Reflections from today’s Black Marketing Professionals/Deja Sanders

February 26, 2021 | blog | By Rachel Brittenham
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In celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth, LOOMIS presents Reflections from Today’s Black Marketers, an interview series where Black marketing professionals discuss how the industry has changed since they started in the business, and how they’d like to see it change in the future.

Episode 3 features a discussion between Briana Jones and Deja Sanders, Sr AE at Tracy Locke.

In today’s installment of Reflections of Today’s Black Marketing Professionals, Briana interviews Deja Sanders, an entrepreneur. Deja reflects on her experience as one of the only people of color in most of her working environments. She also gives advice to young people of color coming into the industry who are excited to get in and get going.

Briana Jones:
Hey guys, welcome back to our third installment of this year’s Black History series. As I said earlier in the month, this year is all about getting to know today’s Black marketing professionals and just getting their take on race within the industry and their own personal experiences when it comes to it. And now, I’m joined by Ms. Deja Sanders, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before through a previous internship, and I loved working under her. And she’s going to be here today giving us stories from her own experience. So, Deja I’ll let you take it away and give a little introduction about yourself.

Deja Sanders:
Hey, my name is Deja Sanders. I am a senior account executive over at Tracy Locke. I work on a multitude of brands, but primarily I work on the Diageo accounts. I have been in advertising for a few years now. I also am the membership chair for AAF Dallas and I own my own cheerleading team or cheerleading business, I should say. So yeah, I’m an entrepreneur as well.

Briana Jones:
How cool. So, I know you said it’s been a couple of years, but do you remember there being a lot of Black people around you as coworkers whenever you first got into the industry?

Deja Sanders:
No. I was often the only, if not one of just a handful and not necessarily working on the same team. So, I was always on a team that was predominantly white or just non people of color.

Briana Jones:
And do you have any theories as to why that may be, why we do tend to see a lack of people of color in the ad industry?

Deja Sanders:
I really think it depends on the markets and where you specifically work. For the Dallas area, I think it really stems from recruiting and where a lot of the agencies are looking for their talent. There are a lot of PWS in the Dallas or Texas State as a whole. And so, I think when we think about sourcing and pulling in talent, a lot of our talent is pulled from those schools. So, there’s just not a wealth of multicultural talent in the area, unfortunately. And not even to say that there isn’t a wealth, I think we’re just not looking in the right places.

Briana Jones:
Right. That’s come up a lot within our internal conversations about where we do look for talent. It’s not like talent doesn’t exist.

Deja Sanders:
Exactly.

Briana Jones:
So, on that note, for young people of color who are trying to get in but knowing that maybe where they are aren’t necessarily where the eyes are or the feelers are being put out, what advice would you give to people who are trying to overcome those and get into the industry?

Deja Sanders:
I think a big piece of advice that I even kind of use for myself is to just keep knocking on those doors. I think a lot of the times we get that first no and that second no. And I think coming into a space that is a creative space and one that you are highly judged upon your ability to think creatively and strategically, I think we, as interested parties also have to think about ways to sell ourselves. And if it doesn’t work for one agency, kind of take a step back and look at yourself and say, okay, is there anything I can do to revise this? Are there any learnings from the interview that I just had that can really take away and revise what I’m putting out to the world and what I’m putting out to agencies. And then sometimes it’s just not it either, sometimes it’s a cultural thing, a talent thing, there’s so many things that can go into it.

Deja Sanders:
So, that’s why I say, just keep knocking, don’t be defeated. Sometimes the reason you got that no is something so far beyond you that you shouldn’t let that be the thing that defeats you. You just got to keep ongoing. Informational interviews is the other thing that I think is super helpful, especially for young talent. A lot of times people go in with the mindset of, I’m trying to get an interview for a specific position, but sometimes there isn’t a position open, but it’s a company that you aspire to work at. I think it’s so important to just really reach out to someone and say, hey, I’m interested in doing an informational interview, I’m interested in this specific role, I know there’s nothing available at the company, but I just want to learn more about what that role looks like at your organization.

Briana Jones:
Well, I don’t think I’ve heard of that concept or the idea of an informational interview, which could be beneficial sometimes, even more.

Deja Sanders:
Oh, absolutely.

Briana Jones:
Well, that is great, thank you for that. So, my next question is, we kind of already talked on this, but what do you think… So, knowing that we have certain obstacles in place when it comes to getting people of color into the industry, are there any impacts that you think would happen or that you have seen as maybe more Black people have come into the industry or people of color overall? I guess, how do you think that changes the industry for the better?

Deja Sanders:
Just so I’m following. So, you’re asking how do I feel the influx of people of color into the industry is benefiting the industry?

