Love Malone: (00:03)
Hello, my name is love Malone. I am the founder and CEO of Gradient Group.
Darren Martin Jr, Bold Culture (BC): How did you get into the advertising industry?
I am in this mid area where the technology has been changing almost every industry. So after I graduated from college, I went into pharmaceutical marketplace, but that’s changed because of technology. And so I went over into advertising literally through you know, looking at my company at the time I was with Merck pharmaceuticals and they have purchased Schering-Plough. And so, most of our jobs were redundant. And so it was time for you to find a place or you need to look for another job. When the market is changing as quick as it is because of industry, you always have to be able to pivot very quickly. And so I decided that, the time Obama had a healthcare czar, so I thought maybe I could be a healthcare czar, but for Merck pharmaceutical. So I saw a program that Adrienne Smith, as well as the 4A’s and Howard University was doing for Excellence in Advertising. So I signed up to try to see if I could do that program. And that’s kinda how I landed into this wonderful world of advertising.
BC: What have been your best experiences thus far?
I guess the best experience has been no one told me that I couldn’t do it–until now I’m in a different role where I’m seeing all the problems and different challenges other people are having or people in general getting into the industry. In healthcare it’s varied. It’s dominated mostly by men. I was in central Illinois growing up. I went to University of Illinois. It was always typically the roles I had chose to do with whether or not it was physics or whatever. It was always ended up being something that was dominated by men and typically white men. So it wasn’t uncommon for me to, to get into a role. So after healthcare I was literally, I mean, you talk about the scarcities. And then once I got into advertising I actually had one boss for eight years, which a lot of people don’t know.
I started at BBDO, even though I was in this program, one of the things that I asked the CEO of BBDO, Andrew Robertson, I said, if I take this job, then I do not want to ever hear that I was a part of a program again. And most people think that programs help us. We are already with this stat of trying to figure out, did you get a job because you were a minority or a woman or whatever it is. So I wanted to make sure that no one had that ammunition to say that I didn’t belong–because I worked at Merck because I had a physics background because I had a piece of healthcare that most people didn’t have at BBDO it made it easy for me to be there and have a little power behind that. But I had to also create that by telling people what I didn’t want to hear about.
And if they did, if that was the case, I’d never want them to talk about it. That I feel when you talk about mad something easy that made it easy for me to get into that role and then succeed in that role because I was looked at as someone who was hired by senior management. I had access to senior management, which makes a difference. And I had skills that I felt that made me super confident when doing my job in leading other people. So as far as the thing that made me feel most comfortable in the career of advertising, that definitely was it. Just having something that I knew I was good at. Yeah.
BC: What made you decide to focus more heavily on Diversity & Inclusion?
So there were probably two incidences that happened. I always, whenever there was a chance to bring someone in, even though I worked on a banking account at Ogilvy, I knew that I wanted to bring people in. I luckily worked for a boss at BBDO that brought me over to Ogilvy. He always had people of color on the team. He always made sure there were people of color on set. So I, you know, that wasn’t ever something that he didn’t talk about or make sure that was the case. And even though no matter what account we were doing, that was something that was important to him. It was done with intention. And so I think that made a difference because I had someone that was over me that made that easy and then turn around, ask questions to make sure that if something was said or done, if I agreed with it.
And so I was felt very comfortable to speak up and because I went in in mid level, I also had a voice. I felt comfortable speaking. It may take me a little longer to say something because I wanted to kind of see what everyone else was doing and then I would speak up. But I knew that when I did say something, people would respect what I was saying and I felt comfortable with that. But the two instances that took place that I knew I wanted to, you know, kind of make sure something was said. The first time–again, I always brought people in when I could, like I did projects and I would always say, Oh, we should look at diversity here and not even bring the word diversity. And I would just bring up examples of people that I think would be great for either an ad or a position or, you know, whatever piece we were doing.
So that was never something I had a problem with doing. Cause I’m there, why can’t I be there, you know, in front of the camera too, or in the board room or the production company. But the two instances when I decided that I would look at this as my second you know, to concentrate on it as a company specifically was when I was in Hong Kong and at this time I was a global director.
