Should brands push agencies to meet diversity targets for staff?

HP: joins General Mills and Verizon in instructing agencies to become more diverse
HP: joins General Mills and Verizon in instructing agencies to become more diverse

Clients could force well-intentioned agencies to make good on their word, Matthew Chapman writes.

Agencies like to talk the talk about improving diversity within the ad industry, but too many have been slow to walk the walk. 

If anything, the industry’s reputation around diversity has worsened this year following the sexism row that cost Kevin Roberts his job at Saatchi & Saatchi and the resignation of J Walter Thompson’s Gustavo Martinez over allegations of racist and sexist comments.

Airbnb chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall hit out at how "white" Cannes was this year, lamenting how he was the only black person at the dinners he attended. It is such clients who could force agencies’ hands when it comes to addressing a lack of diversity. 

Verizon, HP and General Mills have already called for better representation, specifically of women and ethnic minorities, at their agencies. 

There is a similar trend in the UK. Suki Thompson, chief executive of Oystercatchers, says her intermediary has started to include diversity information in agency profiles "so that marketers have better in-formation to inform their decisions". She says: "It couldn’t be any clearer to our industry – it’s time to proactively find the new guard of talent from all walks of life to work within marketing."

The IPA wants 40% of senior agency positions to be filled by women, and 15% by people from non-white backgrounds, by 2020. The body recommends members take diversity lessons from other industries.

Media owners, particularly in TV, are leading the way. Channel 4 has launched its 360° Diversity Charter, which requires 20% of staff to be from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background by 2020. 

Dan Brooke, chief marketing and communications officer at Channel 4, says: "The creative and commercial benefits of a diverse workforce are indisputable and we encourage our partners to head for the promised land too."

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have also drawn up the Diamond diversity reporting guidelines, which require production companies to disclose diversity information about their staff.

The challenge is to throw the recruitment net wider as people from ethnically diverse and less well-off backgrounds might not even be applying for jobs. 

Lots of agencies are being proactive. Omnicom Media Group, whose clients include Channel 4, has set up OMG Ethnic, a multicultural consultancy. 

Jane Asscher, chief executive of independent agency 23red, says brands should make sure they get their own house in order before criticising others.


 Suki Thompson
Chief executive, Oystercatchers

"Diversity needs a collaborative push across the industry with brands and agencies hiring diverse talent to connect with our diverse population. We should be opening up opportunities to everyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from."


 Sathnam Sanghera
Chairman, Creative Access

"We work with every possible media sector at Creative Access, and agencies are by far the worst at making any meaningful change. We meet them all the time; they talk the talk, and even arrange events with our interns, but then do nothing."


 Sam Phillips
UK managing director, OMG Ethnic

"Clients shining a light on agencies’ diversity progress is welcome as it will keep everyone’s focus on this vitally important area. Doing so makes sense from both the talent and commercial perspectives."


 Jane Asscher
Chief executive, 23red

"The IPA has set agencies ambitious targets on diversity to achieve by 2020 and agencies that don’t currently meet these are making robust plans to do so. In my view, brands should focus on getting their own houses in order"

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