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 as a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better.
A warm hello to Susan Aniche. Susan didn’t plan on an advertising career. But when jobs for freshly minted Biochemistry graduates were hard to come by, she settled for an opening at an ad agency. What made her stay? “Experiencing what it took to create impactful advertising campaigns. These guys were not just fancy suits or cars. They were brilliant!” she says.
The agency’s founder allowed Susan to float between client service, copy, production and, finally, strategy. “I knew I had to work in strategy when my brain tingled studying research reports and probing consumer datasheets,” she says. Ten years in, the thrill is still there with every campaign launch, and results still energize her.
Susan is very proud of her Nigerian Coalition against Covid-19 (CACOVID) campaign communicating the four cardinal preventive measures. It wasn’t easy.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and one of the world’s most linguistically diverse. The official language is English, but more than 400 ethnic languages are spoken. To drive behavioural change, Susan and her colleagues delivered their messages in relatable language. They deployed it when people were most receptive, used experienced foot soldiers nationwide, and executed it across non-traditional and digital media channels. Week by week, they monitored confirmed cases by state from national disease control, and tweaked tactics as necessary. “Knowing I played a role in creating awareness to curb Covid-19’s spread in Nigeria is fulfilling,” she says.
Susan is grateful for agency founder Sam Obosi who gave her a head start in the industry, and Brent Nelsen and Stephanie McRae who helped her get started in Canadian advertising. “All I had when I arrived in Canada was my portfolio and my dreams,” she says. Paying it forward is important to her. “I spend my spare time chatting with new immigrants in the industry, trying to help them get a foot in. From reviewing resumes to networking, I give all the help I can.”
It’s especially hard for immigrant professionals of colour to break into Canadian advertising because of cultural nuances. But, Susan points out, we immigrants have a lot to offer. “Our degrees, work experience and skills are valid,” she says. “Recruiters need to stop the bias of ‘Canadian work experience,’ and give us immigrants a chance.”
She advises young Black talent: ”You don’t have to have everything figured out; just start. Look for internships, network as much as you can, reach out to seniors, and ask to be mentored. You’ll hear ‘no’ a lot, but you just need one good ‘yes’… Put in the hours when you must. But most importantly, enjoy your work while you do it.”
Susan sees every day as an opportunity to create impactful work and be her best self. “My motto is, give it your best shot and whatever happens, happens. At least I know I tried.” she says.
Hello, Canadian design world. Meet interaction and UX Designer, Jeffrey Julio Vietz. As a video game geek, Jeffrey had an attraction for interaction. It led him to the world of design, from multimedia to web design, to user experience design, and in many different industries.
Success came easily for Jeffrey because, as a jack of all trades, he could design content, create the video footage for it, edit images, create websites and integrate it all. “Also, people seemed to remember me more because I was the only Black person in my team,” Jeffrey says. “That’s often still the case.” In the business since 2005, Jeffrey dryly says that the UX Design field is still not exactly brimming with BIPOC inspiration or role models. So, he takes his inspiration from Jakob Nielsen, one of the pioneers of UX design.
Jeffrey’s life mantra is “Before you say anything, listen first.” As a designer for a financial institution now, Jeffrey loves connecting with the people for whom he’s designing, speaking to them, listening to their concerns, and then seeing their reactions when a solution actually helps them on a day-to-day basis. “For example, helping somebody who’s not comfortable in tech feel proud and accomplished because we’ve designed a tool that helps them pay their bills on time, and avoid the stress of missing a payment. That is what drives me.” Jeffrey explains.
Jeffrey has experienced different levels of racism. He’s heard stereotypical remarks rooted in ignorance or misinformation, and recognizes that they typically don’t come from a place of hate. And he’s been a victim of, and a witness to, outrageous comments and mistreatment that came from anger and discrimination. Always, he tries to have a dialogue about why it happened, attempts to educate with details and facts, and avoids reacting emotionally. “I always try to understand their point of view,” he says. “Discussion, education and empathy are the key, even when I’ve been hurt by the remark.”
Twenty years ago, Jeffrey wasn’t really aware that an unconventional career like design was a way to earn a living, and he wants to change that for the next generation of minorities. He shares his experiences with others, wants employers to make more opportunities available to minorities and, when included in team hiring processes, adds a BIPOC point of view.
It’s similar to what he does with his work. “I design solutions with empathy, as I can relate to a diverse demographic.”
His advice for young Black talent? “Be open-minded, be creative and don’t be afraid to be unconventional… trust yourself and prove to your parents that you can make it in an honest, well-paying job that allows you to have a positive impact on your community. They’ll be proud of you and embrace your choice because it’ll be something you love.”
My thanks to Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint for nominating Jeffrey.