Jobs for the boys

The world moves on, but the creative departments of most ad agencies remain in the Stone Age as far as equal opportunities are concerned. Emma Hall tries to get some answers

The world moves on, but the creative departments of most ad agencies

remain in the Stone Age as far as equal opportunities are concerned.

Emma Hall tries to get some answers

‘So it’s just a short piece then,’ the art director, Tiger Savage, jokes

when told that Campaign is running a feature on women creatives. As one

of only two women in a creative department of 35 at Bartle Bogle

Hegarty, Savage is keenly aware of the gender imbalance in her chosen

field. But she does not feel badly treated by the industry and she still

holds the same ambition at 28 that she started out with at 17 - to be

the creative director of a leading agency.

So why aren’t there more women like her? One explanation is that

agencies have always been dominated by men and a pervasive chauvinism

has resulted. Attitudes range from one creative director’s view: ‘I

don’t mind hiring girlies - period pains don’t bother me,’ to old-school


Robert Campbell, a creative partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe,

says: ‘A lot of creative directors, being the old lechers that they are,

would probably rather hire women.’ But he finds female books often lack

an edge, probably because they are given a softer ride than the men, who

are afraid to shout at them.

Mary Sue Lawrence, part of an all-woman team at Mustoe Merriman Herring

Levy, has encountered just this treatment. She says: ‘Chris Herring

called us ‘the birds’ at first and was embarrassed to hurt our feelings

in case we burst into tears.’

Lawrence and her partner, Rosie Elston, were previously at D’Arcy Masius

Benton and Bowles, where things were worse. DMB&B runs the Procter and

Gamble Always account, and when the duo arrived for their first day at

work there, they found their entire office - desks, screens, ceiling and

chairs - covered in sanitary towels as a greeting.

Sadly, this kind of puerile behaviour is widely accepted. One creative

director, who prefers to remain anonymous, likes to drop his trousers

and press his private parts up against a glass wall as an initiation

ceremony for new creatives.

Liz Whiston, a partner of the HHCL Brasserie, experienced this kind of

sexism when she went up to collect a series of silver Independent

Television Association awards. A senior agency executive on a nearby

table was heard to wonder why the secretary kept being sent up. When

Whiston went up for a gold, he concluded that she must be the PA.

Sadly, most of the men in the industry have a laissez-faire attitude to

this sorry state of affairs. Mark Wnek, executive creative director of

Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, says of his department: ‘It just feels male to

me. There are no niceties,’ and admits that the only way for a woman to

get on is to be tough.

To survive, says Marilyn Baxter, planning director of Saatchi and

Saatchi, women have to believe in their ideas over and above their

relationships with people in the agency, and they have to be prepared to

be unpleasant, unreasonable and uncompromising.

Barbara Nokes, the recently appointed executive creative director at

Grey, puts it bluntly: ‘Your balls are always on the line. Every day you

have to lay your soul bare.’ It takes a lot of ego to survive that, and

women are choosing instead to become account directors or planners,

where mediation, negotiation and understanding are the required skills.

Often, those who make it in creative departments are the women who

conform to the dominant culture. Savage embraces the life, and

confesses: ‘I play pool, go to the pub and don’t shy away from

socialising.’ Lawrence agrees: ‘It is a man’s world and it helps to be

laddish.’ Damien Horner, the business development director at Mustoe

Merriman, reveals: ‘Mary Sue is the one who brings in copies of Loaded

to the office. I often blush in her presence.’ Others, like Mary Wear,

a creative at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, warn against this kind of

stereotyping and as she points out: ‘You don’t have to be rough, there

are plenty of serious lilies doing just as well.’

But however well they fit in, their scarcity inevitably makes pioneers

of the female creatives in most agencies. Women stand out, and are often

treated differently. Kiki Kendrick is reputed to have been given a hard

time at Abbott Mead following her appearance on Blind Date, and has now

moved to Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. And Savage says that her partner, Paul

Silburn, found it hard to handle the amount of publicity she received,

and he has now split with her and moved to Lowe Howard-Spink.

However, there are advantages to being a woman in a man’s world. It gets

you noticed, which can only help when looking for a job. Savage is

convinced that she would not have made it on to the D&AD jury so early

in her career if she had not been a woman. Tony Cullingham, the course

director on the copywriting and art direction course at Watford College,

even goes as far as to say that a female student with a strong book is

likely to find work quicker than a man of the same standard.

Others in the industry agree. Cathy Heng, who was made redundant as head

of art at DMB&B last October, identifies an extra edge that women have -

their perceived ability to understand what clients want, which, she

argues, is becoming increasingly important. It is telling that around 40

per cent of clients who visit the Advertising Agency Register are now

women, which leaves creative departments way behind. Clients are far

more concerned with the effectiveness of their ads than with which

gender has created them. Jan Smith, when she was marketing director at

Mazda, proved a notable exception when she demanded that Howell Henry

Chaldecott Lury put a female creative on the account.

Encouragingly, none of the women interviewed by Campaign claim to have a

problem with stereotyping, and all feel that they are given a fair crack

at a wide range of briefs. Nor are they claiming any politically correct

high ground. Savage admits that she would prefer to team up with a male

partner because: ‘It is good to work with someone who understands the

male point of view and knows about things like football and cars.’

