to your namesake, to create a gathering place — your agencies — that is welcoming to all, not just through philosophy and words, but through action.

The advertising community can show some leadership here. Surely a community full of sharp creatives, makers, pioneers, and thought leaders can turn their collective attention to an imperative need — creating safe work environments and improving diversity and inclusion — and bring their creative problem-solving and innovation to actually impact culture.

Growing and thriving cultures are honest, transparent, empowering, and inclusive. Start being honest and have real dialogue. Look in the mirror. Ask yourself and others the hard questions. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Ask for help. There are many local and national resources available to navigate that process as well as to build systems that are diverse and inclusive.

You are and will always be near and dear to my heart. Yes, insiders refer to themselves as Smallwaukee – but at this moment you possess the power, the origins, and the history to become a leader in creating change within the advertising industry. Please step into the present and embrace the challenges the rest of the industry and nation are already facing. You can be part of the conversation as well as the results.

Please don’t limit your response to sexual harassment. Champion women as creative directors and help them through that career path. Stop hiring people who look and speak just like you, and start recognizing that many races, sexual identities, ethnicities, genders, and diversity actually make the creative so much better.

Find a way to get the underrepresented into and through the talent pipeline through different types of internships. Innovate your cultures and policies to allow for parents to have flexibility, for LGBTQ to feel celebrated, for older people to enter the workforce, and for disabled people to shine at your agency.

Bring diverse people to town to speak and judge your awards show. Take a note from Grey and work diversity into your creative brief. Hire different. Think different. Act different. Create different.

Milwaukee, this is your time to shine and I am cheering you on.

Andrea Nordgren is the executive producer for the 3% Movement and director of integrated creative at Unbridled. She tweets @AndreaNordgren

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