Nancy Hill kicks off 4A's with tough love for industry

Opening remarks at the 2016 Transformation Conference set the tone with frank talk about fraud, diversity and the "elephant in the room"

MIAMI — It was the "pink elephant in the room." Nancy Hill, president and CEO of the 4A’s, wasted no time addressing the gender diversity issues raised by the suit against J. Walter Thompson in her opening remarks at the 4A’s Transformation Conference this morning.

"We need to do more to promote gender equality, so that the agency environment is safe and fair and something that we can all be proud of," she said just minutes into her opening speech. "Let’s hold up a mirror and have a frank discussion about what’s working and not working."

Hill’s remarks addressed the most critical issues facing the industry, including ad fraud, transparency between clients and agencies, and talent retention and diversity. And she challenged the audience to create change.

"Real change has to start with you. It has to start at the top. That means if you are the CEO, you are the chief diversity officer," she said. "Look at salaries. Is there a gap? If there is, fix it. Men, you must be part of the conversation. You have to start the conversation."

While Hill did not specifically mention the JWT suit, in which chief communications director Erin Johnson accused now-former chairman and CEO Gustavo Martinez of racist and sexist behavior, she did point to an article in AdAge today that discusses the industry’s diversity issues raised by the controversial lawsuit.

"While disturbing, [it] raises the discourse of gender and racial inequality to a new level, and that’s one positive outcome," she said. "Unfortunately, the alleged behavior does happen. And it happens more frequently than we think."

The 4A’s president began her rousing speech with a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Belgium, and then launched the conversation by sharing her personal motivation in her job leading the advertising agency trade organization. "I love this industry. It’s always been very, very good to me, and it’s the reason I took this job," she said. "I am happy to represent an industry I’m very proud of."

However, she said, the industry has come under fire of late. "Right now to some of you, it might not feel like the industry that you love. It might feel that there is usual amount of negative public discourse and headlines that threatens to tarnish our industry," she said. "There is perception, and there is reality."

While there is "an excitement across our industry, of exploring new territories, a brave new world that is driven by new technologies and new approaches that reward innovation," the industry has to "do a better job in proving our value to marketers." She challenged agencies to stop giving away ideas, to do more to retain and nurture the industry’s best talent, "so that we can encroach on the industries that are encroaching on us," she said. And to make sure "we are doing everything we can in power to make sure we are having the most trusting, transparent conversations with our clients so others cannot paint us with a very broad and dirty brush."

Hill also didn’t shy away from discussing the 4A’s own headline-making affairs, citing the recent disagreement between the 4A’s and the ANA about how to release shared transparency guidelines. Senior executives from both organizations "spent hundred of hours getting those guidelines just right and in the end a disagreement over language and timing of the release prompted us to issue them independently," she said. However, she stressed, that divergence of opinion "did not indicate that collaboration won’t come later because it will."

Hill ended her 10-minute talk on a positive note, pointing to all the great work the industry has created, campaign that represent great strides in representing diversity, female empowerment and the "real modern" family, including work from Cambpell’s Soup, the Ad Council’s "Love has no labels" campaign and Always "Like A Girl."

"This is an unprecedented time, and we all agree there is more work to do," she said. "I am confident we will do the right thing and move this industry forward. That’s the community I know and love."

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