Why Lewis Hamilton is  prepared for agency life
A view from Arif Durrani

Why Lewis Hamilton is prepared for agency life

It's awkward question time: What do Lewis Hamilton, President Obama and 1.3 per cent of the UK's advertising and media agency workforce have in common?

The IPA’s latest annual census provides a revealing snapshot of modern agency life. In many respects, it charts a thriving business sector, albeit a young one – with the average age in media of just 31.

But in a week when a one-time boy racer from Stevenage became the first British driver in more than 40 years to win the Formula One championship twice, the lack of diversity in advertising continues to loom large.

Only 2.7 per cent of staff today describe themselves as black, 3.7 per cent Asian and 1.3 per cent, like Obama and Hamilton, mixed. At board level, these small numbers all but disappear completely. In fairness, the IPA has launched some notable initiatives designed to increase diversity, not least its Creative Pioneers programme, but it will take time to reach the upper echelons.

On becoming the first businesswoman to top the Powerlist 100, MediaCom’s Karen Blackett noted how, when she started in media, the industry was predominantly made up of white, middle-class men. Twenty years later and little has changed, she told the Telegraph – among the top tiers, at least.

For Hamilton, who is nothing short of a pioneer, being the first and only "black" driver to break into racing’s elite, the situation would be all too familiar.

'On many fronts, media shops are the agencies of the future. So why, then, a continual crisis in confidence?'

The case is simple. A more diverse workforce brings wider experiences and skillsets. For an industry built on understanding and connecting with audiences, the more it can relate to society the better.

Elsewhere, the census highlights that media agencies have never been so popular. Staff levels have risen 17.2 per cent year on year to 8,346, up nearly 50 per cent since 2010.

In many respects, media agencies are in a strong position heading into 2015. The undisputed experts in navigating today’s complex, fragmented media landscape, they are data-savvy and insight-heavy, making them, on many fronts, the agencies of the future. So why, then, a continual crisis in confidence?

That the IPA felt the need to host its first Know the Value of Media event last week is telling in itself.

There is still plenty of work to be done by many advertisers to shift the perception of media as buying shops, first and foremost.

Of course, buying is essential, but, when a client such as Sainsbury’s decides that its award-winning media "supplier" should be reviewed as part of an efficiency drive, yet baulks at the idea of doing similar with its ad account, you know that procurement has taken over.