The Diversity Summit

June 30, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How do we turn words into effective action creating a diverse industry?

“We can all feel very smug that we got up for a nine o’clock talk,” joked APA Chief Executive Steve Davies in his introduction to the APA and CFP-E’s Diversity Summit in Cannes last week. And it would be easy to criticise the event as a self-indulgent ego massage for people who make advertising for a living. But what’s harder, and more worthwhile, is to listen to the messages of the six speakers and work on translating them into tangible progress towards equality in the ad industry.

Undoubtedly, there is much progress to be made. As Steve pointed out, advertising is a business in which most people consider themselves liberal and without conscious prejudice, but funnily enough, most of them are still also white, middle class and male. Talking the talk is no longer enough. Action is needed.

Tom Knox

In that vein, Chairman of DLKW Lowe and IPA President Tom Knox took to the stage to discuss the importance of advertising as a force for good as well as for money: “the values as well as the value” of advertising, as he put it. Diversity is a large part of this.

People are worried about discussing these issues, he observed, because they are concerned about their companies looking bad. But honesty and transparency is the best way to start. Companies like Google have led the way by publishing their admittedly less than perfect employment diversity data and Tom insisted that the advertising industry should follow suit, if only to get a solid baseline on which it can build.

The current IPA census data shows that at the beginning of people’s advertising careers the gender split is neutral, but only about 25% of the most senior roles are taken by women. The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) percentages are at about 13% across the IPA membership, which isn’t representative when you consider how many of those agencies are in London.

He revealed that the IPA would publish a league table on the gender splits and BAME percentages of agencies. They also hope to include some salary data, to reveal unfair pay gaps. “I was surprised by the degree to which this has caused a bit of a stir,” he said, but he insisted agencies must be brave.

He explained that it is not an exercise in shaming those that have the lowest number of women in creative roles or ethnic minorities employed etc., but of establishing a benchmark. We expect the same low levels of both to be shown across the industry, so there is no reason for any agency to be concerned about being poorer than the average.

Despite people’s worries, the IPA intends to go ahead with publishing these figures. Once they’re out there, targets can be made, he said. “We must move the dial up.”

Finally, Tom stressed that “this is not just do-gooding.” Employment diversity is vital to making sure the industry is relevant to diverse audiences. It is the only way to succeed as an industry.

Kat Gordon

Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference focused on the small acts everyone can take to promote gender diversity in advertising. Considering the significant consumer power women have, she noted how unproductive it is that they make up such a small percentage of top advertising professionals. When she founded the conference, 3% was the percentage of US creative directors who were female.

“Advertising does not have a recruitment problem,” she said. The portfolio schools are graduating more young women than men. The problem is that they got lost along the way in their careers.

One of the fundamentals of her movement is a document called 50 Things – a list of small ‘microactions’ to move the industry towards diversity.  They are manageable actions that can help to change the culture of an agency to be more welcoming to women.

She also evangelised for the power of ‘manbassadors’ – men who support gender diversity by championing women from their privileged position. “The differences between the genders don’t need to be remedied,” she said. “They need to be celebrated and accommodated.” Engaging men is a big part of the 3% mission.

Kat was the first of the speakers to mention mentorship, which became a huge theme of the summit. She suggested that men in leadership positions are often reluctant to mentor women in less senior positions because they worry about how it would appear. “It seems unsavoury for an older man to invite a younger woman out for lunch.” This needs to change and it is the responsibility of successful men to mentor young women who have the talent to succeed. “You have to get over the fact that people might wink behind your backs,” she said.

Beyond that, an important method is to make successful women in the industry more visible in order to inspire people. “If you’re a female creative director I think it is your obligation to jury an award show,” said Kat. “We cannot complain that it’s mostly male jury here at Cannes if you didn’t throw your hat in the ring.”

Thankfully, things are moving in the right direction. Kat noted that a lack of diversity is seen by agencies as a badge of irrelevance. “If you show up to a pitch with an all white, all male team, clients know what their customers look like and you don’t look like you understand their customer base.”

Sally Campbell

As the co-founder of Somesuch, who won the first Glass Lion this year for the Sport England This Girl Can campaign, directed by Kim Gehrig, and represent six female directors, Sally Campbell is one of the foremost champions for female creativity in film production.

