Zaid Al-Zaidy: McCann London's chief executive
Zaid Al-Zaidy: McCann London's chief executive
A view from Zaid Al-Zaidy

Diversity Needs A Purpose

Fairness and equality alone are not compelling enough reasons to make agencies more diverse, argues Zaid Al-Zaidy, McCann London's chief executive.

On Monday I was lucky enough to hear about the Advertising Association’s new findings in their report, The Whole Picture: How advertising portrays a diverse Britain.

Hosted in the cellars of the RSA, it was fronted by an impressive line up of speakers: Karen Blackett, the chief executive of MediaCom UK; Trevor Robinson, the founder of Quiet Storm; Jo Swinson MP; Karen Fraser, a director at Credos; and Louise Court, the editor of Cosmopolitan, which apparently features more black models on its front covers than any other women’s magazine. Pretty cool.

The point was well made that for a country that will be 30 per cent BAME (black-Asian-minority-ethnic) by 2045, our creative industry is woefully un-diverse.

Also, according to the AA’s report, BAME consumers would argue that advertising today either portrays ethnic stereotype or no ethnic diversity whatsoever – and more worryingly, this is most felt by younger generations.

The opportunity for brands is to connect more with a diverse Britain and consequently to grab more share of a multi-billion pound wallet, we are told. Some are doing well and consumers spontaneously mention Benetton (still!), Nike and Dove.

And it was interesting to hear how awkward some clients still find the whole "alternative casting" conversation in pre-production meeting.

This is all good provocative stuff. However, it seems to me that today’s argument is running thin because it only centres on the question of "representation, fairness and equality". Unfortunately, it simply won’t be enough of a motivator for many in our 85-per-cent -male and white-dominated industry.

Even though we’ve moved beyond a conversation around quotas, the whole movement around "diversity" has to be calculated to succeed i.e. designed, forced and measured.

In my experience, this won’t be enough. We need to define a "bigger" purpose for "diversity", something that everyone in our industry can rally behind. Welcome to the c-word again. Creativity.

Countries with big dollops of ethnic diversity are richer, more colourful and productive cultures to be part of. And the same goes for agencies where different perspectives and experiences are valued because they form the bedrock of creativity.

Also, the BAME effect can’t just be about creativity for a diverse Britain, it is also vital to ensure that our creativity travels globally.

This can only be good for our national export business too. Creativity means commerciality, locally and globally.

As all good CEOs know, diversity is an essential company ingredient because ethnic diversity makes for a more interesting world. And interesting sells.