One of the most crucial problems we face in businesses today is the lack of diverse talent, especially in the creative industry; however, marketers are equipped now, more than ever, to fight for equality. Whether through inspiring content, catalytic campaigns, or conversations on Capitol Hill, one voice can be the truth the world needs to hear. Visionaries Eric Toda, Meta, and Walter Geer III, VMLY&R, are lifting their voices to accelerate change.
Here is what they had to say on Visionaries and how it could influence your team, talent, and future.
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- It’s Time for an Evolution of Marketing
- Campaigns Making Change
- Speaking Truth to Power
- Why Business Leaders are the Right Change Agents
- Bringing Your Full Self to Work
- Convincing Leaders to Take Risks on Diverse Talent
It’s Time for an Evolution of Marketing
Eric Toda: How can you use your skills and experience not just to make millions of dollars for your brand but to use your platform to lift marginalized people, fight against systemic issues, and for visibility and equality? I always knew my time to speak up would come, but didn’t know when. Seeing people create opportunities for diverse marketers and creators empowered me to say, “okay, I think I can do this.” This evolution does not happen without the leadership and precedent that other communities have set. Because of this, I’ve had to ask myself what I can learn and do to support my Asian American community.
Walter Geer III: Starting Diverse Creatives with Ron Lewis was a big turning point for me. Two years ago, agencies were saying they wanted to find creatives of color, but couldn’t find them. Oddly enough, at the same time, I was creating a list of Black Creative Directors. Ron was working on a similar list, so we started talking and decided to do something about it by launching this platform. It is entirely free with the intent to level the playing ground, create opportunities, and show the world that these people exist, and now there are over 2,700 creatives on the list.
Campaigns Making Change
Eric Toda: “The Other Side” was a campaign done by a nonprofit called Ascend Leadership. It asks the question of how to provide visibility to Asian American business executives that have two sides of a story. The first side they focus on is how the Pan-Asian community is known for its work ethic but continues to hit a ceiling. This community is stereotyped as unfit management material and only seen as individual contributor material.
What this campaign did was tell both sides of the story, and what it’s like as an Asian American executive in the workplace. I was very proud to be one of the executives they focused on, and I was able to tell my story as a way to break the stereotypes of a silent and invisible community.
For example, when I got into the workplace, a relative told me that I shouldn’t look a white executive in the eyes because that’s not what we do, and it’s not going to push me forward- and still have found success. Obviously, I didn’t do that.
Eric Toda’s The Other Side
Walter Geer III: The three-part documentary, “Black Madison Avenue” started because New York Festival asked how they could help extend my platform. I asked for a whole production set and invited the only nine black Executive Creative Directors (ECDs) in the United States to join me. Each of them works for major holding agencies, with over 1,100 predominately white people in the same role. It was time for a transparent and candid conversation. Few white executives had insight into what we were saying; we got raw and transparent about our troubles and what it took us to get in some of these rooms. We all feel stoked about it, and many colleges have added it to the curriculum, like Duke University, NC State, Syracuse University, and more.
Walter Geer’s Black Madison Avenue trailer
Speaking Truth to Power
Eric Toda: Marvin Chow (VP of global marketing at Google) and I had the opportunity to sit on Capitol Hill to advocate for more visibility for Asian Americans, better hate crime legislation, and for the entire diverse community. Too often, the system mislabels violence against our communities, and as a result, government and federal response do not deploy the right resources to neighborhoods or they don’t address it at all.
Telling the truth about our stories was the most important thing we did at Capitol Hill. Marvin and I are not from Asia; we grew up in predominantly white towns in the U.S. Our experiences are very American; however, we get mistaken for being Asian natives. We told our stories in hopes that others would feel empowered to tell theirs. We need to redefine what the American Asian looks like and how we operate. I was proud to advocate for our community in places of power like the White House and Capitol Hill.