Briana Jones:
Yes, there we go. Perfect.

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. No, you’re good. So, I think that when it comes to pool of thought, traditionally the pool of thought has been non-people of color talking to people of color. And so, I think the pool of thought now being diversified in a way that allows people of color to talk authentically about their experiences allows for really dynamic creative in a way that it can only come from authentic experiences and in cultural nuances that you don’t necessarily get just from Google or looking something up, or the data. So, I think that there’s definitely a benefit.

Deja Sanders:
I think that there’s been a lot of things that have happened to this community and multicultural communities over the last couple of years that have really kind of sparked brands to also say, okay, who’s on your team? Who are the people behind the strategy, behind the creative? Are there any people of color? This is the market that we’re trying to reach out to. There’s so much spending power, especially within the African-American community and Hispanic communities. And I think brands are really now trying to figure out how to branch beyond just general market creative and really start to tap into these multicultural markets.

Briana Jones:
And do you have any examples of… Any favorite examples of brands who did it right, or who got it right whenever they were trying to kind of revamp or reassess who’s on their team and they said maybe we should boost it up?

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. I think my favorite piece of creative of all time is definitely going to be P&G, Procter and Gamble, The Talk. I think the biggest thing there is, the brief was obvious, there was no ambiguity behind the final product. It was very clear who they were talking to. It was clear that they had done their research. It was clear that there was a team behind it that really was probably representative. And so, when I think about a brand who is traditionally kind of stark, like black and white, this is our product, this is what we sell, taking a more activist approach to their creative, I think P&G gets a gold star for that, for sure.

Briana Jones:
Yeah, that was a pretty great one. It’ll be considered that for a while.

Deja Sanders:
Oh yeah, absolutely.

Briana Jones:
And I think this is my last question for you. So, considering what we’ve just talked about, spent the last, I think, 10 minutes talking about, race, do you think that advertising has any type of role or could have any type of role in kind of helping with some of the racial issues that we have in society, whether it’s addressing them or making it easier to talk about? Do you think advertising could help anyway, and should they?

Deja Sanders:
Oh my gosh, yes. I think that’s why I got into this line of work. And why I think I’ll continuously want to educate myself about where we’ve been as an industry and then try to inform where we’re going. Because as advertisers, we’ve kind of been the ones to perpetuate the stereotypes. When you think about going back to the earliest creatives, there was so many stereotypical representations of native Americans, African-Americans and this was what was pushed out. So, if you were a child growing up in rural Oklahoma and this is what you’re seeing on your television, you’ve never seen a Black person or Indian in your life, and this is what you’re seeing. The advertisers have now taken on a responsibility of showing you who these people are and giving you a preconceived notion about a group of people that you’ve never met.

Deja Sanders:
And we’ve done that for years. I think there are so many brains, especially when we think about cigarette companies and just who have really taken on changing how we view these audiences and these groups of people. And it’s nice now to know that we as advertisers are kind of starting to say, yeah we probably shouldn’t have done that, yeah it’s time for us to rethink things. Oh yeah, Aunt Jemima.

Briana Jones:
We should call it.

Deja Sanders:
Right. We should call that, we’re Pearl Millings now. There are so many things that are happening in the industry where advertisers are kind of saying, okay, this is who… I mean, the cool part to me is that everyone is actually acknowledging where they’ve been, instead of just saying, oh, we didn’t do that, we weren’t a part of that. Now everybody’s saying, this is where we’ve been, we recognize that it’s wrong, here’s the research that we’ve done, here’s how we’re going to rectify the wrong.

Deja Sanders:
And I do think we, as advertisers and as marketers have that responsibility to communities, it can definitely shift conversations. And I mean, it’s happening right now. You look at the Super Bowl and I want to say the first half-hour that I watched, everything was about unity and how do we move forward, and just so empowering. But also there were so many Black faces. And we’ve never seen anything like that. And so, I think we’re starting to change the conversation. And even just that kind of the over… What’s the word I’m looking for? Just the fact that there was so much content with Black people can also start a conversation. There can be people at home that are like, oh my gosh, what’s going on?

Deja Sanders:
That’s a good conversation to have. Or I don’t like this. That’s a great conversation to have too. Why don’t you like it? Let’s talk about it. What are they trying to say? What don’t you like about what they’re trying to say? So, I think we, as advertisers are doing the right thing, but I still think we have some ways to go. I still think representation on teens is one thing. But when we think about representation at a senior level, at a mid-level, it’s easier to get junior talent, but when you start to think about people of color in positions that actually have impact on the work that goes out the door, that’s when we start to see a bigger disparity. I think companies are looking for talent of color, but a lot of times those are entry-level, junior-level positions, maybe some mid-level positions, but senior leadership is traditionally white and traditionally white male. And so, I think we still have a ways to go as far as the decision-makers for what we’re seeing in this industry.

