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Marcus Graham Co-founder Lincoln Stephens and Larry Yarrell

Marcus Graham co-founders, Lincoln Stephens and Larry Yarrell. (photo/concept: Menkiti Rice, JP Dewberry)

When Lincoln Stephens began working in 2004 at a major marketing agency in Dallas, Texas, he saw that the predominantly White industry had a long way to go in order to diversify its ranks.

Over a decade later, Stephens, who began in the industry as a PepsiCo account executive at TracyLocke (the integrated marketing firm in Dallas), still sees vast room for improvement. Citing recent data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stephens told NewsOne that African Americans are the only minority group to see a decrease in advertising and marketing jobs over the last 4 years. The reduction comes even as the New York Times reports that Whites are no longer expected to make up the majority of Americans in 2043. Further, Blacks represented less than 1 percent of the advertising industry, as of 2011; and less than 6 percent of those in sales and marketing.

“I did not think that things would get worse,” said Stephens, who is not sitting on the sidelines waiting for change. Today, he is the executive director and co-founder of The Marcus Graham Project (MGP), a national network of diverse professionals working to develop the next generation of workers in advertising, media and marketing. He said his group serves as a model for what is needed to improve diversity, not only on Madison Avenue, but in other industries as well.The Dallas-based nonprofit organization was founded in 2007. Via PepsiCoInteractive One, the parent company of NewsOne, has been engaged to help tell its story.

“People of color have a responsibility to do our part to expose our kids to career opportunities early and to support each other’s growth,” said Stephens, who is Black. “There is room for more than one of us at the top. How do we do more? We have to do more for ourselves and train the next generation. That is what we’re focused on.”

To achieve that goal, over the last seven years the group has sponsored the Marcus Graham Project’s iCR8 (I create) boot camp. The summer-long experiential learning program provides aspiring advertising and marketing leaders with the exposure and experience necessary to build careers in the industry, he said.

In December 2014, PepsiCo announced that it would sponsor the group’s 2015 iCR8 project. As part of the program, selected participants will create a pop-up marketing agency that will provide marketing and advertising solutions for PepsiCo U.S. beverage brands, including Aquafina, Brisk, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist, as well as Beats By Dre and other start-up and non-profit clients, according to a news release.

“[I]t is now ironic that my first client [in the industry] is a corporation that will take us forward in our expansion,” Stephens said in an email message about PepsiCo’s sponsorship of iCR8 project.

This year will mark 75 years since the company created a special markets sales team focused on the African American community, Angelique Krembs, vice president of marketing activation for PepsiCo America Beverages, noted in the news release.

“Our relationship with the Marcus Graham Project and all that it stands for in developing the next generation of leaders is a natural extension of the legacy that we will celebrate,” Krembs stated.

Applications to the iCR8 Summer Boot Camp are due February 2015 and can be found on the Marcus Graham Project website.

Besides the boot camp, MGP plans to solidify its dedication to training the next generation by transitioning in 2015 from an operation of volunteers to creating five full-time staff positions, including an executive director, alumni and recruiting director and a chief operating officer, Stephens said. The group has received financial pledges for over $680,000 towards their $1.25 million goal to make the transition, which also includes plans to establish programming in cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Stephens said.

“We all have a part in advertising, marketing and in corporate America to make sure employers find the right talent and retain the right talent,” he said. “We have to hold agencies and vendors accountable to make sure they reflect the way the world looks. That’s what we’re trying to do as we train the next generation of workers.”

 

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