Ad agency internship program aims to ‘open doors’ for Atlanta’s Black creatives

Founded in 2020, BLAC wants to create more opportunities for Black and African American creatives to get into the advertising industry through a hands-on internship program at some of the country’s top independent ad agencies, including in Atlanta. (BLAC)

A national internship program designed to create more opportunities for young Black creatives to break into the advertising industry is now in Atlanta. 

Named BLAC, short for “Building Leaders and Creators,” the nonprofit internship program is now in its second year. It was created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder when all of corporate America vowed to take a closer look at diversity and inclusion policies.

A primary mission for BLAC is to “open the doors” for more Black creatives, say organizers, to gain jobs in the advertising industry where less than 6% of its employees are Black. And of that 6%, the overwhelming majority of Black employees are in entry-level or administrative.

“Right after the murder of George Floyd, the industry had a real serious moment of reckoning,” said Toni Lee, a BLAC board member. “The goal of this program is to change the face of the industry, all the way to the top leadership.”

Last year, 11 independent ad agencies from across the U.S. — from San Francisco to Chicago to New York — participated in the BLAC internship program. The companies hired 32 interns and 23 found full-time jobs. This year, 22 agencies are participating, including Response Media, a digital advertising company in Norcross. Response Media is the first metro Atlanta and Georgia company to hire interns through BLAC.

Norcross-based Response Media, a digital advertising company, is the first metro Atlanta and Georgia company to participate in the BLAC internship program to support diversity in the advertising industry. (Response Media)

Michelle Rainbow, vice president of Media & Campaign Management at Response Media, said she and her colleagues were deeply impacted by Floyd’s murder and wanted take concrete action to create a more diverse workforce.

“We sat down as an agency and a community and really took a hard look at ourselves and the industry and really wanted to make a commitment” to being intentional about diversity, Rainbow said.

Response Media has 33 full-time employees; 30% are Black. The percentage is higher than many advertising agencies, Rainbow said. “But we all need to do better.”

The BLAC program is sponsored by Procter & Gamble. No resumes, portfolios or college degrees are required to apply. Instead, those interested send in a two-minute video spotlighting their creativity. The idea is to remove barriers to entry.

“It opens up the doors of opportunity for those who never even really considered that advertising was an option for them,” said Asmirh Davis, a founding partner and Chief Strategy Officer for Majority. Majority is an Atlanta-based advertising agency co-founded by Shaquille O’Neal. Davis is also a BLAC board member.

Asmirh Davis, a founding partner and chief strategy officer for advertising agency Majority.

Another critical role of BLAC’s program is that it prioritizes helping the interns create their own community for professional and personal support.

“This internship program is different than others because it’s not just about focusing on increasing the pipeline,” Davis said. “The pipeline is not the problem. There’s never been a talent problem with diversity.

“It’s not just bringing more interns in who come from diverse backgrounds, but it’s about changing the environment that they’re coming into and changing the perspective of the agencies that work in this industry,” Davis added.