Stand up and be counted: adland needs to go all in on census
A view from Gemma Charles

Stand up and be counted: adland needs to go all in on census

Support is growing for the "All In" survey, but there are still some surprising absences.

I have always liked the idea of the census – that on one day every 10 years we try to get a real picture of the composition of the nation, which then goes on to feed into policy, services and public discourse.

There is something heartwarming about the notion of citizens doing their duty by standing up and being counted.

The Office for National Statistics’ inclusive campaign, “It’s about us”, for Census 2021 on 21 March captures this spirit perfectly. Created by M&C Saatchi, it features 200 members of the public from England and Wales and has been developed in 44 languages, which says something about the magnitude of the effort. The agency says it’s aimed at helping people “recognise the power of data and statistics to improve lives”.

While it’s on a much smaller scale, a recognition of the power of data is behind the industry census taking place on 10 March. Under the “All In” banner, the Advertising Association, the IPA and ISBA have united to encourage employees at their member organisations to complete an online survey. The data, collected anonymously, covering gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation and pay will form part of an industry action plan.

At the time of writing, Dentsu, Havas and Publicis Groupe were among those agency groups backing All In. There are a few surprising absences from the list so far, but peer pressure may ensure they come on board.

While there is still more we could know about agency staff, efforts such as the IPA’s “This is Adland” survey and Campaign’s own School Reports have shone a light on some important trends like the dearth of black, Asian and minority ethnic leaders.

But what of the brand-side marketers? It’s hard to think of any equivalent work led by the marketing community. Preferring to focus on what it viewed as “bread and butter” advertiser issues, ISBA has been behind the curve on championing diversity, so hopefully its members – which represent about 3,000 brands – will take part. Well done, Asda, Nationwide and Unilever for signing up quickly.

Marketers have rightly begun to use their purchasing power to effect change, with some insisting that agencies meet certain diversity criteria before they will work with them. However, it’s fair to wonder whether their departments would pass the thresholds they are using to judge their prospective partners. In many cases, probably not is my hunch, but this is conjecture until there’s some hard data.

Committing his colleagues to “All In”, Jerry Daykin, senior media director, EMEA, at GSK, said: “We cannot expect our agencies and partners to take this action if we don’t do the same ourselves.” While he was talking about the survey, it’s surely a sentiment that can be applied right across the diversity landscape.

Progress should be made before there is a complete picture – a lack of data is a poor excuse for inaction – but knowing where you are in the first place makes it easier to move forward.

So the next time you’re asked to complete what seems like yet another diversity and inclusion survey, don’t let it drift into that deadzone area of your inbox where emails go to be forgotten. Instead, fill it in.

Gemma Charles is deputy editor of Campaign