Black Lives Matter: What difference has it made?

The burgeoning BLM movement is particularly resonant as we enter Black History Month but what will its legacy be? Campaign conducted a race equality audit of UK agencies to bring some accountability to bear, because while industry leaders may be listening, action is what is needed.

Black Lives Matter: What difference has it made?

If 100 people were asked to name a brand that would become embroiled in a race row, ITV would probably have been pretty low down on the list.

Until last month, that is, when the home of perennial favourites such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale received 24,000 complaints to Ofcom after airing a Black Lives Matter-themed performance by dance troupe Diversity on Britain’s Got Talent.

Unrepentant, the broadcaster released a statement of support for the group, then doubled-down and took national newspaper ads (pictured, top) stating: “ITV stand with Diversity.”

It’s impossible to say whether ITV would have reacted this way before the BLM movement came to the fore over the summer following the brutal death of George Floyd and the wave of demonstrations, conversations and action that followed.

What is clear, however, is that the environment in which society and brands navigate race has changed in a few short months. Whether this turns out to be a lasting change remains to be seen, with many fearing that the issue could fade away.

Campaign’s BLM Adland Audit, which went live in September, is an attempt to keep this business-critical issue in the spotlight by bringing some transparency and accountability to bear.

The audit asked more than 40 of the biggest agencies about the following:

  • Initiatives and policies they had launched in response to the BLM 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 first two questions were intended to gauge the levels and types of activity taking place, both new and existing. To give a flavour of what is taking place and aid the spread of good practice, we have highlighted below some of the standout activity gleaned from the exercise.

When it comes to the BAME employee figures, for most of this cohort, these have been documented elsewhere, such as in Campaign’s School Reports, but it was felt that seeing initiatives in the context of the ethnic make-up of an agency was useful.

On the ethnicity pay gap, the audit uncovered that only one agency, Lucky Generals, had made the calculation. Moreover, just 39% of the audit respondents intend to publish their figures in the next 18 months, while the remainder did not state when they would take the step.

In June, Creative Equals helped to pull together an open letter with more than 200 signatories that called on the industry to act against racism and inequality. The organisation is running an “accountability survey” to understand “where the sector is and their challenges in moving forward”, its partnership director Stephanie Matthews says.

She wants to see agencies publish better data, whether that’s on the ethnicity pay gap or the make-up of their workforces. “I ask more companies to be open and honest about where they are, and publish those figures,” she adds.

For Matthews, the proof will be in evaluating progress on the “first anniversary of George Floyd’s intentional murder”.

She adds: “Dismantling systems doesn’t happen overnight, and so everyone needs to commit to do this work. This can’t be a short-term, knee-jerk reaction or a piece of PR. Facing up to systemic racism requires deep culture transformation, and is the only way forward.”

Campaign quizzed more than 40 of the biggest agencies in the industry

Education, education, education

At the height of the BLM demonstrations in the summer, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Bernardine Evaristo held the number-one spots in the UK non-fiction and fiction bestseller lists with Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Girl, Woman, Other. Their achievements marked a number of firsts: Eddo-Lodge became the first black British author to top the non-fiction chart, while Evaristo was the first woman of colour to top the fiction chart.

What this showed was the BLM movement had stoked an increased hunger for knowledge from the public to learn more about the black experience, white privilege and systemic racism.

Agencies responded to this creatively with internal campaigns and curated resource lists, often drawn together by black employees.

One standout example is “Breathing While Black”, created by employees spanning VMLY&R’s US agencies. Roy Milton, associate creative director, describes the guide as “an experience around film, books, podcasts, children and family resources and more. We felt compelled to find a solution to help our employees, more specifically our black employees, feel valued, heard and celebrated. And for those taking steps toward allyship and anti-racism, we wanted to give education resources that would empower them to advocate.”

Milton, who is also the North America DEI chair in creative, says the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”. What is more, the guide has had real-world application and gone beyond the office and has “helped people navigate difficult conversations with family, friends and clients”.

