David Clark | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

David Clark


Pia Agency  is a creative content agency comprised of filmmakers, creatives, and strategists coming together as storytellers for global brands. Founded in 1997 by Cheryl and Cliff Pia, the agency is a woman-led and ethnically diverse company with offices in San Diego, San Francisco and Portland. Pia specializes in creative direction, ideation, branded content, video production and commercials.

The Mistake:

I have been in advertising for almost 15 years. I’ve worked in New York City, Los Angeles and Boston. I have been the token black creative often. I’ve been in bigger firms, where there are 5,000 employees, and you’re just a needle in a haystack, especially when you are someone of color.

I am half African-American, but I obviously identify myself as being black on paper. And looking back, I wish I didn’t dwell so much on being a person of color, feeling uncomfortable and noticing – or at least thinking I was noticing – the people around me feeling uncomfortable as well.

I was the only black person looking to get an art director gig. Did people look at me differently? Absolutely, 100 percent. I could dwell on it and be negative, focusing on having so many cards stacked up against me.

I would notice other colleagues, putting in much less time, expending far less effort, get promoted, get raised. You can start to doubt yourself. It’s horrible, always asking what about you doesn’t work. I would focus on being black.

But at some point, perhaps a few years into my career, I realized that was a huge waste of time. I began to twist my thoughts and focus on the positive of my situation. I had a job. I worked for an amazing company. I was doing great work. I was given tremendous opportunity to grow. I was respected.

The more effort you show, people can't ignore it, even if you’re a woman, or a person of color.

The Lesson:

I always made sure I was the last person to leave the office. The more effort you show, people can't ignore it, even if you’re a woman, or a person of color. I always came to the table with ideas. That's contagious. People love that drive; they're going to respond to it and want to be around it, no matter what.

I had moments with senior management. After successfully pitching this idea to a client, I told the president of the firm that it was great, but I thought we could be better. He was so impressed that I was still thinking about how to improve a successful pitch.

I also think it’s important, as people of color, to help mentor others. For example, I’m definitely taking part in more speaking events. There is power in storytelling and using those very personal professional moments to engage an audience, encouraging those who are having a hard time finding a job, suggesting ways they can be better employees.

And creating that hope definitely came down to effort. Effort is the only thing that transcends race and gender. You think about athletes. Many of them are people of color. But what it comes down to is who’s the best, who trains the hardest. If LeBron James was white, he’d still be as good. It’s all about the effort he puts into being so good.

There will always be people who are stronger, faster, better. But if you strive to be the best you can be, people will notice. I see that when I’m hiring someone or meeting people. There’s a burning desire in their eyes to be the best. It's not about being white or black. It’s not about being conceited. It’s about who has the best idea. It's about being competitive.

Follow PIA Agency on Twitter at: @PIA_Agency

Photo courtesy of PIA Agency

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email hgamble@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.​