IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: How advertising agencies are attracting new employees and approaching retention, diversity, and gender equality. Reema Elghossain, VP of Talent, Equity & Inclusion at the 4A’s Foundation, shares her observations about how generational differences and attitudes towards gender and identity are changing how agencies engage with their staff. We also hear from Bigeye’s Digital Marketing Specialist, Maegan Trinidad, who is an alumna of the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program (MAIP) and learn how it helped her enter the industry.
Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at the Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative- driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us today. The most recent data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment is at 3.5%, the lowest rate since 1969. Filling vacant positions or newly created positions is a significant challenge for many employers – especially those seeking to grow – and competition for workers is fierce. Candidates with creative and media skills have many options when it comes to potential employers. Design, marketing and writing skills are sought by companies beyond advertising and media agencies. Consider tech companies and the growth of direct-to-consumer products and services, many of which have opted to develop creative and media buying capabilities in-house. The rise of digital media has also brought with it a new wave of tech savvy creatives and analytical thinkers, many of them working client side. Advertising agencies certainly compete for creative talent, but in addition, are challenged to recruit and retain workforces that reflect America’s ethnic and racial diversity. Almost half a century ago, the American Association of Advertising Agencies better known as the 4A’s recognized the lack of diversity in the industry. In 1973, the 4A’s launched its minority intern program to encourage students from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to consider careers in advertising. And later the organization awarded scholarships to African American, Hispanic, and Asian American young professionals entering the industry. Nearly 50 years on the 4A’s continues to represent the marketing communications agency business. The organization’s stated mission is to empower agencies to thrive by advancing issues such as evolving agency models, but also talent, retention, diversity and gender equality. Joining me via phone from New York City today, Reema Elghossain is Vice President of the 4A’s Foundation and responsible for talent, equity and inclusion. Reema has 15 years of experience in education, talent development, and diversity and leads some of the industry’s most prominent diversity pipeline initiatives. These include the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program known as MAIP, which evolved from the original Minority Intern Program. Reema also oversees the 4A’s Foundation’s educational programs, scholarships and awards, as well as professional and organizational development opportunities. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Reema.
Reema Elghossain: Hello. Thank you.
Adrian Tennant: Reema, could you explain a little more about the Foundation and the part it plays within the 4A’s?
Reema Elghossain: Sure, absolutely. So the 4A’s Foundation was established in 1997, with a commitment to provide scholarships and awards for young people of color interested in getting involved in the advertising industry. In the last two years, the 4A’s made an intentional decision to move MAIP and our educational programs, which include our high school initiatives over into the 4A’s Foundation. So it really serves the industry, advertising and marketing at large, with all of their talent needs, especially when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. So we really try to support the industry from the 4A’s Foundation with finding diverse talent, with educating diverse talent, n what advertising is and the experience, and then really developing that talent once they’re into the industry.
Adrian Tennant: I mentioned during the introduction that the 4A’s had the foresight to establish an internship program focused on diversity back in the 1970s. In what kinds of ways does your work with the 4A’s Foundation today help young professionals in their careers?
Reema Elghossain: We do it a number of ways within our educational programs. We partner right now with two high schools in New York city that are predominantly students of color that actually have an advertising track within the high school programs. And so what we do for our high school students is we try to immerse them into the advertising industry. We connect to them with speakers and experts in the industry to share insight. We host events and competitions for them so that they can understand what it’s like to get briefed by a client and to do pitches. We train them on what every discipline is in the industry and really try to help slowly build a network for them while they’re in high school and show them opportunities to be able to major in advertising and have internships throughout their career. Through MAIP we do it a number of ways. We have our fellowship program and that runs annually and we do a 13-week virtual spring training for all of our fellows before they even enter their internship at their agency. And that again trains them on what each discipline is. But then also we train them on some transferable skills and then how to navigate the industry, especially from coming from a diverse place. And then we have over 3,500 alumni that have gone through our programs since 1973. And what we do is we partner with agencies and outside companies to provide any type of personal development, professional development, networking opportunities.
