Diversity Pirate: The first chief diversity officer for the advertising giant TBWA/North America credits Magic Johnson, a pirates’ attitude, and passion for his deep dive into diversity and inclusion.
Doug Melville eats, sleeps, breathes diversity. When asked how he relaxes at home, the first chief diversity officer at the advertising agency TBWA/North America answers that he reads. Books? Magazines? No—clicking links on sites that discuss . . . diversity. “I want to be a subject matter expert on this topic,” he declares, and he’s well on his way.
Melville’s varied background—including creating his own red carpet company for gala events and working in business development for Magic Johnson—has enabled his creativity to flourish. Today he’s delighted to be where he is—at a global advertising agency with worldwide influence.
Melville has delivered two TED Talks—”Improving your Diversity IQ” in 2015 at Syracuse University, from which he graduated years prior, and “Being a Male Cheerleader Changed My Relationships with Women” in 2016 at Culver City. In the latter, he talked humorously about how tryouts for college football landed him in cheering, which gave him exposure to the “alpha woman” and let him be “a conduit for the success of women for 30 years.” He noted that four US presidents were cheerleaders: FDR, Eisenhower, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.
Melville sits on the board of directors of ADCOLOR, where he is also governance chair. In addition, he serves as cochair of the Mosaic Council of the American Advertising Federation.
Diversity Woman: This company seems ballistically energetic. How do you psych yourself up to be part of this on a daily basis?
Doug Melville: I love working there. I’ve been there five years. I’m the first chief diversity officer at this company. All across advertising, issues of diversity have come up. It’s vibrant and exciting to be working on Madison Avenue, known for some of the most creative work ever produced. TBWA has 323 offices in 96 countries. We have creative ideas all over the world.
DW: TBWA calls employees ìpiratesîówhat do you take away from that designation?
DM: The company wanted me to treat diversity as if it was a client, as if it came to the office and said, “Help me with my branding and strategy.” On my first day there, more than 30 people were in a room creating a road map for my job. That gave us a unique perspective on it. We decided three areas must be satisfied: the workforce; the supply chain—all the vendors who make commercials should be multicultural, women owned, LGBT—and the culture. We want the environment to allow for people to move across swim lanes, and we want to ask ourselves, “Do we celebrate Black History Month? Do we encourage employees to share information? Do we celebrate Pride?”
I’m in the Finance Department reporting to the CFO. It’s a business imperative, and unique [for D&I] to be in finance.
DW: Why did you choose to go into D&I? Was there a personal experience that made this a meaningful career move for you?
DM: There was an eye-opening experience, yes. I worked for Magic Johnson and was head of his Business Development Team. I got exposed to a lot of issues. I feel like I got a master’s degree from Magic Johnson! I learned we have to inspire because people rely on us as trendsetters. We looked at urban America and how corporations look at it. I hadn’t been exposed to that. It was an amalgamation of all my business experiences.
I understood urban America. Now I could take my life’s résumé and translate that into a career.
DW: You were given millions of dollars to spend on diversity efforts companywide. What are you most proud of with these programs?
DM: I spent $150 million on women- and multicultural-owned businesses. It was not my budget, the money we spent. That $150 million represents over 10 percent of our production spent over North America. There’s not a lot of pressure placed on the vendor economy, and we need to look at every single business we hire. We’re working every day to get more vendors that are woman-owned and multicultural. I don’t want to ever forget those people. Our website portal One Sandbox lists the best woman and multicultural vendors so other agencies can hire them.
We also started a talk format called the Disruptor Series (stories of people disrupting business, culture, and life), which is a podcast on iTunes. We’ve got Eboni K. Williams, Snoop Dogg, Al Roker, and others who talk for about an hour. We’re always looking for new ways to disseminate messages, to be not preachy but inspiring.
DW: In recent years, there has been something of a push for companies to take stands on social justice issues outside the workplace that can impact their employees. The thinking goes that corporations can be the vanguard of change. What is your take on this?
DM: Every company is different. But for us at TBWA\Chiat\Day, I cocreated the Disruptor Series, which I just mentioned. This speaker series for those who have been disruptive throughout their career has allowed us to bring in different voices, under a larger umbrella, and sit down with them to get the proper perspective on topics people are thinking about. Most recently, we had the 55th president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, come and speak. This was due to the ongoing conversation about our southern neighbor, immigration, and our president’s rhetoric on the matter.
We try to listen to the conversations happening throughout culture in America, and we try to bring in perspectives in an open environment. Over 400 people came out to be a part of this. We had flags on the seats and signed copies of the president’s book for those in attendance.
DW: Talk about RedCarpets.com. Do you miss running your own company? Were you always interested in the entertainment industry?
DM: I don’t miss it. I like starting my own companies, but it’s more fulfilling to be making real progress in the industry. We saw there was no brand of red carpet and began making them with 3/4-inch cold-twisted nylon fibers. We partnered with award shows and had a “home version” to democratize the red carpet experience. We became the number one red carpet product on the Internet. I’ve been to a thousand red carpet parties, at the White House, the Capitol, the UN, Rockefeller Center. My buddy still runs the company. We also produced the carpets in 27 other colors.
DW: What specific thing would be the culmination of your career, if you could achieve it?
DM: My career culmination would be to have a platform that inspired and informed people about diversity in the creative industry. At the end of the day, I’m a connector. I love listening to people, telling stories, and inspiring people to be their best self and find more opportunities. I would want that to all be in one place—and live well past me, as the best is yet to come. DW
Erika Mailman is a freelancer and historical novelist whose The Murderer’s Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel just launched. Find her at erikamailman.com.