The world is global and so I’m sitting there and I’m working for one of the largest banks in the world and I get on there and you know, diversity, I mean, is diversity diversity there? It’s just you’re in Hong Kong right? Everyone’s there and no one’s really talking about diversity or trying to figure all that out.
I get back after being overseas in Australia, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and I come back and I remember it was about senior leadership and it basically, you know, people talking about how did they get to their position and every person on the stage was like white women and I was the only black woman on stage. I remember everyone got to talk about how they got there and people that they brought along. And when it got to me, they were like, so as a black woman, how do you feel about getting to your position. I was like, well, everybody else got to talk about the work they did. And somehow just because I was black, I got to my position and so I just basically didn’t answer the question the way they asked. I just answered the question the way they asked everyone else and I said, yes, I am black, but when I’m in Hong Kong I’m so black.
When I’m in Australia, I’m still black. It was more about me making sure the work was good, so after I got off stage, a young lady came up to me and said, you didn’t answer the question. She was an Indian woman and she said, how did you get there? Because I want to know how I got there. And that was the first time I stopped because I was so kind of upset about how the question was asked on stage. I forgot about the fact that I could actually help people that were like me and actually say that there. So I didn’t look at it as an opportunity. I looked at it as something that was negative. And so today I speak about that a lot. When people come up to people of color and say, Oh, do you know anyone else in the industry that you can bring into the company?
Most people of color get mad cause they think, you know, just because I’m black, they’re asking me. But sometimes just because you’re black, they’re asking you. And if we look at it in a positive way, you can bring people in.
The second one was I was I was doing some new business pitches and I won’t mention the agencies, but it was only at two, so it’s like one or the other, right. So I’m doing some new business pitches and one of I get a call and I’m often in the briefs, they’ll have a diversity section or something inclusion or you know, they want to make sure that there’s Latinos or African Americans. And you know, I am a big advocate on making sure that we are reaching out to our diversity agencies or multicultural agencies, a big advocate and making sure that that happens.
But more importantly, if we put them in the pitch that we actually use them after, because sometimes they’re in the pitch and then they disappear. So that is something that I talk to clients about, making sure that that is the case. But I was getting ready for one of the like clients are here, love can you come in and like basically show face. And I typically, I was always dressed up so I always call it client presentable every day. And so I just dig under my desk to get a pair of heels and I go in and I’m literally asking what is it about? And it’s something that’s very about the city. It’s urban. And you know, I tried to dress urban, I try to be urban. Like, you know, I want to like my biggest dream when I moved to New York as someone stops me and says, where is this?
I’m like, I’m finally a New Yorker. But I’m not like, I’m from central Illinois. I’m a small town woman. I am a woman of color. It doesn’t take that away from me, but I’m not urban. I didn’t grow up in an urban environment. So it was something that was, you know, specific to someone that would have a better understanding of that. And I was asked because I was black to come in and that was extremely upsetting to me. Because the account, that was the other person’s that was, you know, we were all going to meetings next to each other. That was something that was very central to the Midwest and they were looking for someone that knew the Midwest but also kind of was like WWE. So it was very diverse. And I, no one asked me about that. They asked me about the urban thing because they’re thinking black woman. And so I get the phone call and I ended up switching briefs and going into the other pitch, we win it because the client thought it was genius. Here’s this Black woman who’s going to lead the account. Well, of course that’s not how that happens in advertising.
You win it and it’s like, oops, what else is coming in? But if I’m Googling something, I’m probably not the best woman for the job. And instead of them just putting somebody up there, they should have taken some time to look for the right person. And so that’s when I said, we can’t just be saying, “Hey, let’s get more people of color or more women.” We need to be a little bit more specific so people are successful. So that was the second thing that really happened, and plus my daddy would want me to.
BC: Is diversity a business priority?
No, it is not a business priority because if it was people would be doing it. Yeah, no, that’s the truth. Like if someone says you’re important to me and you’re the last person they talked to, guess what?
You’re not important to them. It’s in their actions. People can say whatever they want to, but actions speak loud and clear. Diversity was important to the industry. You know, what they’d be doing, they’d be doing it. It’s only important when there’s, feedback negative. And then they go and hire a diversity officer, go get Shaq to like represent or they go and reach out to dapper Dan. That doesn’t work. It wasn’t important. Right? And so you’re basically reacting, but that if it was important it would have already been there. Diversity isn’t a new word, but to your question is it is diversity a business [priority]? It is, but not the way that people talk about it. Diversity today in our industry is charity. Everything is a .org and everyone’s like, going to award shows and things, you know conferences and things like that.