She identified the trouble of keeping women in the industry. Motherhood is the clear difficulty here, because of the pressure that’s put on women to work long hours and to travel so much. “There has to be some kind of action to ensure women can be mothers as well,” she said. She suggested more mothers being brave enough to demand time to be mothers, to normalise the fact that women can work in advertising and have children at the same time.

Moving on to class and racial diversity, she admitted “we really suck at that.” Having told her story in a rather self-deprecating way as a series of mistakes and failures, she ended with a point: “A reinvented myself and you all believe me. And the reason you all believe me is because I’m white and middle class. Even though I was a fuck-up, ultimately I was a safe fuck-up because I have the white, middle-class thing to fall back on.”

Those who don’t have those privileges have far less chance of succeeding. “What if you don’t even know that there are fantastic jobs in advertising for you?” she asked.

The answer isn’t complicated, but it is hard. Sally insisted we all have a responsibility to look around at less privileged communities and do our best to help people from them in starting careers.

With the APA, Sally is working with councils in London on creating an internship scheme, encouraging every company in the industry to take between one and three interns a year from underprivileged and minority ethnic backgrounds.

But it has to be done the right way. “We can’t give them a job as a runner,” she said. “If you tell me to make you a cup of tea I’ll make you a cup of tea. If you say that to someone from a pretty rough background they’ll tell you to fuck off and make your own tea and you won’t see them again.”

The important thing is to discover the role that best suits their temperament and interests – 3D VFX for a kid who plays video games (“and maybe smokes a bit of weed”), working with a director for a kid who’s very creative, or alongside an executive producer for a bossy kid. “It’s about ensuring that that kid is learning and knows that they’ve got a chance because there is a job for everyone in this industry.”

Michelle Matherson

Production talent executive Michelle Matherson spoke briefly about how she came to end up in her current job at Shiver, the factual production arm of ITV Studios, detailing how she had to be pushy and determined to get there.

Many companies tried to focus on diversity years ago by recruiting people from minority ethnic backgrounds, but one problem she pointed out was that they didn’t last because as soon as these recruits made a mistake they lost their jobs. “For most companies that was it,” she said. “They did their bit, it didn’t work out and that was that.” The responsibility is to nurture, support and mentor young people and to bear with them when they make mistakes. She noted the importance of letting young people “fuck up occasionally.”

At ITV all the executives receive ‘unconscious bias training’ in order for everyone to question their perceptions. We all have biases, she said “and once you know what your particular bias is, that’s when you can start to address it.”

Another initiative ITV use is MAMA Youth, a training programme to equip young people from BAME, disadvantaged backgrounds with the skills to go into TV and the media. At the end of the course people like Michelle look at the people it has helped and cherry pick the best for their companies. Michelle did it herself a few weeks ago, proving that these kinds of works are creating a more diverse industry.

Finally, she admitted that we recruit naturally in our own image, but that in order to make any progress we have to take chances with some people.

Henrik Eriksson

As Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association, Henrik Eriksson has been on the frontline in the fight against the gender imbalance. As a producer who runs a production company, his focus is naturally on the lack of female directors – a struggle that goes back many years.

“Almost all commercials are directed by men,” he stated. Less than 10 per cent of directors are female. From that starting point, the Swedish associations decided to introduce an award to their Roy Awards show to give to the person, organisation or company who has made the biggest difference to getting more female directors working.

“Nothing really happened,” Henrik admitted. “There was a lot of talk in the media and the industry but the numbers were still the same.” He admitted it was boring to have to hand out the prize year after year without seeing much concrete change.

In 2014 Henrik’s association came up with a new approach – a new pitch recommendation called One of Three, meaning every pitch for an advertising film must include at least one woman. It was launched last Autumn together with the Swedish Association of Communication Agencies.

The impact is yet to be seen. “We should talk again in five years to see what’s happened,” he said, but production companies began signing female directors to their rosters as soon as they found out about the new guideline.

Henrik next moved onto ethnic diversity with a story:

We won the pitch on this film for a French agency and an international client.