Briana Jones:
For sure. I agree. It’s definitely, you see, maybe at the bottom level, there might be an influx, but then it does take a while to get to those higher levels, and that’s where the most change happens.

Deja Sanders:
Absolutely.

Briana Jones:
I think that thing that we’ve been talking about internally as well. So, as advertisers become more, I guess, in tune with this shift that’s happening, do you have any clues, are any keys that you’re going to keep a lookout for to determine if this brand is actually real and what they’re saying and very authentic in their message, or if they’re just trying to do it just because it’s where everything is going? Do you have any things you’re going to be looking out to determine that?

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. I think that it does seem to be a little bit trendy right now to talk about Black lives matter or to talk about Black causes, even to talking about Black History Month. Honestly, everything is on trend. Even when everything happened with George-

Briana Jones:
It’s great to be Black.

Deja Sanders:
It’s great to be Black. When everything happened with George Floyd, all of a sudden all of these conversations and all of this activism was happening, but there’s always kind of these ebbs and flows. At one point, we’re like, all in, and then the next minute, you’re not really hearing a ton about what’s being done.

Briana Jones:
And we’ve seen that happen.

Deja Sanders:
Yeah, absolutely. And it happened throughout history. There’s these peaks and these valleys. And so, as we kind of go through those peaks and valleys, I think what’s important when you’re looking at brands is to figure out who’s talking in the valley moments. Who’s actually doing the work in the valleys? Everybody- What did you say?

Briana Jones:
I said that’s so beautiful.

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. So, everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon when it’s trendy. Everybody wants to say, we’re this company, we’re doing X, Y, and Z. We’re going to hire more Black people or we’re going to… But when nobody’s talking about it, how are you fostering and helping the development and growth of this Black talent that you now hired? How are you trying to reinforce with your clients who put out this beautiful spot? Okay, now we got to do some work. And here are some ideas. Sometimes our clients really don’t know, they’re like, we’re trying to figure this out, this is what the internet is saying. You’re the creative, you’re the advertisers, what unique ways can we figure out how to leverage the tools and the talent that we have internally?

Deja Sanders:
I can think of a brand that I worked with previously. And we brought an idea forward, just out of, not only do we do our primary pieces of work, but then we also come back and we bring just really good creative thought on the back end as well. And we brought them a project forward that required so many departments within their organization to all get on board. And they were like, oh my gosh. As an advertising agency, so many times it’s about the 15 second spot, the 30 second spot, the radio ad, the digital unit. But the fact that we thought, okay, how do we do something that integrates all the departments within your organization to not only put out something that’s PR worthy, but then also to get your employees excited? All of these things that typically so many different disjointed areas would handle, I think it’s about that type of work.

Deja Sanders:
As advertisers, we have the responsibility to bring forth the creative thought leadership that offers up. How do you as an organization also do this work? But then we as your agency, how do we do this work and continue to foster our employees and give them things that they’re really excited about? To me, if you’re hiring multicultural talent, you also don’t just want to put them on a back burner and say, hey, you’re going to go work on this, I don’t know, very traditional brand. Take advantage of the thought leadership that you have within your company before then you go out and hire a consultant when you have the talent that’s already there, you just don’t utilize them because you’ve assigned them to a place where they can’t really shine.

Briana Jones:
That was all so great. It actually made me think of one more question.

Deja Sanders:
Yeah, go ahead.

Briana Jones:
Going back to what you did with your clients, with that case, it sounded like they were a little bit more open and willing to kind of take this extra step. So, on the opposite side, when you have clients who, maybe they are either very hesitant or they just don’t see it as something that should be addressed or at least by them, do you think it is the place of the agency to say, maybe this is something you should consider or do you just go on as business as usual?

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. I am in the camp of everybody, every single brand does not need to talk about race relationships. Sometimes it’s just a product. I have some Mentos gum here, I don’t need the Mentos… Personally, I don’t need my gum company to tell me about, I don’t know, any kind of race relationships. It doesn’t feel authentic. I think when it comes from a brand who has strong ties to a community, who has faced adversity within that community, who has discriminated maybe at a point within the community, I think that’s when it’s important to talk about the issues that are at hand. And in a way that really starts to say, hey, we know who our consumer is, we know that you’re spending your dollars with us and we want to let you know that we appreciate the dollars that are spent with us.