And trust me, we need places where you feel represented. But when we talk about diversity as a business, you have to talk, you have to look at what our business is. And so what we do and why I wanted to start this company was I was in the business of advertising and media and, and as well as marketing. And there are very clear, distinct places where target marketing, programmatic buys, segmentation. We have all these words that actually have diversity in the mist, which is why we don’t use diversity a lot when we’re talking in our, in our company because we were a business. Right? And so when you’re talking to people about their business, you should use their terms. So when you’re talking about segmentation, there’s $1 billion industry in segmenting people out. You know, you do an ad, you know exactly where that’s going. You segment based on where people live, their education, their race, their ethnic groups, their languages–sounds a lot like diversity, but that’s not how people are looking at it. And until the industry, like the people that are actually doing diversity start playing with people, how they play, get into their sandbox, so to speak with this and start to challenge how they’re using diversity in their industry. We’re going to continue to have the same thing happen.
BC: Why did you start The Gradient and who is it for?
So again, I wanted to be helpful. I’m not a diversity officer. I tell people I’m not a diversity director. I don’t do diversity. I haven’t studied diversity. I haven’t had a job in diversity. I just happen to be diverse. So I’m coming from a different perspective. Number one, anyone can join. If you can buy Jay Z ticket, you can come, you know, I want our team, I want our audience and the people of the community look like it is that a Jay Z concert? Probably before his last album. But I started this business just to get jobs. Like I wanted to do some technology that would allow us to, to segment people like we do in the industry. It’s easy to get a room of people, put them on a platform and then be able to match them when clients are looking for talent.
BC: What steps did you take to build The Gradient?
I went to CEOs and companies and said, if I build it, will you come? So Richard Edelman of Edelman was the first person to come in. Then I went to BBDO. I spoke to David Lubar, who’s the head of creative for them worldwide. And then I spoke to Andrew Robertson and they were in, and then I went to Ogilvy. So these were the companies; I had worked at these two companies if they wouldn’t believe in me that no one would. So we started there and then we started working with a few other agencies and chatting with them and holding companies. So we’re in talks with several companies right now. And the goal is to, get them in so that we can start getting jobs and getting people in. And we put together a portfolio and I worked with over 130 people out from entertainment to advertising to media PR to make sure that when they’re looking at someone’s portfolio or their resume, what are the pieces they’re looking for first so that we can create something.
When you talk about inclusion, inclusion means equity. So if we can equalize how we’re looking at our portfolios and our people and people in general, you’re able to one see people’s work and then show them what we’re looking for. Right. Cause right now people are like, what’s a portfolio where’s your portfolio? No one knows. Everyone’s portfolio is different. We wanted to equalize that. So that was the first thing I wanted to do as far as a company was to have that part be in there and also be industry compliant. So the CEO’s that I had went to at the beginning were like, you know the rules Love–and I love rules–they said it has to be industry compliant. So we wanted to make something easy for them to work with.
BC: How is the relationship between the talent and clients coordinated?
We of course work with companies, but I work for the talent. So the talent is my customer. So for us everything is about them. And so they choose who we bring in as clients and they choose who we don’t let stay in as clients. So that’s super important for me to say. So our clients fill out an application, so if they want to be a corporate member or a partner, they fill out this application. Because I work for, the talent or for my community, what the one thing that I want to make sure that they have jobs. So I can’t have people coming on to check a box or to give me money to say, “Oh we got our logo up there so people can see it.” No, you to actually be putting up something because I owe back to them the numbers of opportunities I was able or my team was able to do for that year.
So I have my own ROI to our community and that is making sure that our numbers are up and we report that to our community. So you know, you have to be responsible for who your customer is. I can’t tell you know the brands, make sure you have enough people. That’s your target. Make sure those people are in the rooms. If I’m not making sure that the thing that they’re looking for, I’m not doing. So that was the first thing. So we wanted to make sure that we have a list of things that we are responsible to our community for, and then our community votes on who do they want us to reach out to. And so we reach out and we invite brands and organizations, agencies to come. If you aren’t invited you, that’s why you don’t know about us yet cause we haven’t invited you.