Walter Geer III: When we talk about getting in people in the room, it can mean many things, but getting in spaces like Capitol Hill and the White House is real work. Getting into these spaces to advocate for policies and real change is how we will ultimately disrupt this space. If more people could understand what that process looked like for Eric and Marvin to get into those rooms, I’m sure many people would want to raise their voices, too. For things to change, this has to be a collective thing; all of us have to raise our voices, and there are many means of doing it, like social media posts, getting in these rooms, or speaking with the right executive leadership.
Why Business Leaders are the Right Change Agents
Walter Geer III: I like to tell people that we are on a finite timeline; our lives are here and gone tomorrow. Success shouldn’t be based on the house you have, the watch you’re wearing, or the car you drive; it should be defined by how much change and impact you can make, using your platform, to leave better opportunities for the next generation. One voice added to the mix can create a vast ripple effect.
Eric Toda: This is a collective cultural awakening that we’re all in, and it stems from the catalytic events of 2017 and beyond with the #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, and #stopasianhate movements. We are on a course for equality and must fight for it.
Marvin and I found ourselves on a stage like Capital Hill because we represent business, not just marketing. People want to hear from business people, and I think that is part of the evolution. We are so much more than one thing; we’re multifaceted, and I want to make sure my kids remember me by that legacy. Your children will remember that you fought, not just for people who look like them, but for all underrepresented people. The more marketers realize their power to make change because they are skilled at succinctly articulating complex ideas, the more they can go to those elected officials and do justice.
Bringing Your Full Self to Work
Walter Geer III: The whole “code-switching” problem is real. If you scroll through my Instagram account, you can see the day I stopped code-switching. I wore wingtip Cole Haan shoes and khaki pants, and now it’s Jordans, jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies. When I started being my natural self, the best work in my career started to happen. You got to show up and be you, and if you feel like you’re in an environment that cannot accept that, it’s okay to leave. Many companies are hiring right now.
Eric Toda: We’ve faced a ceiling because upper management C-suites don’t see the AAPI community as leadership material. One way to actively break these stereotypes is by speaking out and being yourself. I wear Jordans, Air Max, and hoodies all the time because I don’t need to play dress-up to be a leader and an executive. My awards, accolades, and the way I do things should speak for themselves, and businesses should be okay with that.
Convincing Leaders to Take Risks on Diverse Talent
Walter Geer III: People will do what they want; if you feel you have to beg someone to make that change, it’s not the right space for you. I’m tired of asking people to change- it’s common sense at this point. There are leaders out there who are trying to get it right. I think we’ve done a great job here at VMLY&R because we are bringing in as much black and brown talent as possible.
Eric Toda: You have to look at the numbers. As far as representation in marketing goes, 8% are Latinx, 6% are Black, and 11% are Asian- these numbers are disgustingly low. As long as you base what you do on data, you can make a change in your company, and you can continue to call it out. Data gives you something to base yourself on. So, continue to fight, be yourself, and most importantly, understand that you’re so much more than what you think you are. Be even more than that.
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plans and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Walter T Geer III, Chief Experience Design Officer, VMLY&R: Walter T Geer III is a veteran of the digital advertising space, taking big ideas and executing them over many platforms over the last 23 years, a multi-patent holder and biometric lab creator. He is currently at VMLY&R (a global brand and customer experience agency) as the Chief Experience Design Officer. His passion sits at the intersection of story-telling, design, technology, data, and research. Adweek named Walter one of the most important people in Media Marketing & Technology and the Change Creator of the Year, and Savoy Magazine listed him as one of the Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America.
Eric Toda, Head of Meta Prosper and Global Head of Social Marketing, Meta: Eric Toda is a purpose-driven marketing executive, angel investor, and active advocate for the Asian American community. He has a background in brand and digital marketing leadership roles at previously known Facebook (now Meta), Gap Inc, Airbnb, Snapchat, and Nike. Eric returned to Meta and has led the global social marketing team for Meta for over 2.5 years. Eric also just recently launched Meta prosper, which is the new support program for the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Community. He is recognized for his excellent work by Cannes Lions, Webbys, and Clios for combining purpose, creativity, and business results. He proudly sits on various boards for organizations bringing justice to the Asian American Community. He has utilized his platform to speak in the #StopAsianHate movement, particularly in the business world.
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