op-ed: a cta for the carefree black girl

August 8, 2014

This writer says more Black girls should work in the advertising industry. Do you agree? Here is what she wrote:
“Earlier this year I met what Tumblr told me was the Carefree Black Girl. A natural creative, she’s the grand daughter of the Bettie Davis and Sonia Sanchezes. The post-Lisa Bonet and all them girls in Love Jones but smarter with better poetry, less inhibitions and a sick social media savvy. Truthfully she touched me deeply but she was quite familiar.
Because she’s a younger me.
Next year will mark my 10th year of a career creating art and copy in order to sell products to targeted groups of people, also called advertising and marketing. Compared to most of my colleagues the path to my current position, Creative Director, has been anything but traditional. But in hindsight, my unconventional, windy road prepped me for a career that came with a unique set of hard facts and challenges:

By Shannon Washington

  • African Americans constitute about 9.6% of the nation’s advertising managers and professionals.
  • When it comes to advertising creative leadership in general market* agencies, that figure drops down to about 2%.
  • When you break down how many of that 2% are women – well than you probably have about 5 of us. We probably couldn’t fill an SUV.

For Black women like me, it’s lonely at the top. Literally.

When it comes to the consumers I create content for, the numbers change dramatically. Let’s look at it through the lens of my particular disciplines of health, luxury and beauty:

In short, which is one of the largest groups of people consuming and interacting with media? Black women. Who is creating said media? Just about everyone else but them.

In the land of pundits and think pieces, intellectuals often lament about how there needs to be an increased, better representation of “us” in media. There is truth in that, but that conversation tends to focus on what I consider to be “big” media: think major movies, music videos and network tv along with actors, directors, etc.

But within this argument, it’s time we revisit the solution as we are in an era where the lines between entertainment, journalistic, and branded content are more crossed than ever. At the center of these circles you will find a group of power-players rarely mentioned outside of the industry—creatives. Not only are we crafting the idea, we’re involved in the casting and approval of talent, influencing production, and are creating partnerships. For everyone tv episode or movie, there are plenty more commercials and that number rapidly increases if you count the onslaught of branded content (short films, broadband pre-rolls) that flows in-between what is a commercial and what is a show.

So again, what’s one answer to creating better media for not only people of color but society as a whole?

More Black female creatives. In advertising. Being their awesome grown-up, Carefree Black Girl selves.

Why there aren’t more Black women on the creative side of advertising? There’s many reasons, but my own story is a good insight:  I didn’t know that a career in advertising was realistic until (almost) too late. When you aren’t aware of something, you don’t consider it to be a possibility. How many Black creatives do we see thriving in pop culture, or celebrated in media? **  This is no one’s “fault” because currently, it’s too rare of an image to be known. On the other end of the spectrum, how popular is being a “designer” or a “copywriter” for young black girls versus more familiar creative discipline like a journalist or an architect? It took loads of convincing, tears, prayer and a small scholarship for my own mother to understand that I could still get a “good job” as she was firm in “Not paying Howard University for you (me) to be a “starving artist.”

So again. Why you, Carefree Black Girl?

  • Because no one told you before.
  • Because you’re already creating dopeness and it’s alreadyproven it’s influence.***
  • Because your fierce embrace and awareness of your otherness is what this industry needs, and is what will help you to survive it when it gets lonely and brutal.
  • Because your ability to juggle multiple creative projects at once, and then hustle them into to reality is going to take you from pitch to production.
  • Because in a sea of tattoo-sleeved, Herschel bag carrying white guys, your point of view is an untapped advantage.
  • Because it pays well-but you will have to fight for it.
  • Because in this new “trend” of feminist/female friendly advertising, your critical perspective is quiet.
  • Because this industry won’t survive without you, but is way too scared to admit it. Because of this and this and these girls too. And never forget this. Never forget.

Because I did it with no help and for many years, no mentorship or community. And I’m still here and I want to see you more of you next to me.

There is much my industry could be doing to recruit you, and there are those who are working to change that. But consider this my plea for you to make the first step while we slowly get our shit together. Seek out strong university advertising programs plus specialty schools like SCAD, SVA, and RISD and organizations like ADCOLOR, The Marcus Graham Project and MAIP.****

Attempt at making connections with any/everyone you know, or kinda know in this industry. Rethink everything you’ve heard about having a “good job.” And don’t think you just should apply to a multicultural shop..***** Get your book tight. Because it will have to be better most. Work to remain true to your yourself and creativity. Groupthink is strangely prevalent in an industry that prides itself on originality and innovation. Never get comfortable and most importantly, don’t get caught up the fraternal foolery. And grow a tight crew of fellow creative girlfriends. You will need them more than you will ever realize. 

Be a fucking unicorn.

And no matter what, never apologize for being your beautiful, brash creative carefree self. Because they never do, and neither should you.

Hurry up. We’ve got some work to do. Together.


Shannon Washington
Creative Director
OG Carefree Black Girl

Article originally published here


*General Market is a term that applies to major, non-minority exclusive (ok, White) advertising agencies in the US, think the Ogilvy’s and McCanns as opposed to minority-focused shops that specialize and focus specifically on an ethnic group. The widely accepted perception is that GM agencies are the top tier as they generally have more power, attracting the best brands/clients. To put it short, as I was (shamefully) told early in my career – “Ethnic shops are like playing in the D league, you practice there until you’re ready for GM shops…aka the NBA.” A part of ushering in more creative talent is also reframing how we think about minority shops.

**Before you ask, yes I’ve seen Boomerang. And Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy) arguably was just under level terrible in career and in love. The only other prominent creative was Angela Lewis (Halle Berry) who somehow found time to balance falling in love with fuckboy Marcus as an Art Director only to have her heart broken and then focus on eventually becoming a Creative Director with questionable taste in office furniture. He probably caused her to miss a promotion after they got back together. Being Angela sucked.

But all we remember her for was that infamous slap and haircut.

***In general, we all know that trends that start in urban pockets eventually bubble up into the mainstream. And that’s not a bad thing when there are authentic and aware voices in the decision making room. Like you. Because it’s going to happen anyway, with or without you.

****I know I forgot someone. Add them below in the comments and kindly forgive me.

*****Fact. My first traditional agency was Carol H Williams, which was at the time the leading multicultural shop in the US. This isn’t a slight to those agencies at all. Working with Carol, Czelena, Lynn, Ailee, Natalee, and Carlton changed me forever. But we can’t fall for the belief that they are the only places we will ever be successful.”