We will invite and we’ll also open up the application process and one of the questions on the application is what are you gonna bring to the community? You can’t just come in and just bring money because again, not that I don’t like money cause that’s obvious but it’s more than that because I still have a responsibility is to me doing well and I don’t want to fail my community. So if people bring in jobs, they’re telling me how many people they’re going to hire from our community. And so if they don’t hire those people from a number of people from the community, we need to know why that hasn’t happened yet. And so we go and we chat with them about that. See if we can reconcile that. If they’re not using their membership the way that they said they were, they are not extended the membership the next year. If they misuse our community, we have the right in our contract to basically revolt their membership.
BC: How can one join The Gradient?
We launched officially in January so prelaunch. But we’ve already started placing people cause I don’t believe in waiting. Like if we got something, and people need these things. We’re already sending people on interviews. We place numerous people. We have no problem with that. That’s what we want to do is get people in, we want to get them in seats.
Yes. Yes. Sign up. If you go to gradientgroup.com you can just go on. We’re opening it up so, so people can do it. It’s, it’s hard to find it, but literally gradient spelled all the way out group and then .com and it’ll, it’s open intake coming up in January for our brands and our businesses and our agencies to go ahead. And what we’ll do is we’ll vote on who are the next ones that we announce and then they will have jobs. They will tell us versus it won’t be onstage no matter how great their company is, qell they can do that too, but they’re also going to say, we’re going to be hiring eight people and this is what we’re looking for. And that to me, is more important and we’ll be able to and will all of those people come from us?
Maybe not and that’s fine, but we know eight people are coming from somewhere. If not there, then we may not give them another chance. So we’re also opening up freelance in March. So if you are a freelance person now we’re talking about creative strategy account, anything in the creative industry. If you are in freelance, you’ll be able to come to the gradient and we’re going to open up in March where with our partners they can actually hire, we can hire you and you go straight to them. And we, because it’s technology, we’re giving a better discount so you’re not losing all your money. So right now a lot of the freelancers, when they go to the freelance they, they take a lot of your money because we, because the partners are paying to be partners, they’re paying for that already. So we can give you back more of your money. So you’re able to make more money with us and of course technology and get more people. I don’t need as many people sitting there in a seat.
BC: On “Dialing Down The Language” in the industry
There’s no one that says diversity is not important. There’s not a CEO or someone that will not, they will not say, Oh, we don’t want diversity in our place. But everyone has 50 different ways to think about diversity. They have 50 different things that they’re saying about diversity. But again, it’s all talk. And if you actually dial down the language, like pipeline is biggest bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life. You know, it’s, I tell people I get offended when I look at a lot of stuff that’s happened over the years. Where pipeline is like an initiative. Because the word, we can read, like what pipeline means by definition. Like you can’t give me a definition that means long wait and then want me to get excited about it. It’s like if I’m going to Hawaii and I’m on my vacation and I step up and Delta tells me, don’t worry, we got you on the waiting list.
You’ll get to Hawaii eventually. What?! You know what I mean? I’m here, I paid and now you’re gonna tell me I’m putting you on the pipeline. You know, literally I tell you what I do with that conversation. But that’s what we’re telling, you know, people of color and underrepresented underrepresented groups in general. You know, we’re building a pipeline and that is something that people are supposed to be proud of. Like it’s offensive. We are in an industry that we play with language and we talk about language. Language is important. And then we’re so like quick to use that for people of color and think that’s okay.
BC: What can current industry talent do to move up the ladder? How can aspiring entrepreneurs prepare themselves?
The first one, mid to senior level–get advocates. This isn’t a mentor like when people talk about mentorship and things, again, these are words you need advocates. When you’re an advertising media or any kind of like any industry, this works across tons of industries. You need to have people that act actually speak about you, speak for you because getting a promotion is about someone else having your back. And that’s not always someone that looks like you because if there’s no one over you that looks like you, you need to find things you have in common with them. I would say attach to them like white on rice. Cause usually they’re white. You have to do it. So like, you know, the reason why I can text John Seifert at Ogilvy is because when I was on the diversity group, I asked John Seifert to be the lead, the corporate lead.
