By the time The Richards Group founder Stan Richards had publicly apologized for calling a campaign idea “too Black,” the damage had been done. The staff had reportedly been incensed by leadership’s sluggish response, and longtime client Motel 6—for whom the campaign at issue was pitched—had chosen to fire the agency.
The loss of an iconic client (Richards Group and actor Tom Bodett coined the timeless Motel 6 tagline “We’ll leave the light on for you” in 1986) was quickly followed by more high-profile and high-cost fallout as The Home Depot also severed its relationship with the agency.
Richards’ comment was made during an internal meeting with no clients present, but word still spread as staff demanded a substantive response, highlighting that tone-deaf incidents can spiral into the public forum even without traditionally revealing tipping points such as lawsuits.
For ad industry diversity advocates, the moment is one of vital reflection for all agencies to take stock of how earnestly they’re embracing inclusivity both in staffing and in their leadership’s words and actions. And for some with direct experience at The Richards Group, there were signs its culture might be changing from the bottom up.
The fact that the issue was escalated by Richards Group employees “gives me a great amount of faith in our industry and the next generation,” said a former employee of the agency who had been laid off prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The younger generation is on that level where they won’t accept that and won’t stand for it,” the former employee told Adweek. “I’m psyched there were people saying, ‘We can’t cover this up; we have to tell the client; we have to have an apology; we want change.’”
Adweek reached out to three high-profile diversity advocates, and below are the lessons they believe the ad industry should take from the fallout being felt by the Richards Group:
Founder and chairman, the Marcus Graham Project