Equipping People of Color for Jobs in Media

The Marcus Graham Project works to diversify the advertising and marketing industry

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Image: iStock/alvarez

CGI America, the U.S.-focused division of the Clinton Global Initiative, addresses significant domestic challenges through Commitments to Action. Many Commitments to Action, if not most, are carried out through cross-sector partnerships. 

CGI America recently held its annual conference out of which several exciting big ideas in education have emerged. Once a week over the next several weeks, BE Smart will explore one of the big ideas that resulted in a CGI Commitment to Action.

The Marcus Graham Project was started in 2007 by Lincoln Stephens to increase diversity in the advertising, marketing, and media business. Since that time, MGP has trained hundreds of young people of color through its summer boot camps, providing participants with the exposure and experience they need to pursue a career in the industry.

Leveraging CGI’s unique Commitment to Action-centered model — which requires participants to develop a concrete, measurable plan for turning their ideas into action — has had a decisive impact on Stephens and the work of MGP. “Even the process of filling out the paperwork helped me to think more intently about the work,” Stephens says.

MGP is in its second year of commitment with CGI America, but this year the commitment is more expansive. “We’re now looking at a deeper level of impact,” Stephens says. Exchanging ideas with the diverse thought leaders who attend CGI events and collaborating with MGP’s partners have helped to refine and shape Stephens’s vision.

“Hearing how other organizations approach fundraising has encouraged us to think bigger,” he says.

Partnering with the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the VCU Brandcenter, and others, MGP is expanding its impact.

“This may sound corny, but the lyrics I’m a movement by myself, but a force when we’re together are really true. It only makes sense to be a force.”

A Deeper Level of Commitment

MPG has grown from training 200 people in one year to a projected reach of 5,000 with its partners in the coming year.

“Exponential growth and impact is possible if you’re not afraid to imagine something larger,” Stephens says.

Even so, he has a sense of urgency, and notes that the diversity issue is as acute now as it was in the 1960s.

“By the year 2020 there will be 1.4 million job openings in advertising, marketing, and media. Not only do we need to prepare people to be aware of those jobs, we need to ensure that these jobs are filled by qualified minority professionals. But at our current rate of hiring, it will be 2079 before the industry reflects the population of the country,” Stephens says.

Part of the Solution

The organization is making a difference, however. Providing career preparation and mentorship, MGP has a 94% job placement rate.

Part of MGP’s commitment is to raise awareness in the black community about the variety of career options there are, echoing the work of another Commitment to Action, that of Opportunity Network.

“We consume more media than other groups, but we’re not aware of jobs in production, traffic, finance, and business affairs,” Stephens says. “The only HBCU with a credible advertising major is Howard.”

Stephens continues. “This work is important because we need to change who makes the creative that tells America what to think through media. Instead of being in front of the camera, we can be writing the strategy and choosing the director. Having a reflective and diverse population working in our industry provides richer insight and more effective and culturally relevant communications.”

For information about MGP’s Commitment to Action, visit the CGI America website here. To learn more about MGP, visit its website.



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