Clients must help create a better adland

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Campaign's global EIC says clients must participate in conversations about workplace fundamentals

Because it’s fashionable to talk about these things now, an agency CEO was telling me recently about a very senior, very smart colleague who’d just come back from having a child and asked to go on a four-day-week contract.

No problem. Four days of them is worth five (more, really) of some of their peers. And, anyway, no one that good clocks in and out of their job; they might get paid for four days but, frankly, they’re working much longer.

Win-win, then. Except that the executive’s main client decided that, actually, after very careful consideration of the implications, they weren’t entirely comfortable having a part-timer running their business; they wanted a "full-on and committed" account director. Of course, you don’t need to be full-on to be committed, but the agency shares the business with a rival shop, and the person running the account over there is apparently full-time and committed, and hungry for the whole business.

The client (empowered no doubt by the size of their budget) demanded that their account director return to full-time work. "Or else…" was implied.

It’s a familiar enough story, and one that highlights how thoroughly inadequate it is for agencies to debate fundamental issues such as employment terms, diversity or women in management without bringing the client community fully into the conversation. It’s too easy to duck the big challenges if being worried about client reaction is a comfortable excuse. In fact, clients need to demand that their agencies follow best practice when it comes to flexible working, recruiting a diverse workforce, promoting more women.

Full credit to Engine’s Robin Wight, then, for corralling clients as well as agencies to get behind his Ideas Foundation, which aims to nurture creative talent among inner-city children. In case you thought Wight was jumping on the current (hopefully long-lasting) fashion for supporting diversity, he has actually been nagging the ad industry for more than a decade about it.

Quite possibly the most persistent man in advertising, Wight is slowly but doggedly beating the rest of us into submission. And thank goodness for that, because it takes someone with his indefatigable, Teflon-coated determination to change things, not worrying too much about who’s irritated along the way.

The Ideas Foundation, now a national initiative in the UK, is starting to make a difference; it’s testament to the positive change that occurs when all sides of the industry push together. If Wight is looking to expand his diversity programme, can I suggest a drive to increase the number of over-50s in the business? There certainly aren’t enough of them and, as Wight has proved, they can be a catalyst for positive change.

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.

This article first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.

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