CHICAGO: Golin’s Chicago MD has apologized to staffers who were upset about the singing of a children’s song about a condiment during a discussion last week about Cinco de Mayo and cultural sensitivity.
"I take very seriously that I have offended anyone," said Ginger Porter, MD of Golin Chicago, about the controversy, which took place last Thursday during the portion of the agency’s monthly staff meeting dedicated to diversity and inclusion. In the meeting, Porter and other Golin executives talked about a soon-to-be-released internal podcast addressing sensitivity and Cinco de Mayo.
The incident resulted in a flurry of email apologies with promises of openness from Porter and Golin co-CEO Gary Rudnick and the cancellation of Cinco de Mayo events at the firm.
Golin will be "putting a pause" on Cinco de Mayo this year, Porter said. She has also offered to enroll in outside cultural sensitivity training with the rest of senior management, according to Rudnick’s email.
"We were using Cinco as topic when I stepped in it," Porter said about the incident.
American celebrations of Cinco de Mayo have been criticized as cultural appropriations rife with stereotypes and ignorant of the significance of the event that commemorates the Mexican defeat of French forces in 1862.
The song Porter sang, "Pico de Gallo," is by children’s music group Trout Fishing in America. It mentions Cinco de Mayo in the chorus as a rhyme with the song’s title, but doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday.
"It’s not actually a song about Cinco de Mayo," Porter said. "The tragedy is I got in the way of our important message that is this podcast. Unfortunately, I didn’t nail it."
After the meeting, Porter was told there was a problem by members of Golin Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Council. On Friday morning, Porter sent an email -- also sent to PRWeek anonymously -- apologizing for the song and explaining her personal history with the holiday.
Porter previously worked in Golin’s Dallas office. In Texas, she explained in the email to the council, she and her family regularly held culturally appropriate Cinco de Mayo parties.
"While some can take Cinco de Mayo and turn it into a mess of misinformed cultural stereotypes of tequila, sombreros, and ponchos, our friends and family did celebrate Cinco as a local neighborhood community for seven-plus years," Porter said.
Later, Porter said that first email apology was itself a mistake and instead of justifying her actions, she should have simply owned them.
"I went into why. And you don’t go into the why," she said. "If I hurt someone with my actions, it’s important that I apologize and move on. It’s like I’ve stomped on someone’s toe. In the moment, you don’t turn and say [to the person] ‘Your toe is too big.’ or ‘You put your toe over closer to me.’"
After talking to the council, Porter sent out an office-wide apology.
"It’s good to own these actions," she said about the office-wide note. "This is a journey to make sure we’re actively listening and responding. My [office-wide] email was about apology. Gary’s email was to communicate ‘Now what.’"
Rudnick sent his email Sunday night to all of Chicago’s employees and its executive board with the subject, "diversity, inclusion, and belonging at Golin."
In it, he described the incident as "a moment of cultural insensitivity" and "evidence of just how much more work we have to do." However, he also said the internal discussion about the incident was a "mark of progress" for the company.
Rudnick also pledged to make himself available to discuss the incident and diversity in general with employees on Tuesday in a conference room in Golin’s Chicago office.
"Please don’t leave me alone in that conference room!" he wrote.