Adrian Tennant: Fantastic. Now can you talk a little bit about the process for students who may be interested in applying for the 4A’s MAIP program?
Reema Elghossain: Around the end of August and into mid-October, we have applications for students to apply to be part of our program. It’s for juniors, seniors, and grad students across the country and it’s a pretty extensive application process. And we ask for essay questions, the video, letters of recommendation and really just want to understand, you know, what they’re interested in the industry. We then give them a screening process. We do coach them on interview tips and prepare them through the process. And then we have our community of volunteers in the industry that really support our initiatives, who will interview them. And once they pass through all of those stages, they then become finalists. At that same time, our agencies are applying to host fellows for the next year. And then we have a huge selection kickoff where agencies will then make offers to their favorite top finalists and they place an offer and that MAIP finalist has the opportunity to accept or decline. If they accept and it can be anywhere in the country, then they now become a fellow. Once they become a fellow, we actually support the agencies by taking care of housing and travel for all of the fellows. And then again, onboarding them with that spring training. And an orientation to get them really immersed into the program before they even enter their internship.
Adrian Tennant: Well, that sounds very thorough. And do you typically have that kickoff in New York City, or does it change according to where the students are coming from?
Reema Elghossain: Sure. So the actual live kick off is in New York City, but we live stream it, we live stream it through our Facebook page, our main page, and through Zoom. And so all of our agency partners, all of the finalists are alumni community. A lot will sign in and be able to watch it happening live. And so it’s really exciting. We invite all of the finalists that are in New York to be able to attend and they get to receive their offers live, in person.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s change gears just a little bit. So with the visibility of the #MeToo movement, there’s heightened awareness of issues around gender inequality, bias, and discrimination within the workplace. And ad agencies have certainly not been immune from scrutiny. From where you stand, has #MeToo been a kind of a wake up call for the industry?
Reema Elghossain: I think absolutely and in a lot of different ways. I think it’s something that everyone is aware of, but no one really knew what to do. And so when that movement came around I think it woke a lot of people up in the industry. And I think one, it scared a lot of agencies because they were whispers before and then now it just became something where there’s actually some accountability that’s going to be happening. And so I definitely think it shook up the industry in a major way. And I think it still is in a lot of ways and it definitely shifted the understanding and awareness, I think for the talent and employees to realize what their opportunities were and having a voice and being able to know what their rights are. So I definitely think it impacted just the industry and, and from the top down.
Adrian Tennant: Traditional gender divisions and labels, the binary choice of male or female are being replaced with the more fluid concept of gender identity. Thinking differently about gender identity also has, of course, potentially significant impacts on the work an agency does for clients. Everything from consumer insights research and brand strategy through to creative and messaging. In this context, how well are agencies addressing these long held assumptions about gender?
Reema Elghossain: That’s a great question. It’s a conversation that’s becoming louder and it’s something that’s becoming more important. And especially I think when agencies are looking at their employees and saying, “we have to be able to create a safer space and a space that’s more open for, for all.” And so looking at their people holistically, I think is allowing them to also be able to work with clients and say, “okay, our consumers also need to be looked at in a holistic way as well.” It’s a conversation that is happening to support who works in the industry, but then because I think that inevitably will impact how they support clients and their consumers.
Adrian Tennant: In addition to gender bias, discrimination, and identity, what are some of the other areas that you work with member agencies on?
Reema Elghossain: A lot of things. So talent development. We also talk to our agencies about supporting them with how to have a more diverse workplace, how to be more inclusive of what systems they can put into place that can support that. We talk a lot about retention. We talk about, “how do we move diverse talent up the corporate ladder?” And then also “what are systems and initiatives we can put into place that really can support their employees there?” Number one to bring in talent, but then also to make it a place where the talent wants to stay.
Adrian Tennant: Right. Have you codified these into a set of best practices?
