The news yesterday that Deutsch had simultaneously hired two new chief creative officers — Jason Bagley in Los Angeles and Dan Kelleher in New York — didn’t come as much of a surprise. It had been eight months since NY CCO Kerry Keenan left the agency, and more than a year since former LA CCO Pete Favat was elevated to North American CCO, leaving the LA role empty. Someone needed to fill those jobs, and Bagley and Kelleher seem like a natural fit.
The surprising part was that Deutsch, an agency long associated with female leaders, had become the latest shop to present a photo of its senior leadership that featured nothing but white men. And it wasn’t just yesterday: Out of five senior hires the Interpublic Group agency has made in 2016, every one has been male and white. And three of those hires — chief technology officer Trevor O’Brien, chief strategy officer Andrew Dawson and Kelleher — will now form what Deutsch calls its "three-pronged leadership" team in New York, meaning the office’s go-to-market strategy will be dominated by white men.
Fifteen years ago, no one may have noticed. But in 2016, issues of diversity in advertising have taken on a new urgency. The JWT discrimination lawsuit, the Campbell Ewald "ghetto day" email, the Bloomingdale’s ad about "spiking her eggnog." There’s a reason that Nancy Hill, CEO of the Association of American Advertising Agencies, opened the group’s annual gathering in March with an emotional speech admonishing agency leaders, "If you're the CEO, you are the chief diversity officer."
On Wednesday, Deutsch Chairman Linda Sawyer and Favat answered questions about the job search, Deutsch’s record of diversity and the struggle to find good talent.
You are fresh off the process of hiring two new CCOs, both of whom ended up being white men. Any thoughts on why this process so often ends up arriving at the same conclusion?
Pete Favat: It’s a long process, with a lot going on. A large portion of the work we do for clients is tech and digital, so if there is one major filter that we are looking for with candidates, it’s someone who has a balance between understanding the digital and being well-versed in more — I hate to say traditional — but storytelling type of work. We talked to a lot of people, and there are people who are very strong digitally but don’t have a very strong sense of TV or traditional mediums, or vice versa. We go into it looking for someone who is a bridge builder between technology and traditional mediums. That’s the first filter.
The second filter is simple: Are they nice people? Do they respect people? They’re not going to come in and be a complete jerk. It’s a simple process, but finding the right people was extremely difficult
Linda Sawyer: We have always had a lot of women in management and in our organization. If you look at our senior leadership, we’re at like 58% women, and if you look at our organization overall, we’re over 50% women, as well as around 50% in our creative department.
When you talk about the notion of talent having no gender, that cuts both ways — this was about finding the right people, and it happened that the two people we landed on with the right skill set and chemistry happened to, in this case, be men.
How many candidates did you speak to overall?
Favat: We spoke to about 20 people. It is interesting, because we’re fully aware of the importance of all this, but never does it run through our mind that we need to hire a woman, or we need to hire an African American, or we need to hire a man. That’s never part of the process. We keep an eye on the overall picture of the company. But we never go into it saying we need to fill this position with a specific gender, nor would our clients ask us to do that. It’s more important to get the right talent and the right person in the job.
But diversity among senior creative leadership is such a specific issue. So doesn’t it sometimes make sense to say, ‘These are CCO positions. We really do need to look for someone with a different point of view"?
Favat: A different point of view doesn’t mean a different gender or a different race. A different point of view can be anybody. So yeah, we definitely look for different points of view and people who have skill sets that are more modern than anybody else. But I don’t know if I’d say if a woman would have a different point of view than a man would, so I don’t know if that’s ever a part of it.
Deutsch has made five senior hires this year, all of whom have been white men. That is something of a trend, no?
Favat: I don’t know if it’s a trend. We’ve hired new people but we’ve also promoted females into senior positions. We’ve promoted people like Kim Getty in LA to president [Jan 2015] and Pam Scheideler is now chief digital officer of LA [Feb 2016]. I’ll also say that In LA, from a CD standpoint, we have promoted six women up to senior level roles as creative directors.
I think what happens is, the photo dictates so much these days. We even wrestle with that — do we include a photo or not? It’s that one photograph in that one moment that makes it look that way. But when we promote someone to a CD, there’s no photo, there’s no story. So in some ways maybe we should start writing stories that these people are getting promoted.
So beyond the picture, there was no discussion about the need to find something other than two white men to fill these roles?
Favat: No, because, I don’t think any of us look at somebody as a white person or a black person or a woman or an African American. We look at people as, Do they have the talent and the skill set to take on this role? And also a person who clients just adore. We look at that and say, "Who would fit that role?"
Sawyer: I think your question is very apropos for an organization where you look across the board at senior leadership and it’s predominantly white men. That is a seriously missed opportunity. We’re very fortunate that because we do have such a well-balanced organization from top to bottom, we can just focus on bringing in the right talent. Yet we do believe in the whole notion of diversity of thought, and I think it’s paid off very well.
But in New York, the three prongs of your go-to-market strategy are all represented by white men. No concern that a client will see that and question how you will reach different groups of people with three guys who look the same?
Favat: Actually they don’t look the same at all. Dan is completely bald, Trevor is like a 7' tall Irishman, and Andrew is like a 5’6" guy from Brooklyn. [Laughter] They don’t look anything alike actually.
They also report to Val Difebo and Linda Sawyer. I don’t know, I don’t walk around saying all white men look alike. We just look at people as individuals.
Your head of diversity in New York, Felicia Geiger, was recently let go. Are you eliminating the position?
Vonda LePage, EVP, director of communications: We’re eliminating the position. One of the philosophies we lean into is that everybody at Deutsch, from the CEO to the receptionist, owns diversity. And we wanted to really make sure that everybody was stepping up and owning it. And by having one person who owned it, which is what that role was, kind of took the responsibility off everybody else. And so now our diversity efforts are spread much more through, not just HR departments, but other departments.