Making sure the Marketing Hall of Legends is for everyone

Miglena Nikolova on why a critique about diversity was a wake up call for AMA Toronto.


By Miglena Nikolova

Almost one year ago, strategy published an editorial by Glen D’Souza entitled “We need diverse legends,” a critique about Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends (CMHOL) and its lack of diversity.

Until that moment, the Hall of Legends work honouring the visionaries, enablers, builders and mentors who’ve had tremendous impact on the field of marketing hadn’t faced that level of public criticism. But despite efforts and intentions, our recognition program, launched in 2004, wasn’t inducting many Legends that reflected the diversity of today’s marketing community.

Given the considerable effort to reboot Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends in 2020, the article was a wake-up call – and a powerful catalyst for change within the association.

That spring, while Black Lives Matter protests erupted on the streets and led all industries to reckon with their own track records on systemic racism, the editorial also spurred AMA Toronto to better align with our belief that marketing is for everyone. At the next board of directors’ meeting, AMA Toronto committed to a journey of evaluation and change to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that are important to our members and the marketing community.

Enhancing diversity across our programs, including Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends, was not new for AMA Toronto. The chapter had for some time been building a diverse membership and recruiting marketers for our leadership and volunteer teams that represent Toronto’s current and evolving population.

The Hall of Legends as a property, however, required special focus if there was going to be meaningful change. Unless there was diversity in the top ranks of our industry, there could be no diversity within Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends.

As an immigrant myself, I believed that diverse marketing Legends were out there; we just had to look for them differently.

To spread the word and nominate more diverse Legends, we mobilized the industry to seek out excellence and impact in new places. Outreach was significantly expanded to include many multicultural marketing, business and industry organizations to generate a broader range of nominations across Canada.

At the same time, new standards were established to update the Legend selection process and celebrate our industry’s diversity. Amendments to the selection criteria saw that at least 50% of the jury and between 40% to 50% of the inductees for 2021 had to represent the marketing community in terms of geography, line-of-business, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.

Working with the community, CMHOL successfully received a record number of nominations and inducted the most diverse group of Legends ever.

Listening to AMA members in Canada and the U.S., and voices from our local community, the reforms at Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends are a small step forward.

As president of AMA Toronto, I recognize the challenge and necessity to work harder, show leadership, and set stronger examples of DEI throughout our operations, programs and content. The actions and improvements since June 2020 go beyond CMHOL and demonstrate the collective commitment of my team and our volunteer base.

AMA Toronto has appointed a DEI board member and created a DEI Committee to ensure our efforts are sustainable, far-reaching and support the international AMA Chapter DEI Pledge. We are collecting information to assess and measure diversity within our chapter and have launched initiatives to support transformational and systemic change including think tanks, surveys, training, interactive events about DEI, and even scholarships to encourage diverse applicants to apply to our Mentor Exchange program.

In addition to Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends, our flagship programs, as well as our panels at upcoming events and member meetings, are being recast to uphold our DEI pledge.

With nearly half of its population born outside of Canada, with over 250 ethnicities and 170 languages, Toronto is often referred to as the most multicultural city in the world. Considering this, I believe the marketing community should be finding new ways to support and leverage the region’s incredible diversity, especially at the leadership level.

As part of our DEI commitment, we’ve chosen to help new Canadian marketing professionals re-launch and re-establish successful, fulfilling careers by partnering with Acces Employment. As a marketer who’s had to break through and re-build my career in this country, I know first-hand the struggle and the challenges new Canadians face. And I’m excited to be helping our members and community with this initiative.

Membership in AMA Toronto is noticeably diversifying as a result of recent efforts. We’re a volunteer-run organization and nearly 65% of our volunteers are now new Canadian marketers.

To finally reply to that “uncomfortable” editorial published a year ago: Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends is better for it. Moreover, AMA Toronto has found that DEI energizes its mission and values as an association. Although we don’t have all the answers, we have the commitment and determination to move the dial.

Miglena NikolovaMiglena Nikolova is president of AMA Toronto.

Top image by user Brad.K on Flickr.