Reema Elghossain: Yeah, we’d like to work with our agencies to produce those best practices. We all have a lot of ideas and I think it really depends on where that agency is. But we have maybe smaller to mid-size agencies that are really just starting their diversity initiatives. They might not even have a lead person in their diversity, equity, initiatives. And then there’s the larger agencies that might already have a DNI lead or team and they have different needs at the same time. So we do have some best practices in place and it really depends on what the agency is. And then I have my own opinion.
Adrian Tennant: Ah, let’s get to those. You referenced the fact that the 4A’s includes holding company agencies – which I’m guessing are typically in the major metros -as well as independently owned agencies, many of which – like ourselves – are in smaller markets. How then do you apply variations in how differently-sized agencies identify and approach these kinds of issues?
Reema Elghossain: I think for me it would be just doing a little bit of research and talking to each agency and finding out what their needs are and out what they’re, even, what their budget is, and where to start, right? So if they’re talking about, “we want to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and the talent.” The first thing is how diverse is your agency? Now I don’t expect agencies to share their numbers, but what is your first goal? Is it one hiring diverse talent so that you can diverse, you know, add diversity to your pool? Or is it “we have diverse talent, we want to add more, but what can we do to be a more inclusive space?” And there’s definitely different needs when it comes to both. I definitely think every agency, whether it’s independent, small, all the way up to the to larger holding companies, all need to continue to hire more diverse talent. So that’s I think, a problem across the board. But depending on where they are and what their resources are, there are different ways that they can make a better environment.
Adrian Tennant: Specifically thinking about job candidates and young professionals, do you see any generational differences in how today’s young professionals maybe just starting out in the industry or have one or two years experience how their career decisions contrast or compare to older, more established workers?
Reema Elghossain: Absolutely. They are thinking of things that I never thought of when I was their age. They are thinking about, “what are your mental health and wellness programs that you have established at your agency?” They’re thinking about even things that might not even matter to them early on, but like, “what are your maternity and paternity leave programs? What is your work life balance?” They are thinking of things that are important to them that, I’ll be honest, at 37, I didn’t think of when I was their age and they’re holding agencies a lot more accountable. They’re looking at agencies and saying, “what can you do for me?” Not just, “what can I do for you?” I would say when they first get into the industry, there is that still that same fear and desperation of finding a job in a lot of places, especially for our MAIP, community. You know, as young people of color, there’s this fear of being able to find a job, but the questions that they’re asking are very much different. They’re not just, “what are the hours and the salary and the insurance benefits?” They’re also just asking about the experience, the environment. “Do you have any diversity inclusion initiatives? Do you even have a DNI lead? What programs do you have that can help support me? Do you have mental health? Do you have employee resource groups and do you have professional development opportunities?” These are questions that they’re asking and they’re also not afraid to be able to leave at a faster rate than, I would say, older generations. You know, they find a company and they want to stick with it for a long time. I think the young professionals now are saying, “if you’re not putting into me, I’m okay with getting up and finding a new opportunity.” And so I think it’s definitely forcing agencies to think a little bit differently about what they’re providing to their employees.
Adrian Tennant: Right. So to that point, continuing professional education, more the responsibility of the employer than the employees, is that fair?
Reema Elghossain: I think it’s a very competitive market right now. I think there’s a lot of young, amazing talent and I think the industry knows they’re losing talent really quickly. And especially because I haven’t been able to keep up with what other industries are doing from remote days to better work life balance to personal and professional development opportunities. And I think our professionals see that, I think they talk to each other and I think they know what issues there are. And so when they’re coming into interviews, they’re a lot more intentional with the questions they’re asking.
Adrian Tennant: Are you finding that younger professionals are considering freelancing right out of college?
Reema Elghossain: Yeah. I would say maybe after a couple of years, I think I’ve noticed that there are some of our alumni who have gone through the program maybe a couple years ago and they reach out to me a lot and they’re looking for freelance. I think they liked the comfort of being able to work from home, especially with industry that’s expected to work a lot more than 40 hours a week. And so if they are already planning to stay to do that, they want a little bit more freedom to be able to do that at their own time. This is definitely a non-conventional generation where it doesn’t have to be done at nine to five. It can still get done really well. And I think freelance is a really attractive option for them, especially because – and I can speak a lot more about our community -if they’re not feeling comfortable or feeling included at their agency, I think they would sometimes rather leave and leave some of that toxicity and be able to just work for themselves on their own and to be able to work on projects. And the industry is kind of set up so that it can do that. Right? You can work on a team, you can work on one project and then once that’s done, you can work on another one. And you don’t necessarily have to be, you know, um married to one agency to do that.
