"If you see people marching in the streets, then you’ll see some people marching in offices," Naren Patel, founder of Media for All, the mentoring organisation for black, Asian and minority ethnic people in UK advertising, predicts.
Most brands, agencies and media owners know that they have failed to do enough to tackle racial inequality in the recent past, despite some good intentions.
The BAME population is 13% in the UK and about 40% in London yet the IPA Census shows it is just 4.7% in the C-Suite of agencies (down from 5.5% in the previous year).
Now the Black Lives Matter movement has shot to the top of the corporate agenda because of the killing of George Floyd in America and a tidal wave of anger has spread around the world. "This is the first time I’ve seen this [issue] get galvanised into industry," Patel says.
Advertising is one of the sectors that has moved fastest to speak out in support of Black Lives Matter. More than 200 leading UK figures signed an "Adland commits" letter that admitted: "What we do and who we represent has a profound impact on culture, yet systemic inequality continues in our industry."
The signatories promised "actions, not words" by taking 10 steps, including making racial equality a core part of their leadership team’s strategic priorities with "clear KPIs", understanding their own privileges and promoting and celebrating black employees.
However, the letter has not received a universal welcome. "I have to ask myself: are the pledges in this letter genuine and are you ready to work?" Shanice Mears, co-founder of The Elephant Room, wrote. "I’d like to know why it has taken a man to die, a world to protest and an online movement telling you black lives matter for you to consider that black talent is worth investing in."
Mears went on: "I don’t want to see 200 names of industry leaders who pledge for better or 10 ways of how to do it. How convenient. 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."
Or as Vivienne Dovi, an executive at MediaCom, says, if companies want to genuinely show black lives matter, they need to beware "the consequences of performing acts of allyship but having nothing to show for it".
The energy unleashed by Black Lives Matter cannot be just a flashpoint – a moment in time. This must be a turning point.
Dino Myers-Lamptey, founder of The Barber Shop and one of the organisers of the "Adland commits" letter, says: "It’s definitely a turning point for some people – it’s a question of whether it’s a turning point for enough people."
The letter itself is not perfect but was organised in a matter of days and, as Myers-Lamptey points out, it is just the start in terms of raising awareness. Action and accountability must follow, he says.
Campaign, which has covered the UK ad industry since 1968, bears a degree of responsibility. Our job is to champion this industry and hold it to account. We need to do better.
I have worked for Campaign since 2015 and became UK editor-in-chief in March 2020. We have made mistakes in the past – and we have apologised – but we are trying and learning.
We are searching for more diverse and younger voices and faces from around the UK, not just London, to appear in Campaign. And we don’t want them to talk only about diversity or being young or life outside London.
We are recruiting a more diverse mix of people to speak at our events and to judge our awards. And we need to look beyond the most senior people to break the cycle of the same, familiar faces.
We can also amplify the voices of industry experts who can educate the marketplace about the harmful effects of negative stereotypes and how one of the best things our industry can do is fight these.
And we can hold the industry to account. When we published our School Reports in April, 32 out of 102 agencies failed to reveal the proportion of their BAME employees. If we name those agencies in the future and use data to shine a light, it could hasten change.
However, we also have a duty to look at ourselves and ensure that Campaign and our owner, Haymarket, are making the same progress that we demand of others.
Legislation could help our industry. Mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting could force disclosure in a similar way to the gender pay gap but it should not require the law to do the right thing.
A more diverse industry will make better advertising for "the fruit salad that is modern Britain", as Karen Blackett, UK country manager of WPP, says.
There is much, much more that we can do – as individuals, as members of a team, as companies, as an industry and as a society.
Campaign is committed to fighting racism and to change. Because that’s what we expect of our industry. This must be a turning point.
Gideon Spanier is UK editor-in-chief at Campaign