Mark Harrison’s advice for young Black talent: “Take that shot”

It is Black History Month and every day this month, The Message will be sharing Gavin Barrett’s short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry—marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Barrett writes the profiles on his own as a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better. 

We’re beginning with a bang by meeting Mark Harrison. He’s been in the business for 34 years, and an entrepreneur for 28 of those. Mark is the founder of The MH3 Group, The T1 Agency, and Black Talent Initiative.

There’s a reason marketing has Mark in it. When the first agency to hire him went under before he joined, Mark—unemployed but unfazed—found a way to pitch Dennis Glavin with a situation analysis of the Canadian pet care industry. He was promptly hired to work on Glavin’s Effem Canada business.

Mark says he hasn’t had a BIPOC mentor in the traditional sense, but gives Brooke Graham of Diversio a special shoutout for her “reverse mentorship” in teaching him a lot about how to navigate the world.

How does Mark deal with bias, micro-aggressions or plain racism? He admits he used to swallow it and hide it. “But the image of George Floyd lying on that asphalt begging for his mother has made me much more vocal.” That’s not mere talk. Mark advocates for over-corrective action: “EDI is not enough; we need a massive swing to Belonging,” he says.

Mark and a few colleagues started the Black Talent Initiative to serve Black career advancement and inspire equitable, anti-racist workplaces. One of Mark’s favourite “side hustles” is Park Street, a non-profit elementary school he co-founded where half of the students are on a full scholarship through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto.

To young Black talent who want to get into advertising, Mark says, simply, “Take that shot.”

The work that Mark is most proud of is a campaign for Dairy Farmers of Canada. Titled Fuelling Women’s Champions, it was one (emphasis on one) of the first programs in Canada to tackle the inequities between support for men’s and women’s sports. “We broke new ground,” he says.

Gavin Barrett