Adrian Tennant: Yeah. A great point. I just actually picked up some research put out by Statista. It says that there’s actually been a 78% increase in job posts mentioning workplace flexibility since 2016 and 37% of employees would switch to a job that allows them to work offsite, at least part of the time. And the trend, of course, being most pronounced among Millennial workers. That doesn’t sound too surprising based on what we’ve just been discussing.
Reema Elghossain: Yeah, not at all. I mean, I would love that too! I think there is a lot more flexibility in it. It creates a lot of space. I mean imagine you’re working until 10:00 PM at night and then to be able to come in at noon the next day. It does help prevent burnout. It helps prevent not just exhaustion but feeling overwhelmed. And I think it makes for more productivity. So I’ve seen a lot of other industries that I’ve been in that have been having more flexibility in that. And I just think it’s really beneficial and I think it’s almost necessary. I don’t know if the industry is even thinking about that just yet.
Adrian Tennant: Great discussion, Reema. Are there any resources that you’d recommend for people interested in pursuing a career within advertising?
Reema Elghossain: I read a lot of books on personal and professional development and I think that’s what I would suggest to any young professional. I read books from Eckhart Tolle or Michael Singer… 15 Steps for Conscious Leadership. Those I think are going to be great tools that are going to help set you apart in the advertising industry because I think it’s not just about your specific skill, right? I think people come into this industry with a certain craft and then they spend their entire careers perfecting that craft and you’re going to have all those opportunities to do that. And what I think is lacking sometimes as you continue to grow in that ladder but you don’t necessarily learn management skills, development skills,your communication skills and your styles, how to read and identify people. And I think what will set you apart and allow you to grow an industry is if you focus on a lot of those resources. And that’s usually the biggest advice that I do.
Adrian Tennant: Reema, that was great advice indeed. And we will include links to those resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS webpage. For now, Reema, thank you very much for joining us today. Really appreciate your time.
Reema Elghossain: Okay. Thank you so much.
Adrian Tennant: As Reema explained, the 4A’s Foundation’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program – or MAIP, for short – helps people from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds enter the advertising industry. With some personal insights on what it’s like to go through MAIP, I’m joined now here in the studio by Bigeye’s Digital Marketing Specialist, Megan Trinidad, who is an alumna of MAIP. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Megan.
Maegan Trinidad: Hello!
Adrian Tennant: Firstly, can you briefly describe your role here at Bigeye?
Maegan Trinidad: I am a Digital Marketing Specialist and that entails doing a lot of reporting and optimizations for our client’s campaigns.
Adrian Tennant: How long have you been at the agency?
Maegan Trinidad: I actually started as an intern in the Fall of 2018 but I joined full-time in May of 2019.
Adrian Tennant: And I should mention too that Megan actually created the Airtable database that we use to track every step of the production process for these weekly podcasts. So we’re very grateful for that – thank you Maegan. So thinking back, in high school, were you more drawn to liberal arts or STEM subjects?
Maegan Trinidad: Interestingly enough, I was more STEM. I wanted to be more creative so I feel that advertising and marketing in general was a way for me to bridge those two because I got to touch the creative side at least a little bit and help with my analytical and mathematical background as well as my research background.
Adrian Tennant: Perfect. So was it high school – was that the time when you have the idea that advertising might be something you’d be interested in pursuing as a career?
Maegan Trinidad: I think so. I think I knew I wanted to do a business major and when I learned what marketing was in high school, that’s when I decided to pursue that in college.
Adrian Tennant: When did you first learn about the 4A’s Foundation’s program?
