On the Campaign couch: Am I holding back the progress of women in our industry?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Am I holding back the progress of women in our industry?

My boss has asked me to hire more women in our creative department.

I just want the best people I can get, whatever type of genitals they have. Am I holding back the progress of women in our industry by not positively discriminating, though?
In another column in another publication, I recently made a deliberately mild observation about maternity leave.

I said that employers and colleagues could be wholly in favour of generous maternity leave and wholly in favour of a guaranteed return to work; but it was silly to deny that the absence of a valued employee, over a matter of months, for whatever reason, could be the cause of some inconvenience.

And I further suggested that the thoughtful individual concerned, though in no way apologetic, would recognise such inconvenience and be grateful to her colleagues for making the necessary adjustments.

I should have known better. A vocal minority of readers became extremely vocal and the publication in question thought it prudent to run a sort-of apology.

So, still scarred, I tiptoe into my answer to your question with uncharacteristic diffidence.

I find it very difficult to be purist about all this. I would like to believe that positive discrimination in favour of women is still discrimination; and, what’s worse, it insultingly implies that women are in need of positive discrimination if they’re to compete with men.

I would like to agree with you – and simply set out to get the best people, irrespective of the nature of their genitals. And I certainly wouldn’t agree with your boss, who seems to want more women in the creative department so that he can tell people that he’s now got more women in the creative department.

I doubt if talented women, though grateful for the job, would take kindly to being offered employment just to make up the numbers.

But what all that ignores is the shadow of the past; the fact that, for as long as anyone can remember, creatively, chaps have outnumbered girls; have run more departments; have picked up more gongs; have started more agencies. I’m not suggesting that all this was just or fair or even effective. It just was. And it colours the way we think, even though we think it doesn’t.

So I suggest you do discriminate; not in the jobs you offer but in the extra time and thought you give to each female contender. This bonus of attention is not so much to favour them as to compensate for the unconscious bias that you’re pretty certain you didn’t harbour in the first place.

This way, you should end up hiring rather more women – which will please your boss; and rather more excellent creative people – which will satisfy you.

A PR agency has been trying to recruit me to their new creative department. I hear this is a trend now and the line between PR and advertising is blurrier. Should I explore this path or would that be selling out?
If you take this job, you should do so with eyes wide open to the kind of work you’ll be expected to write.

When you come to think of it, good copywriters do something pretty remarkable.

They know that the reading and viewing public aren’t eagerly panting to see their ads: that’s not why people bought their paper or switched on the television. Since advertisements are clearly advertisements, they can be readily ignored. So the excellent copywriter has first to catch the attention – something that has to be achieved in less than a second. And if that attention is to be held, the copywriter must provide something of interest and value.

And if the case is made with understanding and charm and empathy, the audience response (despite their having been ambushed by the advertisement) will be to appreciate the ad as an ad and feel warmly disposed towards the brand advertised. That’s extremely skilful stuff and very rewarding to the creator.

PR writing is different. The writers of free verse are required to follow no consistent metre patterns and no rhyming scheme – which is why Robert Frost called it playing tennis without a net.

The work you’ll be expected to do in a PR agency will be a bit like writing advertisements without a net.

You may not find it quite as satisfying.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

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