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.
Say bonjour to Ken Saint Eloy. When he exited his career as a high-performance athlete, Ken, who is originally from France, already understood the power of brands, so a marketing career felt natural. He got his start in Paris 15 years ago, with the agency that had signed on the league he played in. “I was just in the right time at the right place,” Ken says. “I started my career working for my dream client on a dream project.” Ken was on the team that promoted the NFL’s first regular-season game outside the U.S., which saw the NY Giants take on the Miami Dolphins at Wembley.
Ken never wears a suit because he was too often asked whose driver he was when he dressed formally at the beginning of his career. He says that in France, racial micro (and not so micro) aggressions are standard, often disguised as “humour” and “sarcasm,” especially at work. Ken often flipped the “sarcasm” on the aggressor, or used the moment to educate, serving up history, factoids or data. “Also, I’m 6’4 and 230 pounds. That helps,” he laughs.
“In Canada, tact… is required so I’m softer, more subtle… I’m also older and more experienced.”
But not less involved. Ken still challenges offenders to justify their positions, and then helps them understand systemic racism, the history of Canada and slavery, and why there is so much diversity here. Ken is surprised by how little Canadians know about these things and proactively shares his knowledge.
From the industry, Ken wants fewer statements about “20% of new hires being BIPOC this year” when most are junior roles. He’d like more BIPOC staff to stay and move up, and he wants companies to evolve with consistency. While we’re close to gender equity, Ken observes a gap with fewer BIPOC men in senior roles, or at any level. Ken is waiting to see how leadership teams evolve over the next couple of years as the true measure of change. And he’d like to see the conversation go beyond separate ethnicity and gender counts and become more intersectional.
Ken is a leader in Dentsu’s internal Anti-Racism Task Force, working closely with the DEI head to deploy a company-wide DEI strategy, and actively recommends BIPOC individuals and organizations to improve supply chain and hiring diversity. Ken also volunteers for organizations that empower the Black Canadian community, especially Black Talent Initiative with which he hopes Dentsu will be working long-term. Though he’s never had a BIPOC mentor, he has been inspired by Black Talent Initiative founder Mark Harrison ever since their paths crossed last year.
Ken advises young Black talent: “Find a mentor… a sponsor… This will get you in the right time at the right place,” he says. “This is the right time… There is a need for you.” And, he adds “keep the path clear for the ones coming next.“
Ken’s got a passion for Capoeira. “It’s a beautiful way to learn about slave culture,” he says. “And to see how much beauty and creativity our ancestors have brought to this continent, despite being enslaved and chained for centuries.”
For work he’s proud of, Ken mentions the BlackNorth Initiative, on which he was account lead for over a year, and the official launch video for U Sports—the renaming and rebranding of Canadian University Sports: 56 universities, 12,000 student-athletes, 21 national championships, all under the same brand.
When Chloe McKenzie first learned about marketing and advertising, it appeared a natural way to couple her music, songwriting and performance skills with her growing passion for business and entrepreneurship.
After her first 10 years agency-side in client servicing, Choe switched to her new role as a head of people and culture in 2021. “I take what I learned about developing brands for clients and apply the same strategic thinking… to dream up ideas about our agency brand’s value proposition as an employer,” says Chloe.
Chloe has many mentors, including some who inspire her from afar. “Any stories of Black women carving out their own lane in our industry help me,” she explains. Lately, she’s been inspired by the women at The Standard, a new network that addresses the systemic barriers to the inclusion and advancement of Black women in Canadian marketing.
Possibly the most amazing thing in Chloe’s career was executing flagship conferences across Canada and the U.S. for tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Shopify and Facebook. It helped find her voice and hone her marketing skills. “I could be the youngest in the room or the only woman, and the only Black person… but these experiences gave me confidence,” she recalls.
Chloes says she used to try to ignore bias, microaggressions or racism, but is more comfortable addressing it now. “I let it inspire an opportunity for learning, training, or discussion,” she says. “As someone who is responsible for the people and culture… I feel it’s my responsibility to bring awareness to the impact we all have on one another.”
Chloe believes better ideas come when cultural sensitivity and impact are a basic requirement—even if BIPOC or “multicultural” audiences are not named directly in a brief. “Canada is a diverse place.” she says. “More Black creatives at the table can help strengthen ideas—if the industry will open its doors to those without ‘traditional agency experience.’”
In her current role, Chloe is uniquely positioned to open the doors to BIPOC talent. “As DEI-committee chair and part of the (Salt XC) leadership team, I unapologetically bring a Black perspective,” she says, adding that it will raise the bar for the agency’s creative work.
She encourages young Black talent to join some of the industry groups that are curating opportunities to open the industry. She mentions POCAM’s LinkedIn Group, Black Talent Initiative, The Standard and Black Taxi. “Agencies and brands are looking for YOU, so be bold… ask for a meeting or introduction.”
Chloe’s personal motto is “Stay curious!” For her, better questions lead to better answers. “You don’t have to have all the answers in the room, but a powerful question can be the most valuable contribution,” she says.
It makes perfect sense, therefore, that Chloe’s passion project is “Start Right Now,” a leadership/personal development podcast, in which she asks leaders and change makers precisely that sort of question. It’s available on most podcast platforms.