And everyone’s like, why wouldn’t you ask someone of color? We already have access to them. We don’t have access to John Seifert. And so being able to access senior leadership no matter where, what level you are, is very important. I’m not telling you to go up to the CEO and start harassing him. You know, there’s many levels that you can start, but you need to get advocates. Get people who advocate with you, whether that’s your boss, someone that’s across from your boss, and get people that want you to work with them and ask for work. Most people will complain about working. I’m telling you to get in there and ask for it. No one said, Hey, Love, do you want to do new business? I walked in onto that floor and I said, I want to do new business.
You know, if you want to learn something, if you want to do something, you have to go in and put yourself there. So of course they’re going to want you to do that. You know, I worked on other campaigns that were for not for profit. So now you’re working with other people in the your company that you may not have worked with. And then also look at all the other organizations and things like that. Things that you normally wouldn’t necessarily do, do a couple of them. If you’ve done two that are Black, you know, also sit in a Spanish organization. I now have just joined an LGBTQ group, I’m not personally LGBTQ, but I decided that because there are transgender women who identify as black, as a black woman, I’ve taken upon myself because they are walking in my shoes, and have chosen to that as a Black woman, I need to fight for them too. And make sure they know that they have an advocate in me as a Black woman because that’s how they’re living and that’s how I see them.
So it’s important that you have you advocate and you advocate for others, even if they’re not like you. And I think that’s, that’s the most important. If I look at the civil rights movement, everybody was across holding hands. And that’s the only way you have a movement. We’ve all got to find something that we see in each other to move. And that’s the reason why I didn’t want to make The Gradient about one group or another group. We all got to see because we rise together. And so that’s super important. But in the industry or in your agency, you gotta find advocates like you below you and above you. Cause the people below you talkin trash about you. That’s just as bad as people above you.
Outside I would say, right now for people of color, this is probably the best time to start businesses because people realize that they need kind of the things that we want in order for new business to happen. As a person of color, we move culture, we just move it and not just in the United States but globally. So like we move culture globally and when you have a swagger that’s global, if you want to create something, you should just create it. Because if you want it, your people around you want it, other people want to grab it too. And so I think the time of us just giving away stuff for free should be over with people want to help us, I think we have to start learning how we invest in each other.
A lot of creatives have talents. I mentioned this on one of the stages a couple of days ago. If you have a talent, start going to companies or friends that are starting businesses and you may get equity in their company and you may not have money, but you can actually take equity, you know, with some of your work–sweat equity is what it’s called. But then also start to kind of get in financial groups and so that we can learn how to do this from and make money. There is so much money out there with what we’re doing. One of my favorite things is Vice, but these are all four Australian guys who are two Australian guys. When they started, who knew? Like who just did culture. But I mean, why can’t we have that and invite everybody to the party? Because guess what, even when we do our music, we’re sometimes not invited to the party, but we’re there. So we can invite everyone to the party and we don’t have to be afraid of it. I would tell people of color to be proud of who they are and to let the world see it because they want it. Just don’t give it for free.
BC: What does inclusion mean to you?
It’s equity, pure equity. The whole point of diversity. And before that was you know, looking at giving us a seat at the table, which is used incorrectly now, but it was really making, it was to make the job world or industries equitable because we weren’t a part of it. And so when you talk about inclusion, people can say, you can invite me to the dance, but if I’m not dancing, I think that’s great. But it’s, it’s more than that. It’s about equity. So when we’re talking about, Oh, women get 80 cents on a dollar, that sounds real good if you’re white, and your husband is getting overpaid, right? Cause no one talks about that. Their husbands are getting all the money. Everyone obviously is not married to a white man just because you’re white.
I don’t mean it that way, but we’re missing the Latino women and the black woman, you know, we’re at 60 and 50 cents. I mean, come on like 80 a dolloar sounds great if you’re making 50 cents on the dollar. So I think equity is the big part. And if it’s not equal, let’s talk about when it’s not, and bring everyone to the table. Like I have every intentions of pushing everyone forward, but the people, we need everyone to do that for it to work. So, that for me, when we talk about inclusion, it’s one thing: it’s equity.