Milton says “Breathing While Black” will evolve with “ongoing resources and tools to help educate, enlighten and empower all our people for the long journey ahead”.

In the UK, as part of a number of initiatives, Ogilvy and Ogilvy Roots – its employee network set up to champion ethnic diversity – has created a four-part video series, “How to be an ally”. Topics covered include “self-reflection”, “self-realisation”, “action” and “white privilege”.

Natalie Narh, a creative and Ogilvy Roots vice-chair, says that the battle against Covid and the death of George Floyd unearthed the severity of the ongoing racial injustice and discrimination in the US, as well as in the UK. Against this backdrop, Narh says “many people want to help but do not know how to”.

The aim of the work, therefore, was to “ensure that the black community are granted the support and respect that they deserve, as well as educate the wider majority on how to be actively anti-racist both in and outside the workplace”.

Meanwhile, Lucky Generals has introduced a time code “dedicated to learning and activism so that if Generals want to read, listen to podcasts, go on marches or write to their MPs, they feel encouraged to do so”, according to its BLM Adland Audit submission.

Quiet Storm's Create not Hate scheme is focused not just on ethnic diversity but also socio-economic status

The open-source policy

In its submission to the BLM Adland Audit, in a rare moment of inter-agency goodwill, Krow gave a “big thanks” to Havas for making its Press Pause policy open source.

For Xavier Rees, chief executive of Havas London and Havas Helia, this was “wonderful. I’m pleased that they referenced us and that people are using it.” For him, agencies should be competing on “making the best ads” but sharing good practice that helps employees.

Rees says that once he went public about Press Pause, “30 to 40” people from adland and outside of it contacted him for more information and, since then, it was made open source via the Creative Equals site.

So what exactly is it? In a nutshell, Press Pause is a policy designed to plot a way to deal with problematic views and behaviours relating to any discrimination by setting out a clear process for flagging an issue. One of the aspects that marks out Press Pause is that it recognises that at times there are power differentials in play, such as that between a client and agency executive that are not easily dealt with by an HR department.

Rees explains that the catalyst for Press Pause, which Havas has been operating since early 2019, was an incident relating to casting and ethnicity involving “an individual within a client organisation”.

After landing the chief executive role, Rees felt that with ultimate responsibility for the agency he was now in a position to stick up for his people and worked up the first Press Pause policy. “When the agency is seen to be letting this stuff happen, it changes people’s bond with the company. People are pleased to work for any agency that they feel is protecting them,” he comments.

He was also pleasantly surprised by the reaction from brands: “The few that we’ve had to have this conversation with have gone out of their way to make it clear this isn’t their company’s point of view and to help us move together to a more positive place.”

The environment in which society and brands navigate race has changed in a few short months (Getty Images)

Finding talent

The ethnic make-up of agencies has remained relatively undiverse, especially when compared with London, the city in which most of them operate. It is dire at senior levels but improves somewhat at entry level, suggesting there may be a problem with retention. Whether the BLM movement gives this issue fresh impetus remains to be seen but several agencies are beginning to try to bake in diversity to their processes.

Uncommon Creative Studio, which in the past has come under fire for its low ethnic representation, says it will now only work with headhunters and talent scouts who can demonstrate that 20% of their talent pool reflects candidates from BAME backgrounds. “We hope this policy combined with annual unbias training for all Uncommon leadership and management will allow us to increase BAME representation within the business to 20% by 2022,” the agency says in its BLM Adland Audit entry.

Engine has committed to assembling diverse shortlists for every role (representative of the region the office is based in) and Wieden & Kennedy has a similar policy. Its audit entry states: “All interview shortlists have equal gender diverse representation, and have increased representation of people with protected characteristics [as defined by the Equality and Human Rights Commission]. The east London shop pledges that “no interviews take place until the above has been reached on all interview shortlists.”

Applied, the recruitment tool that claims it removes unconscious bias, and Hidden, a “new model” subscription service for creative and tech recruitment that aids “inclusive hiring”, are used by many of the agencies that responded to the audit.

