Marketers must understand an increasingly diverse America

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From left, Charlie Metcalf of Hamline University; Janelle Brown, Minnesota State, Mankato; Travon Sellers of Minnesota State, Mankato; and Brandon Syke of Highview Alternative High School

Photo: Photo courtesy of The BrandLab,

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We’ll likely be seeing more minority marketing professionals who reflect the nation’s growing racial diversity as promising students such as Charlie Metcalf of Hamline University and Janelle Brown of Minnesota State University, Mankato, graduate and enter the workforce.

Carla Vernon, a General Mills executive who runs the Yoplait Yogurt business, said at a recent forum on marketing and race that marketers and ad agencies need to understand through their experience — and by hiring more minority talent — this “new mosaic” of an increasingly diverse America.

“You don’t have to be black or Hispanic or Asian to understand that,” Vernon said at a recent forum sponsored by The BrandLab and Minnesota Public Radio. “One of my most profound lessons was from a blonde female marketing director who always gave me the courage to ask when an ad or storyboard came my way if the people of color were reflected with dignity and if there were enough of them. The [corporate] client has to be courageous. The agency people need to have the same accountability.”

The BrandLab, started several years ago by the late advertising executive John Olson, is making ripples nationally and locally. Supported by more than 25 corporations and agencies that call the Twin Cities home, the BrandLab focuses literally on changing the face of marketing to make the profession more reflective of the audience. Five years ago, the nonprofit business sponsored 27 minority students with programs, internships and sponsorships. This academic year, about 500 will be involved.

The “opportunity gap,” which has minorities underrepresented in the growing marketing fields, is fed, at least in part, by persistent and often subtle forms of bias, which flourish largely due to the industry’s failure to have open, honest conversations about race, according to Executive Director Ellen Walthour. The BrandLab is bringing this discussion into the open.

“I volunteer because the students are electric with potential,” Vernon said. “I hope that my time with them may nurture and inspire the spark inside of them to shine brighter. Several people did that for me when I was young.”

The MPR forum included Alfredo Martel of Caribou Coffee and Mike Fernandez of Cargill. More information: www.thebrandlab.org.

Lawyer Ben Anderson, known as a ‘cleaner,’ opens his own shop

Ben Anderson, the veteran Twin Cities securities lawyer, has opened his own shop in his St. Paul-area home.

Anderson was general counsel for several years at the former Dain Rauscher, now part of Canada’s RBC Financial, and also worked for the Toronto-based parent company.

Anderson, 51, a genial, diplomatic guy who served his country in the Peace Corps in Africa before attending law school, became known in his trade as a “cleaner” — a lawyer who goes into a money-trading business that knows it’s in trouble. The cleaner investigates, takes names, kicks rears out the door, invites in the Feds and tries to work out settlements that keep the companies in business.

Anderson did time at Deephaven Capital Management, the local hedge fund whose assets were sliced in half by poor performance and panicked-investor redemptions in 2008. The business, owned by Knight Capital, which had a lot of its own regulatory problems, eventually was sold.

In 2012, Anderson was at Diamondback Capital Management of Connecticut, when it agreed to pay more than $9 million to settle insider-trading charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC filed insider-trading charges against Diamondback, a second hedge fund advisory firm and several individuals. In reaching the proposed settlement, the SEC tipped its hat to Anderson, who parachuted in when the investigation started months earlier, for “the substantial cooperation that Diamondback provided, including conducting extensive interviews of staff, reviewing voluminous communications, analyzing complex trading patterns to determine suspicious trading activity, and presenting the results of its internal investigation to federal investigators.”

Said Anderson: “The firm and its owners and supervisors were not bad people, but the firm had three employees who violated the law without the firm’s knowledge. The settlement was approved by the judge, in a hearing that lasted less than three minutes.”

Can we just use plain English

Shareholders, government and customers are demanding that health care, financial and other outfits cut the legalese and the obtuse language.

Gov. Mark Dayton recently pronounced that the executive branch of Minnesota’s government must use plain language with constituents. About time.

Last week, UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare & Retirement unit of Minneapolis captured a national ClearMark Award from the Center for Plain Language in the “original document, private sector category.’’ The national awards were presented at the Center for Plain Language’s ClearMark Awards ceremony at the National Press Club. The judges felt that the overall structure, clever typography and effective use of space make the kit’s messages clear and memorable.

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