‘If you see it, you will believe it,’ says Hugh Lawson

—It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message will be sharing short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry: marketing, advertising, PR, media, and production. Written by POCAM members, the profiles are a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better—

Hugh Lawson has been in marketing for more than 29 years, first in promotional marketing and now in the healthcare sector. His entrepreneurial spirit got him into promotional marketing in university, where he sold branded merchandise as a student athlete. It worked out well, as he started his own promotional merchandise company upon graduation.

One of his earlier mentors was La Rue Shields, a visionary African-American marketer who came to Canada in the 1970s and worked for companies like Echo Advertising and Maclaren, becoming one of the only high-ranking Black executives in an undiverse industry.”He was the only Black person I saw at a leadership level in this space in the 1990s, and was very supportive of me and my business,” said Lawson. “I was always awestruck in his presence, and hung off his every word.”

Speaking of undiverse, the industry still has work to do when it comes to equity and inclusion. Lawson believes it will take hard work and using your voice to make a difference. He says he found his voice after the murder of George Floyd, and he tries to find teachable moments in the experiences, injustices or microaggressions he faces. If a person is unwilling to listen, he focuses his energy on “building leaders that will stand on my shoulders.” As his mother in law once told him about having a beautiful lawn, “The best way to kill weeds is to grow more grass!”

Lawson believes that the industry’s default setting for inclusion efforts is centred on unconscious bias; in his words, we need to “try harder, try harder, be better, be better.” This includes diversifying your decision-making teams in everything you do.

Lawson’s current work in the healthcare sector, as the head of business development for EHN Canada, is all about providing better access to private health and addiction treatment services for under-served communities. He also finds fulfilment in mentoring youth, young athletes, and new immigrants and professionals.

His words of advice to those he mentors: “Find sponsors, expand your networks, build your personal brand, join industry associations, honour and leverage your cultural superpowers of creativity, swagger, resilience, sartorial style and setting trends on a global scale!”

He is certainly doing that with the work he does, and his commitment to making our industry more inclusive, especially with youth. He lives by the statement: “If you see it, you will believe it and you will achieve it!” Such positivity from an always-positive man.

This POCAM BHM 2023 profile was written by POCAM steering member Aleena Mazhar.