At entry level, efforts are two-fold. Many agencies are teaming up with organisations such as the Brixton Finishing School, Creative Mentor Network and Creative Access to encourage and, in some cases, hire diverse talent. There are also several internal schemes aimed at increasing representation, such as Wieden & Kennedy London’s The Kennedys – a “five-month creative crash course”, where 81% of recruits have been from BAME backgrounds. These industry efforts appear to be bearing fruit; according to the latest IPA figures, ethnic minority people account for 17.7% of the most junior positions, up from 14.9% in 2015.

Meanwhile, in July, M&C Saatchi launched M&C Saatchi Open House, a free, eight-week online training course open to anyone to attract diverse talent. The agency says: “The programme is designed to help everyone, whether they are studying, looking for a career move or returning to work after a break, to learn about the world of communications and marketing, with the possibility of being shortlisted for a future role at M&C Saatchi at the end of the course.” It garnered 1,500 registrations in just two weeks, 35% of whom are from an ethnic minority background.

Quiet Storm, the independent shop led by Trevor and Rania Robinson that turned 25 in September, revived its Create not Hate scheme – which originally ran in 2007 – in response to the BLM movement. This aims to connect young people with mentors from the advertising industry, offer support and training in the creative process and invites mentees to respond to open briefs and projects.

The first brief this time around was to create an anti-racist campaign for the Notting Hill Carnival. Create not Hate is focused not just on ethnic diversity but socio-economic status as well, as Quiet Storm points out that “according to the IPA Census, around 70% of BAME people currently in the industry are privately educated, so it’s clear that we are not hiring from a pool that reflects London’s BAME population fully or are genuinely as diverse as they could be”.

VMLY&R's guide is 'an experience around film, books, podcasts, children and family resources and more' and has 'helped people navigate difficult conversations with family, friends and clients'

Adspend for underrepresented voices

Programmatic ad buying may seem an unlikely area to further the cause of diversity and bring people together but this is the case at Mindshare.

Last year when Gay Star News went into administration (it has since reopened under new owners), Michael Murray, head of programmatic at Mindshare’s performance agency Neo Media World, wondered whether there was anything he could have done to help the site attract adspend to support what he viewed as valuable journalism.

“These guys do amazing work but they’re reporters, not programmatic experts, so have missed out on their share of advertising revenues,” he says, pointing out that because the word “gay” was more likely to be on a keyword exclusion list than “drugs”, “porn” or “guns, these guys have never stood a chance”.

Murray went on to help build an LGBT+ private marketplace (PMP), aggregating these specialist publishers together to allow them to benefit from programmatic advertising.

In partnership with Mindshare Roots, the agency’s ethnic diversity employee resource group, the same thinking has been applied to the creation of a “Black Community PMP”, which launched in September, a few months after the LGBT+ PMP.

According to Mindshare’s audit entry, in a similar vein to the LGBT+ project, this will ensure black audiences are adequately targeted and address the issue of “unintentional defunding of black community journalism”. Mindshare says this happens because “words like ‘dope’ or ‘bomb’ flagged as stories about drugs or violence, even though they’re everyday jargon in black culture”.

For Murray, one of the most positive outcomes from the project is how it has united and galvanised the agency staff: “Both the LGBT+ PMPs and the BAME PMPs originally grew organically as ideas within our employee groups (Mindshare Pride and Mindshare Roots), which as you can imagine are made up of groups of people from all across the business at all levels. Jem [Lloyd-Williams, the Mindshare chief executive] has been heavily involved in both… using his position to make those introductions across the business and allowing people to take ownership and pushing us to deliver.

“In our meetings, we’ve now got execs who started in January in their first industry role, contributing as much as the chief executive to bring this to life.”

