Campaign podcast: why cultural 'fit' has backfired

Sue Unerman and Mark Edwards talk about how the creative sector should think about inclusivity at work, even if it means taking apart their existing culture, while Omar Oakes and Brittaney Kiefer discuss ads by Oatly, Quorn, Beagle Street and OSU.

Clockwise from top left: Edwards, Unerman, Quorn and OSU ads
Clockwise from top left: Edwards, Unerman, Quorn and OSU ads

Agencies need to change their culture in order to bring about a more diverse advertising industry – even if their existing culture is seen as working well. 

That’s the warning from MediaCom chief transformation officer Sue Unerman and her partner, journalist and mindfulness coach Mark Edwards, who spoke on the Campaign Podcast this week about their book, Belonging, which they co-authored alongside Kathryn Jacob, chief executive of Pearl & Dean.

The media agency executive, who co-wrote the bestselling The Glass Wall with Jacob in 2016, told the podcast: “This whole ‘fitting in’ and ‘fitting the culture’ [idea] has actually backfired... you might find good people to fit your culture but great people will expand your culture.

And one of the things that I've always said about the senior team at MediaCom is that what we want is people who will add to our record collection or playlist, not just duplicate it.”

Listen below or subscribe on your favourite podcast player:

Unerman, a regular Campaign columnist, told podcast host Omar Oakes, Campaign's media and technology editor, that the book is aimed at a wide range of people working in organisations, from leaders with the power to create more diverse workplaces, to lower-level employees who may feel uncomfortable calling out discriminatory behaviour at work. 

Edwards, a long-serving Sunday Times journalist who made his name as the paper’s chief music critic, said company leaders showed a “natural instinct to hold on to what you’ve got”.

But, he warned: “it's not a good instinct, because we know the world is changing rapidly around us and you need to change and evolve… what you want is that [new hires] don't fit in completely, you want them to add something, you want them to feel that they can be themselves and bring themselves in, and that they are expected to do that and expected to just gently evolve the culture".

As well as prescribing good practice and anecdotes from various industry sources, the book includes practical steps people can take to make the workplace more inclusive. Reverse mentoring, in which junior employees are put into direct information-exchanging relationships with senior management, are a good way to evolve existing company cultures, Edwards added.

Also in this week’s episode, Omar and Campaign’s creativity and culture editor Brittaney Kiefer discuss Asda’s decision to review its advertising agency account, as well as recently launched UK ad campaigns including Oatly, Quorn and Beagle Street Insurance. 

Running order (and links to ad campaigns)
2:00 Asda reviews ad account - what now for Sonny and his family?
6:00 Oatly (in-house)
10:20 Quorn (Adam & Eve/DDB)
15:50 Beagle Street (Creature)
20:30 OSU (Wonderhood)
26:50 Sue Unerman/Mark Edwards interview

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