Al-Zaidy, a former chief executive of McCann London and who has also held senior roles at TBWA\London, Mother and Rainey Kelly Campbell/Roalfe Y&R, is one of a handful of senior people in the industry directly qualified to comment on the issue of racism. And some of his claims make a mockery of advertising’s self-proclaimed home of the uber-liberal, metropolitan elite. A business that is frequently at pains to show how very 'right on' it is.
He writes of how at one of the companies he worked for he was frequently mocked for being of Arab descent. Barbs came in the form of faux-naif questions of whether he was a "gold-lover". Even more shockingly, for his stag party, his colleagues pressurised him into wearing an orange Guantanamo Bay-style boiler suit. The theme continued when he left the unnamed agency: he was presented with a brown baby doll in a highchair dressed in a similar boiler suit (his departure coincided with the birth of a child).
It presented al-Zaidy with a dilemma: advertising is encouraged to push boundaries of creativity and acceptability and to break new ground. But was this that or just a convenient excuse to fall back on lazy and offensive inherent stereotypes more familiar with the likes of Mind Your Language from the 1970s than the cutting edge of creative thinking? It’s worth reading the piece yourself so you can make up your own mind.
The pages of Campaign have carried countless diversity articles over recent years that some people have privately moaned they are getting diversity fatigue. "Yes", they say, "We know the industry needs to be more representative of society"; and "Yes, there needs to be more representation of them in the work that is created".
And, in fairness, progress is being made on both fronts. But when there are examples of lazy and casual racism that are deemed acceptable as some sort of office banter – something to be laughed off by the person who has received them – then perhaps some deeper soul-searching is in order.
Al-Zaidy claims that his experiences have helped inform the way that he has constructed the company he is now running – Above & Beyond. For those companies and agencies that are continually obsessing about how they are there to push boundaries and producing daring work, there might be a reason to examine how this is really played out.
While all industries have horror stories of incidents of bullying (in whatever form it takes), no recipient has ever been motivated by it. Equally, no creative bar has ever been raised by causing hurt.