Deja Sanders:
Now, that’s not to say that Mentos gum can’t come back and say, hey, we’re just going to flat out increase diversity across our ads. That’s something that I think is appropriate. If traditionally Mentos doesn’t have people of color in their spots, then yeah, maybe it’s time for you to increase your diversity efforts. But at the same time, I think we, as advertisers have the responsibility to engage. What brands could this really work for? What brands could this be like… I mean, there’s so many case studies out about how brands have completely shifted the dynamics of who they advertise to and why, and how consumers want brands to stand for something. But just because we, as consumers want brands to stand for something, every brand can’t stand for something, some brands just are what they are.

Briana Jones:
It’s like gum is for everyone.

Deja Sanders:
Yes. But at the same time, you can make incremental changes that start to mimic and mirror the fact that we live in a culturally diverse world and time. So, yeah, I think it’s just a matter of gaging where the brand is, who the brand is, who the brand has been and then trying to figure out, okay, how do we really address the lack thereof, if there are people of color in this space. Whether that’s just talent working on the account, or if that’s the output of the creative. We just need to figure out what works for what brand.

Briana Jones:
Yeah. And that totally makes sense. If you take a brand like Nike, who heavily markets to the Black community and is very heavily supported by the Black community. And then clothing brands like Anthropology, who definitely are very influenced by styles made popular by Black culture. I think it does definitely make sense for them to be more [inaudible 00:21:42]. Yeah, for sure.

Deja Sanders:
Absolutely. Yeah. There are some incremental and small things that can happen for every brand. If you are talking to communities of people, especially when it comes to television and radio, there are cultural insights that can help to inform the type of the creative that you’re putting out in the world too.

Briana Jones:
Awesome. Okay. I’m sorry, one more question, last one.

Deja Sanders:
Go ahead, go ahead.

Briana Jones:
You’re so good to talk to. So, to round it up, last year, all of our Black history topics were over figures of the past and all that they did to kind of make a way for Black people in the industry today. And so, there’s been so many accomplishments made by Black people already in this industry, but do you have any other things that you would love to see be accomplished or overcome in terms of Black people in the advertising industry? If any.

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. I think the thought leadership that I’ve seen from a lot of smaller shops… I sat on a talk last week with two creative shops out of Chicago and they really have invested a lot of their time into working specifically with brands who are looking to talk to Black audiences and multicultural audiences. The insights that they glean and the way that they transform those into actionable, just, whether it’s an activation or a spot or whatever, I just thought was brilliant. So, I think that we, as advertisers start to kind of move in the way of being a more inclusive industry, but also society, I think it’s important that we really start to creatively dig into these communities and start to think about ways to engage with the gen Z years and the millennials in a way that hasn’t been done before. I think there’s a lot of talk about them, but not a lot of talk with them.

Briana Jones:
That’s true, so true.

Deja Sanders:
Yeah. And so, I’m ready to see work that is reflective of not only the diversity, but also the makeup of who has the power of purse right now, which are these millennials who are coming into what I think is more of a working life, but also not even just working, they’re coming of age, they’re having families, are having children now, they’re buying homes.

Briana Jones:
Businesses.

Deja Sanders:
Right, right. Exactly. But at the same time, our interest is a little bit different. We’re into music, we’re into fashion, we’re into clothes. And then the generation beyond us, or below us is also into so many things. It’s about talking with those generations and not talking about them. I think that we can glean so many insights and really move the work even more forward if we start to really tap into those audiences in a smart way.

Deja Sanders:
And then I think at the end of the day, the biggest thing that I’m seeing is that our senior leadership, our executive boards of companies are not made up of people of color. So, at the end of the day, the people that have the strong yes and the strong no, those people are not people of color. They’re not men of color, they’re not women of color. And so, until we start to really see a shift in how we handle, how we recruit senior leadership, I think we’ll still have a struggle with talking to those millennials. You’re gleaning those insights from them, but then how do you get someone who is… You talk to a Black millennial, but then how do you get someone who’s not a Black person, or maybe you don’t have to necessarily be a millennial, but a Black person to register that this is important, this is a moment that’s important. So, yeah, I think we do have a little bit of work to do when it comes to just recruiting your leadership as well.

Briana Jones:
All good things, I think, all good things to accomplish. And that is it, I promise, that’s the last question. Thank you so much for doing this again.

Deja Sanders:
No problem.

Briana Jones:
You were so great to talk to.

Deja Sanders:
Thank you.

Briana Jones:
I learned a lot myself, so thank you.

Deja Sanders:
Great. Well, it’s good seeing your face again as well.

Briana Jones:
Oh, thank you. I haven’t changed much, so that’s great.

RACHEL BRITTENHAM is senior media buyer for LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

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