Commit to Change Check-In: Progress in Ad Agency Diversity

September 10, 2020

You know the feeling of outrage fatigue. It’s a mix of anxiety and exhaustion, coupled with worry and sympathy. People can experience overwhelmed compassion, even when watching a crisis play out from a distance, through the 24-hour cable news cycle or a never ending Twitter scroll.

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There’s plenty to be outraged about, but the mistreatment of black Americans is high on the list. This summer was a continuous cycle of protests and demands for action. We read about how to be anti-racist. We have hard conversations with our parents, friends, and co-workers. But more has to be done.

Consumers have called for advertisers to take a stand and commit to change. Today, companies aren’t punished for being political, they’re punished for being silent. We expect brands and the agencies to use their influence for good, both in their corporate messaging and internal representation. 

Cue 600 & Rising.

The nonprofit aimed at promoting ad agency diversity was founded in June and kicked off an industry-wide conversation around race — calling for every major ad agency to release diversity data and #CommitToChange. Then, Publicis, Wieden+Kennedy, R/GA, and other agencies responded honestly, revealing the beige state of their employee rosters. They reevaluated their diversity efforts through promotions, new hires, and the creation of inclusion task forces and committees. 

After its own internal struggles in August, when president Nathan Young stepped down from the nonprofit after controversial tweets, similar organizations rose to keep momentum. From there, Media Frenzy Global and Obviouslee Marketing launched Act in Solidarity, a 30-60-90 day plan challenging agency leaders to follow through with their promises from June to diversify

These long term check-ins are necessary for growth. Agencies are infamous for putting their clients on a pedestal while often ignoring their own organizational needs — and outrage fatigue can’t stop progress. 

Some agencies have honored their promises to change:

  • The Martin Agency: Named Danny Robinson its first Black Chief Creative Officer.
  • BBDO: Appointed its first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.
  • Dentsu Aegis: Appointed Christena Pyle of Time’s Up its first chief equity officer of the Americas.
  • Havas: Appointed its first North America Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee. 
  • DDB, MiQ, and Barkley: All currently seeking diversity and inclusion execs.
  • Others have tapped consultants to improve the hiring process and overall company culture. 

Another organization, 100 Roses from Concrete, manages requests from agencies to fill diversity and inclusion roles, as well as train employees who have been newly appointed in those roles. Even with internal promotion from interested employees, diversity departments are a brand new venture in which training and deploying staffers to be truly effective will take time.

Some leaders fear that pressuring diversity and inclusion executives to fix systemic issues is problematic. By hyper-focusing on one person to solve a company-wide problem, other employees may defer responsibility, making it impossible for diversity officers to succeed. That’s why some agencies, like Innocean and Muhtayzik / Hoffer are creating internal committees to create, and promote, new policies. 

While top-down pressure for change could slow into Q4, it’s up to consumers, employees, clients, and outside organizations like 600 & Rising, to continue to hold agencies accountable. 

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If you liked this blog post, check out:

  1. Accounts Predicted to Hire Agencies Soon
  2. Prospecting Media Agencies? Here’s What You Need to Know
  3. Worldwide Partners Choose Prudence Over Panic – Interview with CEO John Harris

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