Although it would seem to make sense to have a balanced constituency

creating the ads, having a woman on the team is no guarantee of

producing female-friendly advertising. Conversely, using an all-male

team does not rule out making ads that appeal to women. When Robert

Campbell and his partner, Mark Roalfe, created a series of award-winning

ads for Lil-lets, they got fan-mail assuming that the campaign could

only have been created by women. Campbell says: ‘It should not matter

whether you are a man or a woman, the true test of a good creative

person is their chameleon-like quality, they should be able to slip into

any role.’

Whiston disagrees vehemently. She maintains that men only recognise the

value of work that appeals to other men, and claims that when she was at

Howell Henry, she identified talent in women’s books that her male peers

overlooked. This is despite the fact that most people, including

Whiston, agree that a better gender balance in creative departments

leads to better advertising.

She cites the example of an AA commercial showing a woman suffering

sexist abuse from a car park attendant. The original script had the

heroine openly fighting back, but under Whiston’s influence, the

finished commercial shows the woman dealing realistically with the

situation and walking calmly off to call the AA, rather than stopping to

confront her antagonist.

However, the overall notion of a ‘feminine’ style of creativity is

universally dismissed by both sexes, but equally, greater female input

is coveted by all.

Having said that, Ogilvy and Mather is the only advertising agency to be

a member of Opportunity 2000, a government initiative that actively

encourages the promotion of women. Jane Campbell-Garrett, the agency’s

vice-chairman, says: ‘It is not a feminist, altruistic thing. It is

important for our effectiveness that we have a diverse staff.’

Numbers are not the only consideration, though. Wear warns that the

problem is not how few women there are, but how little recognition their

achievements get, especially when it comes to the D&AD jury, which has

only ten women on its panel of 130 judges.

This ratio represents half the proportion of women in top agencies and

there is a strong feeling that in this one area, positive discrimination

towards women is needed. In most quarters, predictably, there is fierce

resistance to the idea of positive discrimination. Wnek cautions that if

women get too shrill about it, they will encounter a backlash.

Campbell has no great sympathy either. He speaks for many creative

directors when he says that although he would love to hire female

creatives, he is not prepared to stand up and be counted by starting a

one-man crusade on the issue.

This is all very well, but unless somebody takes a real initiative to

encourage women into creative departments, the status quo will remain.

Helen Langridge, of Helen Langridge Associates, advocates addressing the

problem with a dynamic strategy for change, but unfortunately, most of

her peers would prefer to avoid confrontation.

The problem starts at college level, where few women apply to the art

direction and copywriting courses. Tony Cullingham at Watford is

concerned enough to give talks to all-girl schools, and to specify in

his brochure that female students are welcome. He positively

discriminates in favour of female applicants, but still, his class this

year has only eight women out of 35 students.

On the positive side, the women that do complete the course seem to find

no particular difficulty in getting jobs. Creative departments are

meritocracies, and success is about commitment, not gender. Cullingham

is optimistic about change coming from the new generation of creative

directors, now in their 30s, who are not frightened of women.

But until this younger generation of male creative directors is prepared

to do something practical to attract women into their profession, the

valuable resources and talents of over half the population are being


Barbara Nokes, Executive creative director, Grey

Nokes created the famous Levi’s ad, ‘launderette’ (top) with John

Hegarty, and wrote the hard-hitting film for the International Fund for

Animal Welfare, directed by David Bailey (bottom)

Tiger Savage, Art Director, BBH

Savage art directed ‘rock star’ for Polaroid’s latest campaign (far

left) and was even prepared to appear as an actor for Mercury One-2-

One’s mobile phones (left)

Mary Wear, Copywriter, Abbott Mead

Wear was responsible for the herd of Keith Chegwins for Ikea (above

left), and wrote the Visa Delta ad (right)

Liz Whiston, Partner, HHCL Brasserie

Whiston modified the AA film (top) and co-created the celebrated Harry

Enfield series of ads for Mercury (bottom)


How Agencies Compare



          Agency                   Men      Women    Total     % Women

  1       Saatchi and Saatchi       85        15      100        15.0

  2       Abbott Mead Vickers       26         4       30        13.3

  3       J. Walter Thompson        57        19       76        25.0

  4       Ogilvy and Mather         33         9       42        21.4

  5       BMP DDB Needham           31         2       33         6.1

  6       DMB&B                     36         4       40        10.0

  7       McCann-Erickson           27         2       29         6.9

  8       Bates Dorland             34         3       37         8.1

  9       Lowe Howard-Spink         35         2       37         5.4

 10       Grey London               32         7       39        17.9

 11       Publicis                  22         4       26        15.4

 12       Leo Burnett               29         3       32         9.4

 13       Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper     25         1       26         3.9

 14       Bartle Bogle Hegarty      33         2       35         5.7

 15       WCRS                      28         2       30         6.7

 16       APL                       28         3       31         9.7

 17       TBWA                      16         4       20        20.0

 18       Young and Rubicam         12         3       15        20.0

 19       CDP                       12         0       12         0.0

 20       GGT                       14         3       17        17.7

          Total                    615        92      707        13.0