We were planning to shoot the film in Stockholm. We were told to have a very clear presentation in all details so we went down to Paris for the PPM. Two hours before the client arrived we went through all the slides – a massive folder – we showed the location pictures, casting, editing examples, photography, animatronics, everything and the last slide of 50 was just a big screen of 50 mugshots of extras to show how we create Paris in Stockholm in the street. It was a mix of people, exactly how it looks when I look out [at the audience] now.

The account director on that slide said ‘It won’t happen. You can’t show that slide.’

‘OK. You don’t want us to show the extras?’

‘No. The client will not accept it.’

‘Why is that?’

‘He doesn’t want the black people to be in the film.’

That’s a really tough comment.

‘We don’t agree with you but secondly for the film’s purpose we need to have diversity in this film. If we take them out it’s going to look like Finland.’

It went to a big discussion in French and my French producer was talking for ten minutes. This was really tough, hardcore French. I didn’t understand it. But ending in English as the last sentence saying ‘It’s because of you French advertising films look like shit. We will not shoot the film if we don’t have these people in the film.’

‘Great. Then you’re not shooting the film.’

Five minutes before the PPM starts.

‘Can we leave that subject and take out that slide just for five minutes? And take the subject again after the client’s left?’


The client arrives and he’s black.

Henrik pointed out that these moments still happen and they are why diversity is so important to fight for. “Whatever we create will become a reference for how the world looks like.”

Trevor Robinson, OBE

Being a black man marks Quiet Storm’s Founder and Executive Creative Director Trevor Robinson out from most top creatives. He took to the stage as the Diversity Summit’s final speaker to tell his story.

He grew up in Clapham, the youngest of four kids. He described the area as quite rough, but he was lucky to have the protection of his older brothers. “My mum was amazing. She looked after us and worked really, really hard,” he said.

With nobody around him working in a creative job, his decision to go into a creative industry was a surprise. “The only icons I was really aware of were fighters or footballers,” he said.

When he suggested to the careers officer that he wanted to do something creative – to be an illustrator or a fashion designer – “she smiled and said ‘maybe think of another career. Maybe a bus driver or something?’ I got quite angry about that, but used it to form an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude.”

The insecure, bitchy environment he found when he got to college confused him, having grown up somewhere that “if somebody didn’t like you they’d just punch you in the face – very instant and very honest.”

After being on the dole for a long time, Trevor and his creative partner Al Young – “a seemingly aggressive Scottish man” – would repeatedly get rejected at interviews. They didn’t even get a placement. His only theory is that they made people uncomfortable.

Eventually they got into HHCL, who allowed Trevor and Al to make the ads they’d like to see. Out of that came their famous Tango ad. “That is totally a little Scotsman and a black guy having a laugh,” he said. “I think if you get the right people in with the right mindset you can do things that will really resonate with people.”

People are comfortable with people that are like themselves, he observed, but he felt his background allowed him to bring something different to the table. He attributes his success to being able to see things differently, and from a perspective closer to the people advertising is addressing.

Quiet Storm’s creative department is as female as it is male, and the agency contains many different nationalities. “We’ve got all sorts of people working at our company which I think makes us an incredibly strong agency,” he said.

“I thought when I first came in the gates would open,” he said. “I felt positive about the industry changing because I thought it made sense bringing the most talented people from whatever diverse backgrounds and you will get something different and powerful and will resonate.”

But as Head of Diversity for the IPA and later as the Chairman, Trevor got sick of everyone patting each other on the back without anything changing. He began to feel frustrated with the lack of progress.

He went back to his school and got kids to come up with an ad on the subject of knife and gun crime. This became the film competition Create Not Hate, the winning film of which was directed by a young ex gang member. Trevor’s very proud of the project. “I felt it was one of the best projects I’ve ever done in advertising.”

With this positive attitude towards taking action on diversity, the advertising industry can make an impact on its gender, ethnic and class profile. The overarching message from all the speakers is that change won’t come from one far-reaching initiative or campaign, but through the combination of everyone who cares taking the actions available to them, no matter how small.


The APA has some practical measures to announce that will enable APA members who are concerned with these issues to contribute to improving them. Details will be announced shortly.

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