Despite the challenges of 2020, Reonna Johnson stands out as someone who has spent the past 12 months transforming the ad industry into becoming more culturally inclusive and diverse.
Although the vice president/director of marketing & business development at RPA did not intend to become one of the leading figures pushing for equality, she recognized her expertise and talents could and would make a difference and rose to the occasion. This is why Johnson is one of MediaPost’s 2020 All-Stars.
Johnson has always been active in raising awareness around diversity and inclusion, albeit on a more low-key level. Her advocacy group, Three’s A Crowd (TAC), started as a small collective of Black creative professionals seeking to change how they engage with one other and the broader advertising community, and has met for the past several years, mostly around Los Angeles.
However, in 2020, TAC went from “talking to ourselves to speaking outwardly to those in power in our industry,” says Johnson. “We evolved our voice in the advertising industry. We had spent most of our 2.5 years doing the necessary work of internal dialogue, understanding who we wanted to be and how we could be there for each other.”
TAC leaders then “manifested” these takeaways into a tangible demand, specifically via the IN FOR 13 call-to-action to have AdLand’s leadership ranks proportionately reflect the U.S. black population as a whole by 2023 (8.1% vs. 13%).
Roughly 200 people took the pledge — representing 60 different advertising agencies — as well as 24 advertising agencies signing up their entire teams and two production shops.
“The most rewarding feeling was watching IN FOR 13 resonate and ricochet across the industry in real time,” she says. “It felt like building the boat at the same time that we were in the boat. Our strategy from the beginning was to give agencies permission to approach the lack of Black leadership like any other problem they’d fix for a client: by identifying the issue, bringing together the right group of stakeholders, and creating a game plan.”
Looking forward, Johnson and the nine-person TAC team are determining how to onboard future IN FOR 13 agencies. “Since the committed agencies are in the same cohort and will move together over the next three years, we need to decide if we want to start a new cohort in 2021,” she explains. “If we do, how will we manage that given our limited resources?”
This year has been rewarding to Johnson personally and professionally as it taught her the “relationship between vision and action,” she says. “The arc that you follow from defining the world you want to see, to building a plan of action and a timeline to get you there, to putting down deliverables and assigning roles and responsibilities. The ongoing work of making sure your team is getting the care and support they need, and celebrating the small victories on the way. The danger of distractions. The careful balancing act of taking care of today while carving out time to identify future opportunities.”
One of the specific ways she has changed this year has been learning to give herself permission to say “I don’t know the answer to that.” She points out that as a Black woman who’s worked in corporate marketing for 15 years, she has never felt like she had permission to come to a meeting, project or even a discussion unprepared. “But how do you prepare to do what we’re trying to do right now? We’re tackling a huge problem that’s been centuries in the making. We’re going into uncharted territory, riding a groundswell of support but with an unclear path ahead. There’s a necessary learning process that has to take place.”
Johnson has big plans for 2021. “As the saying goes, it’s a movement — not a moment,” she quips. Her TAC playbook includes obtaining a physical location or facility for its community and production needs, developing its own content from an “unapologetically Black POV,” developing a youth outreach and mentorship program as well as building an online hub for IN FOR 13 partner agencies.
“Ask any black American
from any walk of life how they’re doing today, and you’ll likely hear one thing: ‘I’m tired,’ she says. “Self-care and ongoing mental and emotional support are
vital for anyone. For a community facing the brunt of institutional white supremacy in the midst of a transformative moment, self-care is non-negotiable. And since we couldn’t expect any other
organization or institution to step up, we had to do it ourselves — in the form of new programming and support sessions.”