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Mentorship vs Metrics:
Making Meaningful Investments in DEI+

In January 2022, I posted a LinkedIn article entitled Marketing Still So White, So What Are We Doing About It? The article focused on Mission's philosophy around DEI and laid out, at least at a summary level, our promise to engage tangibly in making a difference in our industry. Since then, the acronym has grown and taken on various forms as awareness and understanding have evolved, perhaps making the go-to “+” appendage appropriate and most universally representative now. For Mission though, we've stayed pretty dedicated to emphasizing and centering the “A” (accessibility) in our approach. Our philosophy is anchored in the core belief that having a viewpoint on diversity but not actively investing in combating barriers to accessibility is merely virtue signaling, and there really is no place for, or value, in that. 

Marketing professionals giving presentation to class on industry

A couple years ago, we set out to consistently and more broadly invest in DEI+ efforts, not just make a commitment to a hiring target as some kind of business metric. Don't get me wrong, workforce diversity is important and a priority for Mission. In Baltimore, the leading agencies struggle to get out of the lowest single-digit percentile in workforce diversity. But Mission also recognizes that moving that meter can never really be achieved unless we invest earlier in the talent pipeline so that a qualified, diverse pool of candidates are available for hiring. For Mission, that more robust and meaningful investment needed to include:

  • Prioritizing active recruitment and hiring of minorities in our internship program;
  • Providing thought leadership to program heads at universities to help guide the enhancement and relevance of curricula in an ever-evolving marketing and strategic communications landscape;
  • Facilitating pro bono guest lectures and embedded teaching concepts by agency leadership in partnership with local universities, particularly HBCUs;
  • Hosting class immersion and individual shadowing opportunities at our offices; and
  • Offering 'real-world' mentorship for young professionals.

While this work requires long-term engagement and ongoing commitment, I am proud that we have made tangible, measurable progress on every single one of the above objectives in the past two years and the potential that has for real impact in both our industry and our Baltimore community. 

Mission Agency summer 2022 interns

Since laying out this focus, we have achieved 50% average diversity across our past several summer internship programs, have hosted multiple class visits to our Mission offices, conducted numerous guest lectures and other programmatic offerings at multiple universities, judged capstone classes, and seen agency leaders engage in direct mentorship on several fronts. Last year, and again last month, we also engaged a DEI+ expert to facilitate interactive workshops on understanding diverse perspectives, belonging, and team building with our entire organization. 

Much of this work has been spearheaded by our Mission: Connect “HMG,” one of Mission's versions of an ERG or Employee Resource Group (our mantra being Heart, Mind & Gut). I'm perhaps most proud of the embedded teaching partnerships we created with Morgan State University for the Fall 2023 semester. This included the Strategic Communication and Social Media course under the Strategic Communications program. Over three sessions during the semester, Mission Connect members Andi Cwieka and Karsyn Jimenez, supported by the rest of our Mission Connect team, shared insights and experience from the agency perspective, providing examples of some of the ways we're pivoting to stay at the forefront of this landscape and on top of best practices and evolving trends in tactics and content formats as part of an increasingly integrated approach to social media marketing. This interactive engagement provided students with an overview of a real client and the specific marketing challenges Mission was asked to address. Students were then asked to develop a strategy, creative concepts, and sample social content in response to this real-world challenge. Ultimately, the students presented their work back to Mission and received feedback and critique in the context of how their approach compared to the real approach Mission executed for the client and the results achieved.

Morgan State University students presenting final strategy deck to class

Mission's partnership with MSU has been uplifted by Strategic Communications Chair, Dr. Janice Smith.

“This embedding in our classes has been a phenomenal service to our students in leading them forward in the development of inquiring research minds, creative thinking, and innovative problem-solving for clients. How wonderful!”

One of the challenges we have consistently seen in Mission's recruitment efforts is that candidates tend to come to us with a good overall understanding of marketing and communications, but often lacking exposure to discipline-specific expertise, focus, and interest relevant to fitting into a specific role or job description. So we are directly addressing this through such embedded opportunities. Our Director of Accounts, Ashleigh Torchiana, and I now work closely with Dr. Smith to collaboratively lead the Strategy Shop practicum. This weekly engagement is designed to give students an immersive exposure to communication ecosystems and the strategies that drive them. While strategic communications, public relations, media relations, paid advertising, and organic social content used to be more unique disciplines or focuses, they are becoming significantly more blended as interdependent parts of a comprehensive formula for effectiveness. It is more important than ever for strategists to be able to think holistically around a brand promise and how execution will be multifaceted across partnerships. Over the course of a full semester, we put students in agency-specific roles and guide them through the phased development of an integrated strategy for a real client in real time.

I've always struggled with if and how we can participate authentically as commemorative months arrive each year. Having just kicked off another semester of the Strategy Shop on the heels of National Mentoring Month and the beginning of Black History Month, it's refreshing to feel like now we can just keep doing more of what we've been doing all year to help create opportunity and accessibility for future history makers. There is so much more to do on this front, but I'm excited to work with another group of inspiring young people and see the continued evolution of our partnership with one of the top HBCUs in the country as we continue to invest tangibly in the marketing and communications talent pipeline.