Ira Baptiste: “Nothing changes if nothing changes”

—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—

Ira Baptiste is president of Evolve Agency Group, but her career journey began as an account coordinator 37 years ago. She has had wins and losses along the way, but even when she lost, it felt like she winning because she always learned something—about the business and, more importantly, about herself.

While she has many BIPOC industry colleagues she greatly admires, she didn’t have BIPOC mentors during her formative years. Still, she says, “I always had the space to be the person I wanted to be.” It took her a while to realize her BIPOC friends were experiencing something quite different in their workplaces. 

If confronted with bias, microaggressions or just plain old racism in the early years of her career, Baptiste would question herself—wondering if she was perhaps reading too much into a statement. And with no BIPOC person to share her thoughts with, she often just buried things. 

But “nothing changes if nothing changes” is one of her lodestones. As she found her voice, she began to tackle what she saw head-on. She stopped worrying about making aggressors uncomfortable, and focused on explaining how their actions affected her. “If I didn’t tell them, how would they know?” she points out. “Did every conversation go smoothly? Absolutely not, but at least they knew.” 

Baptiste feels her ultimate weapon is simply, “to thrive, use my voice, and to have a seat at tables where some think we should not be.” She is saddened that it took George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo to spur the change we see today. “We are indebted to them,” she says. 

She wants our industry to get on BIPOC radars early—in high schools, work programs, and career days and information days run by BIPOC community members. “I am a big believer that you have to see it to be it,” she says.

Her advice for young Black talent is to read, immerse themselves in knowing the discipline that interests them, and articulate their opinions on campaigns they like. “The industry is changing… figure out where you see yourself in it. Network your a** off.” She suggests they see being Black as a distinguishing advantage, and give interviewers ”something positive to remember.”

Aside from her day job, Baptiste is an advisory member for Heart for Africa, a humanitarian organization bringing hope to Eswatini, focusing on hunger, orphans, poverty and education.

Asked what work she was proudest of, she turned the spotlight on the people and experiences that made her career amazing and shared this list of people and companies: Echo Advertising, Len Gill, Live Entertainment, Labatt, American Express, The Tragically Hip, Mike Rapino, Encore, Encore Strategic Marketing, Robert Peters, Christopher Grimston, Molson,  Onyx Marketing Group, Janine Maxwell, Oskarmobile, Karla Stephens, Vodaphone, Darren Briggs, David Wheldon, David Erixon, Cossette, Brett Marchand, PublicInc, Phillip Haid, and Evolve AgencyGroup.

The profile was written by Gavin Barrett, CEO/CCO/Founder of Barrett and Welsh, and a co-founder of POCAM and the Multicultural Marketing Alliance of Canada.