Entertainment Marketing Must Do Its Part for Diversity and Inclusion

Uncomfortable truths, and a modest proposal for a path forward

2020 has been heart-wrenching in so many ways, but there is no greater collective anguish than comprehending the brutal truths of racial injustice in our country, and the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that stems from it. 

Like many of you, I've spent the past months soul-searching about what positive impact I can have as the president of an L.A.-based entertainment agency. I've struggled greatly with what I can do, what my agency can do, to make a difference.

Despite our attempts at promoting and celebrating diversity over the course of our 20-year history, I must admit that I feel disappointed in my response given the current state of affairs. I haven't been able to put forth a strong enough solution that isn't just lip service. Problem solving is usually the one thing I pride myself on, and I have dropped the ball.

I recently had a moment of clarity about what we can do, so I wanted to share. It's a modest proposal for a change in our intern hiring criteria that I believe will make a real impact on DEI in the entertainment marketing field. 

The current state of DEI in the creative agency world

Despite the diversity, equity and inclusion in MOCEAN's corporate ranks (two of our C-suite leaders happen to be women of color), we've known for decades that there's a lack of diversity in the creative pool that entertainment agencies like ours hire from. It's a problem that reflects poorly on the entire agency world. There's a lot of talk and good intentions, especially lately, but there hasn't been much real, lasting change.

Take, for example, our internship program. We offer a formal summer internship program in which we accept about 10 students per year from schools across the U.S. These interns spend two months working side by side with our L.A.-based team, gaining valuable industry insights through hands-on experience. 

Since the beginning, it's been a requirement that interested students would have to make it on their own to Los Angeles, secure a place to live, and find suitable transportation—all for minimum wage. My thinking was, if you wanted to "make it," you'd do what it takes to get to our front door.

Covid-19 threw our traditional internship plans out the window. Initially, we debated not running the program, but by May, it became clear that everyone was adapting well to a new world of Zoom meetings. Maybe, just maybe, we could offer a virtual version of our internship program—something we ended up branding MOCEAN's MASTER CLASS.

Lo and behold, without the restriction of having to "make it in Hollywood" to attend, we ended up attracting the most diverse summer internship class in our 20-year history. These young students brought their A-game, and frankly, our staff ended up taking away as much from our interns as they learned from us. 

Amid so much turmoil and pain this year, I had a moment of clarity: If I'm serious about bringing diversity to our team, I can't let us fall back on old ways of doing things.

One difference we can make is a real commitment to upending how we attract young people from all backgrounds into our agency. Post-pandemic, this will include both an in-person internship program—one that embraces outreach to a wide array of schools in historically disenfranchised areas—as well as a formalized virtual session that will be available to students from any location and socio-economic background.

Facing an uncomfortable truth about our diversity blind spots

All of this coincides with an ongoing conversation I've been having with my close friend and college roommate, Marshall Cannon. 

Marshall is well aware that our education system is failing to promote careers in design and IT for youth of color. His experience working in the design field as a hiring manager in San Francisco duing the '90s and up until 2018 led him to establish WATT (Working Arts & Technology Training), a program dedicated to helping high school students learn more about career options in design and tech, both of which areas have seen explosive growth. 

Through Marshall, I learned that the lack of arts and tech curriculum in public schools has kept generations of students in the dark about these viable career options. This is not unlike my own blind spots about how the difficulty of getting to Los Angeles for an internship was cutting off so many students from even considering a career in entertainment marketing. 

A small, but concrete step toward change

With the lessons we learned from this summer's virtual program, we are officially going to change the way we recruit for our internship program. Going forward, we will be recruiting a minimum of 30 percent of our interns from HBCUs and other traditionally underserved areas of our education systems. We will be awarding scholarship funds to exceptional students from all over the country to help offset the expense of living in L.A. for our in-person program.

I know this is one small step in a much larger marathon to truly tackle the systemic issues of race, inclusion and diversity in America, but it's a concrete step that can happen right now. I share this because I know I'm not alone in wanting to make a difference.

We pledge to do better, and we commit to taking the positive actions necessary to introduce a new generation of students from all walks of life to the opportunities available in entertainment marketing. Not only will our future interns benefit, but our agency will better reflect the diverse makeup of the very audiences we create for.

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Michael McIntyre
Michael McIntyre is president at MOCEAN, an entertainment agency based in L.A.

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