It’s heartening to hear the conversations about diversity in marketing shift from “diversity is a good thing” to “diversity is foundational in any high-performance company.” Even the parts of our industry that stubbornly resisted efforts to diversify, like agencies, are now making meaningful changes.
With all this momentum, however, it’s time we seriously talked about diversity in adtech and why it is essential to fixing the industry’s problems.
For the last ten years or so, the adtech founders and CEOs who reshaped marketing largely comprised a homogenous group of technologists or engineers, buoyed by VCs with a narrow image of fundable executives and types of ventures:
1) They pictured adtech founder teams and leaders that were white, young or young-ish dudes with a technical degree from select universities. Qualifications did not seem to include much depth about the real-world marketing customers they were meant to serve.
2) The ventures needed some kind of AI, with little concern for the practical value of the technology in marketing. That led to fragmentation and chaos. Just ask any marketer that tries to compare the ocean of AI offerings.
3) And VCs wanted “disruptive,” “scalable,” software-as-a-service businesses. To satisfy VCs’ predilection for SaaS businesses, founders tended to limit their startups’ functional scope—thus avoiding direct accountability for final results of a campaign.
These rules often wound up excluding women, minorities, older founders and anyone who was a marketer by trade, depriving the industry of diversity that may have avoided or at least diminished the dysfunction of the current fraud-addled, complex mess we have today. Clearly, the ad tech CEOs that were getting funded followed a circumscribed set of VC rules. Many eventually demonstrated their unwillingness to be trustworthy stewards of audiences’ privacy and advertisers’ budgets.
This is why diversity in adtech founders is desperately needed right now—to bring forward new and different approaches to address the challenges of adtech, from GDPR and to the collapse of the impression economy.
And as deeply challenged as adtech is today, infusing fresh thinking into the landscape is one of the easiest and most effective things we can do as an industry. We can follow corporate best practices for assuring that a certain amount of budgets are allocated to tech ventures that are led by racial minorities, women, older CEOs, to name just a few underrepresented groups. All that is needed is some tweaks to current procurement processes for adtech at both advertisers and agencies. Brands can require a minimum allocation to minority ventures, for example, and incentives can be established to ensure diversity goals are met.
With this single action, we can accelerate the rehabilitation of our entire industry with an infusion of new ideas, technologies and processes. And if you ask any marketer, it’s not a moment too soon.
(Previously published in Adage)