ZMI ALPHA:Shaquille O’Neal becomes founding partner, investor in new ad agency focused on diversity

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ZMI ALPHA:Shaquille O’Neal becomes founding partner, investor in new ad agency focused on diversity

Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal has become known since retiring from the game for his prolific work as a celebrity pitchman, working in front of the camera to help brands including Papa John’s and Frosted Flakes win customers.

In his latest venture, he’ll be working with marketers behind the scenes.

Mr. O’Neal is becoming a founding partner and investor in Majority, a new ad agency focused on serving up talent of diverse backgrounds. The agency arrives as Madison Avenue grapples with a history of inequity amid the nation’s renewed call for social justice, large agencies increasingly take measures to diversify their ranks, and some marketers press agencies to increase the diversity of the teams that work on their accounts.

“Most agencies still struggle to meet a 25% diversity target,” Mr. O’Neal said in a telephone interview. “We want to flip that diversity ratio to turn the minority into the majority.”

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The agency plans to hire a diverse pool of talent defined by “black and brown people, women and LGBTQ,” said Omid Farhang, co-founder and chief executive of Majority.

“The goal for our company is to show how creative output changes when you flip that ratio,” Mr. Farhang said. “It’s as much about social equity as a shrewd business decision. Diversity is a competitive advantage. Diversity leads to different kinds of ideas that create different types of cultural discussions.”

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, or 4As, issued a report in September showing that Black and African-American employees make up just 5.8% of the agency business, and of that portion 68% held administrative or entry-level roles. The study, which looked at 165 agencies representing more than 40,000 employees, also found that 8.7% of the sample identified as Hispanic or Latino.

Mr. O’Neal won’t handle day-to-day agency tasks but will support the shop by joining meetings, networking and reaching out to brands and celebrity contacts as needed, he said.

“I’m just motivated to do this in a way to create new opportunities,” said Mr. O’Neal. “A lot of people talk about it. I’m tired of talking about it. I want to do something about it. I just want to make progress.”

Mr. O’Neal has worked with brands for decades, through both endorsement and investment deals. He owns many Papa John’s Pizza and Auntie Anne’s pretzel franchises.

He is also looking to purchase Reebok with Authentic Brands Group, where he is a partner, from Adidas AG to revive the brand, he said. In December, Adidas said it is exploring a sale of the U.S. fitness brand.

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And last fall he helped form a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, to make acquisitions in the media and technology industries.

Majority is based in Atlanta, where Mr. O’Neal spends much of his time, and where the agency expects to source talent due to the city’s thriving Black middle class, said Mr. Farhang.

Mr. Farhang was most recently chief creative officer at Interpublic Group of Cos. experiential agency Momentum Worldwide. Before that, he worked at talent agency Creative Artists Agency and creative agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

To read more from The Wall Street Journal, click here.

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