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An Interview with Nick Sugai, ANA Educational Foundation Talent Champion

As a VP, Group Campaign Development at the Ad Council, Nick Sugai leads purpose-driven marketing for a number of our campaigns, including Type 2 Diabetes Prevention, High Blood Pressure Control and most recently, our COVID-19 Vaccine Educational Effort. He’s also a member of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and founded our Ambassadors program aimed at building relationships with a more diverse array of college students. On December 10, we’re proud to say that he’ll be honored by the ANA Educational Fund as a 2020 Talent Champion, an award meant to highlight those in the advertising industry who have “worked tirelessly to create richer and more diverse talent pipelines for the benefit of all our organizations.”

In advance of the virtual ceremony, we caught up with Nick to talk about AEF, barriers to entry in the industry, and what he’s doing to remove those barriers.

To learn more about AEF’s “Inspire Together” event and the other honorees, visit AEF’s website here.

Naomi Woolfenden: What are the current barriers to entry to the advertising industry? Why is the pipeline so narrow?

Nick Sugai: Advertising isn’t as prominent as other career paths on many college campuses, and students don’t always think about advertising and marketing when considering their future careers. Not having a presence on college campuses also means that the language and principles of advertising can feel foreign—like you need to be “in the know” in order to get a foot in the door.

Recruiting and improving diversity in our industry is not a passive thing. It requires the legwork of getting out and talking to students and young professionals. We need to bridge this gap where the brilliant and creative minds of tomorrow don’t always have advertising and marketing on their radar. It’s actually not a hard case to make if you have a chance to show what a career in advertising entails—things like film, music, creativity, research, strategy work, and production.

NW: What is the ANA Educational Foundation doing to address this?

NS: AEF has done some great things to be strategic and proactive about how we market marketing to students and young professionals.

Personally, I’ve been closest to their Campus Speakers program that seeks to make those connections with students on college campuses and show what a career in advertising can actually look like. It’s so important to show up on college campuses and bring our industry to life beyond what you might read in a textbook or article.

AEF’s internship and mentorship programs have also been hugely helpful to students who are aspiring marketers to learn the ropes of the industry in a very supportive setting.

NW: As someone honored as an ANA Educational Foundation Talent Champion this year, can you talk about what you’re doing at the Ad Council to advance and support diverse talent?

NS: Our Ad Council Ambassador program was established in 2018 to make connections with schools and networks where we didn’t previously have much of a presence—and include a more diverse mix of students and young professionals in our recruiting networks. We were very fortunate to have had a number of Ad Council employees raise their hand to be involved in campus outreach and mentoring opportunities.

We started by building deeper connections with local schools near our NYC headquarters such as Baruch College, Hunter College, and Brooklyn College. At this point, we’ve done more than 35 speaking events at schools all across the country. Along with expanding our recruiting pipeline, I believe the program has developed a culture of support and mentorship across our organization where people from all levels are eager to get involved.

NW: How does retention play into these efforts? As an industry and as individuals, what can we do to not just create paths for diverse talent to more easily enter the industry but also create a safe and supportive environment such that they stay?

NS: Retention is hugely important. If we start from a consensus that advertising has not historically been a diverse and inclusive industry, it’s easy to see why the process of identifying and removing barriers for diverse talent is an important and ongoing process.

The first step is to simply acknowledge that those obstacles do in fact still exist. From there, it’s important to collaboratively include diverse talent in the process when figuring out solutions—from mentorship programs, to shaping the organizational culture, to examinations of how things can be more equitable at all levels.


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