When the Black Lives Matter movement came to the fore earlier this year following the brutal death of George Floyd in the US, the message flowed from the protests on the streets through to boardrooms around the world with brands and businesses pledging action on racial injustice.
Adland initially responded with an open letter calling on the industry to act against racism and inequality. Organised by Creative Equals, it was signed by more than 200 leaders from the ad and media sectors.
“As a creative sector, what we do and who we represent has a profound impact on culture, yet systemic inequality continues in our industry… We need to drive equity in our organisations, the people we hire, the work we produce and how we engage with clients,” it read.
But some felt it was not good enough. In a searing riposte, Shanice Mears, co-founder of The Elephant Room, wondered why it had taken “a man to die for you to consider that black talent is worth investing in”.
Mears’ article, which went on to be one of Campaign’s best-read pieces of content so far this year, added: “I don’t want to see 200 names of industry leaders who pledge for better or 10 ways of how to do it… I want to see your company policy, your actionable hiring methods (and the team doing it), your retention scheme, your well-being offering, and your gender and black, Asian and minority-ethnic pay-gap figures."
Judging by the high levels of approval the piece received on social media, it is clear Mears had struck a chord.
So has there been real action or just more warm words?
To investigate this, Campaign launched a reporting initiative aimed at finding out what has actually taken place in adland since that tragic incident in May, which many hope will be a catalyst for change.
We asked more than 40 of the biggest ad and media agencies to state:
- Initiatives and policies they had launched in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Initiatives and policies in place prior to BLM aimed at aiding racial equality and ethnic diversity.
- The percentage of their employees from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
- Their ethnicity pay gap.
The responses have been published as fully as possible to allow agencies to authentically explain their actions and fully share their ideas. The answers enable them to compare themselves with their peers and pick up new ideas. Agency workers can also see how their employer measures up against others and monitor their progress on stated action. Marketers who say they want to work with partners who take diversity seriously should also find the results interesting.
The vast majority of those asked replied to the survey, with many saying this would help transparency in this area and make them accountable.
Notable exceptions were Grey, which decided to “pass” on it, perhaps due to a leadership vacuum following its chief executive’s extended “leave” period and The Brooklyn Brothers, which “didn’t want to be seen as getting publicity out of the situation”. But the agency did say it planned to continue its respected Night School programme which aims to help ethnically diverse talent enter the ad industry. (Grey subsequently provided its response post-publication and Campaign has now included it below.)
In a similar vein to The Brooklyn Brothers, in place of answering the questions, Droga5 London submitted a statement that said its “priority is to define and act on plans to address the impacts of racism in our own ‘house’, before we look further to the rest of our industry, and the world at large”.
The picture painted by those that did submit [see below] is one of increased activity across everything from recruitment right through to casting policies. Lessons appear to have been learned about the dangers of initiatives that exist in their own bubble as many schemes are agency-wide and directed at all employees.
Reflecting on the effect of the BLM movement this week during the Media360 conference, Group M’s UK chief executive Karen Blackett sounded an optimistic note, despite expressing exasperation about being "everybody's one black friend".
Blackett, a high-profile and effective diversity campaigner, said: “It can’t be left to the minority groups to make the change… When you see something happening that isn't right, you need to step in as an ally. I am absolutely seeing that, whether it’s people that sign up to the Creative Equals pledge, that people are committing and stepping forward.”
She added: “It’s just making sure that it continues and we hold each other accountable for that change.”
As is well documented, given adland’s large presence in multicultural London, the number of ethnic minority staff at agencies is still woefully low. The survey responses reveal that most run programmes aimed at bringing in diverse young people or tap into existing ones but the challenge now is to retain them and help them progress up the ranks.
A renewed recognition of the part played by microaggressions and the importance of allyship was an observable theme – something that could go some way to ensuring that black people entering the industry feel it’s somewhere they want to stay.
In all but one of the agencies (hat tip to Lucky Generals) pay gap data was not available. WPP shops are aligning their processes to allow a “singular approach” to diversity reporting across the board while others intend to publish this data in the coming months – despite the government’s recent silence on when it plans to make the reporting mandatory.
There is, of course, no guarantee that change will happen and if it does, it won’t be overnight. Once Black Lives Matter issues are no longer in the headlines, then will be the time to judge whether 2020’s summer of protests and pledges made a lasting impact on adland.
Some agencies submitted answers under their group umbrella and not as individual agency brands so while 41 were contacted there are 32 entries.
Updated: FCB Inferno, MullenLowe, Rapp and Recipe have been added since publication
A to M
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO | Adam & Eve/DDB | AnalogFolk | Creature | Dentsu Aegis Network UK & Ireland | Engine | FCB Inferno | Grey London | Havas UK | IPG Mediabrands | Karmarama | Krow | Lucky Generals | M&C Saatchi | McCann Worldgroup UK | MediaCom | Mindshare | Mother | MullenLowe UK
O to W
Ogilvy | Omnicom Media Group | Publicis Groupe UK | Quiet Storm | R/GA London | Rapp | Recipe | Saatchi & Saatchi | TBWA\London | The & Partnership | The Beyond Collective | The7stars | Uncommon Creative Studio | VCCP | VMLY&R London | Wavemaker | Wieden & Kennedy London | Wunderman Thompson