Business owners, leaders and supplier diversity advocates will be at the helm of the committee

By Arvelisse Bonilla Ramos from AdAge

Omnicom Group’s GSD&M is launching an advisory committee to help drive change for diverse-owned vendors who say they continue to face little progress within the ad industry.

The Vendor Advisory Committee will consist of six members, including diverse business owners, leaders from various production areas and regions and advocates for supplier diversity within the industry.

The founding members include Qadree “Q” Holmes, founder and executive producer of Quriosity Productions; Yvette Cobarrubias, co-founder and managing partner of video editing company Cosmo Street; Pamala Buzick Kim, founder and executive director of Free The Work; Max Rutherford, VP of vendor partner diversity at GSD&M; and Keisha Townsend-Taitt, chief inclusion officer at the agency.

“Committees like this matter. I have found that many of the diversity, equity, and inclusion champions find themselves talking in a room full of people that look like themselves,” Holmes said in a statement. “If we aren’t speaking to leadership, then these efforts become ineffective. Leadership commitments make these committees very real.”

Holmes hopes the committee will help address the “broken promises” faced by diverse directors, editors and crews.

“We are hoping that people take notice and realize the impact they can actually have,” said Holmes. “We will always stand out as the first group that actually implemented a real program where the checks are being cut to change the systematic issues that exist in all sectors of business.”

The committee’s main responsibilities include consulting and collaborating with the GSD&M leadership team and providing guidance on supplier diversity issues, organizational matters, as well as strategies for sustainable development and growth of small and diverse businesses. It will also serve as a sounding board on supplier diversity matters.

“We reached a point where we cannot internally make any changes other than what we’ve [already] made. We need that external voice to come in and help us present the right story that will engage our agency folks, as well as our clients and the industry in general,” said GSD&M’s Rutherford. “We’re needing their expertise because they live this life. They live the life of trying to get through the gatekeepers.”

The committee’s launch comes two years after GSD&M conducted its first survey of diverse partners in the advertising industry. The results of the 2023 survey of 2,000 diverse-owned vendors mirrored the 2022 survey of just over 1,000 vendors.

In the survey conducted last November, about 79% of vendors said they received little to no feedback when not awarded a project, essentially the same amount as in 2022. About 78% of vendors said they believe agencies prefer working with established partners, overlooking new companies, also flat year over year.

The survey found that 48.7% of respondents think they don’t have enough connections or partnerships with agencies, which rose from 46% in 2022.

“Momentum overall is plateauing for DE&I, and all of that eagerness we saw in June of 2020, these commitments and these statements, have stalled,” said Townsend-Taitt.

The slowed progress is evident in overall media spend: Investment in diverse media grew much slower in 2023 than in 2022, according to recent research from the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing. (Some agency executives, however, believe that the slowed growth was expected given the 2022 surge.)

Taitt said there are “really simple things” agencies can do to improve relations with diverse vendors, such as providing feedback.

“That’s going to help them. Make sure the budget and the parameters of a bid are well defined before you’re making calls so that you’re not wasting people’s resources because we know that’s a heavier burden on small and minority-owned businesses,” she said.

Taitt noted that quick responses are crucial for minority-owned agencies. With fewer employees and resources, every response costs money because time is money for these smaller, more diverse companies.

The advisory committee will also be part of the agency’s annual Diverse Partner Summit. The summit, last held in December, featured in-person and virtual programming aimed at connecting diverse partners with agency decision-makers. Some 126 people attended.

As part of the summit, anyone in the industry can register to meet diverse vendors in pre-scheduled 15-minute virtual meetings. There were 251 virtual meeting registrations in 2023, compared to 126 for the same event in 2022. The number of meetings increased to 150, up from 75 in 2022.

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