The Kennedys: a 'creative crash course' led by W&K

Hearing, listening and safe spaces

The picture painted by the BLM Adland Audit is one of increased listening by leadership teams and ways for staff to make their voices heard. Omnicom’s OMG UK, for example, now runs an anonymous quarterly survey, OMG UK Voice, designed to listen and track sentiment to “help set targets, monitor progress and identify any potential new, emerging issues as they arise”, according to its audit entry. Allied to this, it has rolled out OMG Safe-Space, “a platform where honest conversations, advice, ideas and solutions can be shared anonymously”.

Over at WPP, the holding company’s agencies referred to the group-wide “Belonging” survey, which was run at the start of the year and covered all facets of diversity and inclusion.

More informal initiatives have sprung up as well. R/GA now has bi-weekly “listening sessions” between leaders and black, Asian and multi-ethnic employees, while similarly Wavemaker has a series of what it calls “Candid Conversations, where under-represented voices are given the opportunity to discuss their experiences and develop strategies for inclusion with senior leaders”.

Agencies of all sizes are finding ways to listen. Creature had a smart idea that builds on the exit interview. Its chief executive, Dan Cullen-Shute, explains: “To aid our thinking, we’ve brought in an HR consultant to talk to a number of people of colour who have worked at Creature in the past, to conduct a bit of an audit. We know what we know we know, but we need to make sure we’re aware of everything.”

But once all the listening is done, the industry will have to make sure that action follows.

Looking backwards is a trap

Magnus Djaba, Saatchi & Saatchi's global president and Publicis Groupe UK's creative practice chief executive, on the need to embrace a new cohort of outsiders

This year, as Saatchi & Saatchi takes its 50th spin around the sun, you might be tempted to reflect
on its history. I believe, however, that it’s time to
look forward.

As a history student, I’ve long understood that where you come from has a big impact on where you’re going. However, what’s really important when you think about the beginnings of the most famous brand in advertising, is the spirit on which the agency was founded and that “nothing is impossible” mantra. Saatchi & Saatchi was started by two outsiders who created an agency that became an institution. They tore down barriers in the relentless pursuit of their goals. This spirit and drive could not be more relevant today.

The world we lived in before Covid is gone. We have to create a new future and embrace a fresh cohort of outsiders. If we keep asking the same people the same questions in the same way, we will keep getting the same answers. That is just not good enough.

Hats off to Charles and Maurice Saatchi and the others who changed this industry. The torch has been passed to us to take that spirit, and transform the industry once again.

Diversity is an opportunity. You can look backwards and get angry but that’s not going to get you anywhere. At Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe UK, we have created a blueprint that others can copy and, I hope, improve on. We are changing our own operating system to actively advance equality.

We’ve signed up to the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter. We’ve done a root-and-branch review of our recruitment policies and partners and introduced a new training programme for all our agencies. We’ve created two new roles for diversity specialists. We’re introducing a charter that sets out the behaviours we expect of our people, our clients and other partners – and we will hold them to it. Critically, we are tracking our progress with external input from a new Diversity Council, made up of clients and D&I experts, and we’re finally collecting ethnicity data that we will publish.

We’ve created the Open Apprenticeship scheme to give people from ethnic minority and low social mobility backgrounds the chance to learn about the industry, gain foundational knowledge and access a wider range of opportunities, including 10 jobs we’ll create every year.

Through Saatchi Ignite we are working with schools to reach young people who wouldn’t otherwise consider a career in advertising. With Saatchi Open we will find six creative entrepreneurs every year and give them a foot on the ladder. Through Saatchi Home, we’ll work with the London Hostel Association and subsidise housing costs to make sure finding affordable accommodation isn’t a barrier for our new starters.

We have to inspire new people into the industry. Then we need to give them the tools to get a foothold, help them progress and, finally, succeed and get to the top. Not just in work, but in life.

We are dedicated to spending the next 50 years, or as long as it takes, to bringing outsiders in, and inviting them to change our industry.

It’s been a punishing year but the work and opportunities we’ve been able to create during this time have been monumental. The collaboration, openness and camaraderie we’ve seen show us what we’re capable of as an industry. As we look forward to the future, and think about what happens next, that’s the mindset we need to preserve.