Modernizing Madison Avenue: The importance of agency diversity

As technology and globalization continue to change the corporate landscape, the pursuit of diversity in the agency world is more important than ever to drive creativity and innovation.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, the ad industry itself has been out of sync with the accelerated diversification of the outside world. It was just last year when the American Association of Advertising Agencies released survey data showing that a whopping 74 percent of 4A's members felt agencies were either mediocre or worse when it came to hiring a diverse group of employees.

Over the years, more and more agencies have allocated resources entirely dedicated to ensuring their talent pool is more representative of the increasingly diverse client base we service. Taking a step back, we can see how this shift in the industry’s foundation is now beginning to have a real effect on the culture at agencies across the spectrum. What’s more, we are starting to see it reflected in the client work.

As the industry continues to evolve, it is imperative that we remain committed to living the values that will help us deliver quality results for our diverse range of clients—not by just understanding what diversity means in theory, but by continuing to institute changes that we can actually see.

We know that to truly affect change, it must begin at the top. It’s up to the agency CEOs to set the tone for diversity and inclusion and for senior leadership to help convert ideas into actions. Ogilvy Worldwide Chairman and CEO John Seifert has made diversity and inclusion a core tenet of his transformation strategy for the agency, and women hold nearly half of the positions in the newly appointed Ogilvy USA leadership team. We need even more agencies to take bold actions like this if we want to continue to move the needle beyond just hearing about diversity and inclusion in meetings or reading about it in memos.

And while the agency world has come a long way when it comes to diversity and inclusion, we have a lot more work to do. That’s why it’s so important for agencies to continue partnering with organizations like ColorComm. Its objectives provide a good benchmark that agencies can use to guide us toward the industry’s trajectory—establishing agencies as diverse as the clients we work with and the brands that they represent.

ColorComm, an organization that convenes and supports women of color in marketing and communications, begins its annual conference in Miami today. At the event, Ogilvy will once again open the conference and lead a panel, focusing on the changing landscape of the consumer world, driven largely by globalization, increased fragmentation and digital transformation—and what that means for agencies and their clients today.

It’s that kind of assessment that produced fertile ground for Founder and President Lauren Wesley Wilson to launch ColorComm in 2011. "You really need a support system when you’re navigating your way through communications and it doesn’t happen formally," she told Huffington Post’s Black Voices. "You kind of just have to figure out how to get there on your own."

As agencies, we must remind ourselves that a diverse workforce is the core of effective marketing communications and a critical component of our business. It’s vital that we provide the support that Wilson describes if we want to evolve as an industry that keeps pace with our clients and their brands.

By working closely with organizations like ColorComm, we can help to set the global agenda and challenge the entire industry to recruit and retain a mix of talent at every level. Diversity is the lifeblood of creativity at any agency. And when we really get down to it, it’s the clients and their brands that have the most to gain by ensuring agencies are truly reflective of today’s modern marketing landscape. 

David Ogilvy understood early on why it was critical to have a diverse workforce and pioneered an inclusive culture that has remained a constant virtue at the agency. We are honored to carry on his legacy of leadership and serve as an example toward broader industry transformation.

The world has changed.  Our industry has changed.  As our own agency continues to transform, our goal is to continue to lead by example—igniting an "inclusion revolution" that reverberates throughout the entire agency world.

Jennifer Risi is Ogilvy’s Worldwide Chief Communications Officer and Donna Pedro is Ogilvy’s Worldwide Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free