Perspectives: Diversity in Advertising, Spence Kramer

"If we share the responsibility to make the entire industry better, the entire industry will, in fact, get better."


Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
I’m Spence Kramer and I’m the CEO of J. Walter Thompson in Atlanta.
What was the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome since you began working in advertising?
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career, having worked with and for great brands and even better people. As far as obstacles go, I have to admit that I’ve managed to avoid most of the big ones. That said, every job has its share of challenges. At the beginning of my career, I was my own obstacle, needing to limit my own ego and understand how to be a key part of a team. As a client, I had to remind the agency that while they spent 100 percent of their time thinking about my business, I only really spent 10 percent of my time thinking about the agency. My current role presents lots of obstacles, mostly centered around being a good leader. All in all, though, I’ve been very, very lucky.
What is your opinion on the current state of diversity within the industry?
The best agencies are the ones that reflect their communities and their clients’ consumers – a wonderful and crazy mix of race, gender and identity. And most (smart, open-minded, compassionate) people agree that a robust D&I practice is the smartest way to serve these constituents. However, because the industry is still dominated by white men who like to hire and nurture people like themselves, it’s hard for typically “diverse” people to break in, and stay in, our business. It’s getting better but we’re still not where we should be. The last 10 years have been a step in the right direction, though, mostly because we now understand that D&I is not just “box-checking” but smart business.
What do you think causes agencies such difficulty in regard to attracting, retaining, and nurturing people of color?
It’s a combination of factors. Say you’re a person of color on an interview and you don’t see many (or any) people like yourself at the agency. Is that the kind of place that feels inherently welcome? Second, because we have such a tainted legacy of white, male privilege in this business, we don’t have a ton of diverse people in the senior-most jobs, thus limiting role models from diverse backgrounds. Lastly, I don’t believe we do a good enough job marketing our own industry to certain communities at the high school and college levels. If great, talented people entering a career don’t know that advertising is an option, why would they pick it?
The advertising industry has for years been talking about its many diversity issues, what do you think a long-term solution could look like?
This is a much bigger, much deeper issue than just advertising. We live in a world now that tolerates – and sometimes rewards – bigotry, ugliness and division. If that’s not something we can hope to change as a people, we’ll never fix the industry. On the other hand, maybe we can lead a movement toward honest equality? To do so, agency leadership would have to double down on efforts toward awareness-building, hiring, training and mentorship… and be measured by their success or failure.
What is going on within your agency to improve diversity?
J. Walter Thompson Atlanta is entirely committed to diversity and inclusion and I, as its CEO, am 100 percent devoted, as well. I’m proud to say we have the highest percentage of female, non-white and LGBTQ employees in the network. In addition, we were the founding agency of Advertising for Change (AFC), a coalition of Atlanta-based agencies committed to diversity and inclusion as a means for better business for our clients, our agencies and our communities. If we share the responsibility to make the entire industry better, the entire industry will, in fact, get better.
How do you plan to inspire the next generation?
AFC is certainly one way to show young people that advertsing has a home for them, no matter their background or experience. Also, if we’re successful, we can make advertising itself the model for every industry in Atlanta. We will reach more young people, work with more counselors (both HS and college), hold more job fairs and hire more talented people from every single walk of life.