A call for adland to be braver: Fear stifles progress

If you're wondering whether we've gotten there... the answer is a hard 'no.'

Tell us about one thing that's happened recently that leads you to believe that there's still a problem?
Fear. Lately, I’ve had too many people of all ages and job levels in the industry tell me they’re scared to comment on a story, write an op-ed about a controversial topic or take a stand publicly for an issue they believe in. 

I was having coffee with someone recently who is 65-plus years old and that individual chatted for a long time about ageism in adland, so I suggested the person pen an op-ed about it. "Oh, no way. I don’t want the industry to know my age and view me as old," the person said. 

But isn’t this the whole problem? 

Campaign US also has young people - rising stars - telling us they’re afraid to talk openly at work about issues like mental health, diversity and inclusion, work-life balance or even finances. Some have said they’re not allowed to proactively pitch journalists any story ideas or opinion pieces because the agencies want to be in control of where the messages come from and who is in the limelight.

Maybe it’s time to lose a bit of that control in favor of change. 

And when it comes to "white men," I’ve had dozens tell me as of late that they are "uncomfortable" being quoted in stories now - especially those centered on gender diversity and inclusion - since they’ve "long been part of the industry’s imbalance."

This isn’t the answer either. We need all parties involved if we want a truly inclusive industry. 

How about something that proves we're making progress? 

I’m proud to see the agencies, brands and industry organizations that are championing the voices of young people and the underrepresented - and I’d love to see more of this.

In the last couple of months, I’ve had a few marketers and agencies tell me they’ve been giving up their tickets to awards galas or conferences to staffers who have never had the chance to attend such events. Kudos to that. Keep making room for the next generation of talent.

O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul told Campaign US last week that they’ve been proactively holding talks with employees during intense pitches and productions to ensure they’re maintaining a healthy work-life balance and that they’re in a good mental state. The agency wants to take the taboo out of talking about mental health, as does Berlin Cameron Leader Jen DaSilva, who has even held a half-day conference on the topic.

David & Goliath’s "Brave Stage" for interns helps young people tap into their inner bravery by allowing them to stand up in front of the shop and share a piece of themselves - from a talk about personal challenges they’ve overcome to a dance performance to a song they’ve written. 

And Shelly Zalis, leader of The Female Quotient leader, has done a phenomenal job of including a wide range of people on her panels and discussions at industry events, including rising stars, industry leaders, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and, yes, even white men. 

What else needs to be done to get there?  

We need more bravery. If you’re passionate about an important topic in the industry, like ageism or mental health awareness, odds are someone else feels similar, so share those thoughts. If you have questions, ask them. Regardless of your skin color or whether you identify as a man or woman or trans, don’t be too scared to get involved in tough conversations. We need every voice at the table and sitting out is a waste.  

Fear stifles progress. If we want the entire industry - its work and talent - to shine brighter, then we need everyone to be bolder. 

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