Maegan Trinidad: So one of my family members is actually also a MAIP alumna and she’s the one who told me about it before I entered in my sophomore year in college. Because she noticed that I could benefit from the program and seeing what it was like to work at an agency because I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do with my marketing degree. So it was something that was worth a shot – and I ended up really liking working agency-side, which is why I did MAIP two years and ended up at Bigeye.
Adrian Tennant: What was the application process for MAIP like?
Maegan Trinidad: It involved several essays, a video interview, and after those were submitted, there were two further rounds of interviews.
Adrian Tennant: Wow. I think you said you did the program twice.
Maegan Trinidad: I did.
Adrian Tennant: Okay. What was the female-to-male ratio like? I’m curious.
Maegan Trinidad: I feel like it wasn’t a stark difference, but it was a little more female, I’d say.
Adrian Tennant: Okay. You attended the MAIP events in New York City. What were they like?
Maegan Trinidad: I feel like they’re a really good experience. We got to go to several agencies, like Weiden and Kennedy, I believe. And it was interesting to see what different types of agencies looked like in their different organization styles because obviously we could meet the different people who worked there and we got to network with them and we also got to see what their space was like and they were all very different.
Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Now it sounds like there was some competition amongst agencies for interns on that MAIP program. Where did you intern?
Maegan Trinidad: The first year when I was in New York I was at MEC, which is now Wavemaker. And the second year I was in Chicago at Mindshare.
Adrian Tennant: So what did you personally feel were the most valuable lessons you learned from each of those internships?
Maegan Trinidad: To be adaptable, to be honest, when I went through MAIP, I was selected to be a media planner and media planning wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to be a strategy intern because I mentioned earlier that I have a research background and I wanted to see what that was like to apply in an agency setting. But working in media planning did allow me to see what else was out there and when I got to meet my teams at my agencies, they were very welcoming and they worked with what I felt were my strong suits. So they adapted what they had me do based on my desire to branch out and see how I could bring my skill set to the agencies.
Adrian Tennant: Right. Have you kept in touch with any of your fellow fellows?
Maegan Trinidad: My fellow fellows? Yeah, actually I’ve made really good friends during MAIP. That’s another thing I really enjoyed. Most of you guys are strangers when you show up to your host city and since you live together you get to make some really good friends. I made some of my very closest friends during mate. Unfortunately now they live across the country, but…
Adrian Tennant: Well at least you’ve got people you can go visit and possibly crash on their sofa.
Maegan Trinidad: … That’s what I say!
Adrian Tennant: So Maegan, what if anything, do you think either MAIP, or you could have done differently to enhance the experience?
Maegan Trinidad: I feel that MAIP has a really good structure already and the only thing that I would change about it would be offering more of the, um, they’re called MAIP Labs where every or most weeks you go to a different agency and they speak to a different topic. I would offer those in more cities. I understand that that’s not really a feasible option in some of the host cities but I feel that in some of the, some of the larger cities like LA, they don’t really have as many of those opportunities as they do in New York or Chicago. So I feel like I would make more of an effort to make more MAIP events for those places or make something supplementary to them.
Adrian Tennant: Maegan, would you recommend the program to others looking to enter the advertising industry?
Maegan Trinidad: Oh, absolutely. And even interns here, if I see that they have an interest and they’re qualified to join the program and have an interest in specifically some of the disciplines that they have offered through MAIP, I talk to them about the program and tell them about the application process and what I went through. And if they’re interested, I offer to tell them more about my personal experience. And I was a MAIP Ambassador at UCF before I graduated. So I feel like I want to be a resource for other students and if they want to learn more, they can contact me.
Adrian Tennant: Perfect. Great insights, Maegan. Thank you very much for joining us.
Maegan Trinidad: Thank you!
Adrian Tennant: Thanks also to Reema Elghossain, VP of the 4A’s Foundation, responsible for talent, equity, and inclusion. You can find links to the resources we discussed on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Please consider subscribing to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you like what you hear, please leave a review and a rating. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.
- The 4A’s
- The 4A’s Foundation
- Statista infographic: The Future of Work
- Book recommendation: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership