‘You need collaborative action’: ANA’s Bob Liodice on diversity and brands

‘You need collaborative action’: ANA’s Bob Liodice on diversity and brands

As the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Masters of Marketing conference continues in Orlando, one of the big issues swirling about the industry is that of diversity and inclusion. Long a topic that has had its ebbs and flows — and starts and stops — the ANA recently announced the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM), an effort to engage marketers to help them reach their full potential and hit diversity-related targets.

The call for greater diversity in advertising and marketing has been accelerated by brands. General Mills and HP now demand that agencies that pitch business have better gender and cultural representation.

"If you are going to put people you serve first, the most important thing is to live up to it and make it a key criteria,” General Mills CMO Anne Simonds said last month.

HP has gone as far as to signal that agencies that don’t meet their criteria could be removed from the roster altogether. CMO Antonio Lucio said that incumbent agencies must show how they are remedying the problem within 30 days of his initial memo back in September.

For years, the industry has grappled with making diversity a priority. But it appears that those who hold the keys, brands, have finally had enough and are forcing agencies and holding companies to actually do something about it.

Bob Liodice, ANA president and CEO, pointed to industry change as a contributing factor to a level of inaction.

“As the industry has evolved over the, I will call it, past five years, we’ve been focusing on technology, social media, mobile marketing, all the fancy bells and whistles,” said Liodice. “Some of the focus on effective brand building and particularly, our respect and devotion towards the multi-cultural segments, were beginning to become inconsistent and diminished.”

Further, consolidation in both the agency and media side could be a contributing factor. As holding companies, for example, acquired multicultural shops, the day-to-day business of integrating them into the wider purview ironically pushed the diversity conversation to the side.

Additionally, marketers, especially CMOs, are stretched beyond their limits and staff contraction isn’t helping matters. Simply put, it could be about bandwidth to pay attention to the issue in a meaningful way.

Another contributing factor relates to the silos, or pockets of companies and brands who are making real efforts, with Liodice noting that if that it’s critical to break them down.

“You can’t really hang your hat too much on a couple of efforts here, there and everywhere,” said Liodice. That said, Liodice pointed out that it’s clear who holds the cards.

“Usually, most things don’t take place unless the marketers say they should take place or embrace it.”

From talk to action

For his part, Liodice noted that ANA has been making efforts, but aren’t catching the critical mass to make as much of a difference as he would like. At the ANA’s recent Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference in Los Angeles, the organization recognized achievement. The ANA also has a multicultural marketing committee. But Liodice acknowledged that the time has come to transition from just talk about diversity to action.

“We’ve been talking about this for quite a long time,” noted Liodice. He and a colleague, at the Los Angeles event, recalled an earlier conversation, around five years ago, around the issue to diversity in marketing.

“It jolted me to think that is was that long ago,” said Liodice. “The concept was that we have been talking about it but just ‘never got around to placing the emphasis on it that it needed’.”

Transitioning from just talking to real action is something that Liodice cares deeply about. Part of the group that formed AdColor 10 years ago, the ANA parted ways after five years because they didn’t necessarily see much change.

“It was really out of frustration — we thought we were tired of going almost nowhere, lamented Liodice. “It was a lot of great enthusiasm — still is. The organization is in existence, but I’m not sure what progress it’s leading to and so we left that and went back to the drawing board.”

The “drawing board” led to the formation of AIMM, engaging a number of senior leaders including Gilbert Dávila and Lisette Arsuaga of Dávila Multicultural Insights (DMI) in Los Angeles and Carlos Santiago, president of Santiago Solutions Group (SSG) based in Florida and the Los Angeles area. They will sit on the board while Liodice and Michael Lacorazza, EVP, brand and advertising-integrated marketing at Wells Fargo will act as co-chairs.

The response to AIMM has been positive so far and, at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference, Liodice is hoping for a wider swath of marketers to get on board. Walmart recently joined the effort and it remains to be seen who will join the growing chorus of brands demanding significant change — but all signals point to support and greater involvement.

“If we have enough interested in loyal parties [embracing multicultural marketing], then I think we’ll generate the critical force necessary to advance this in a very meaningful way that more and more brands will embrace,” noted Liodice.

Change is a marathon, not a sprint

Liodice has no illusions that this will be a quick fix, nor is he or the ANA overselling what can be done in the short term but, after around eight months of conversation and preparation in building AIMM, he feels confident that a foundation is being set to create some real action. This isn’t necessarily about penultimate moments but rather an effort to impart consistent inclusion.

“Most of these things are relatively modest progression over time and the key is to build a core foundation, a solid organization and a business system that embraces and advances inclusion on an ongoing basis, so that our arms open up wider and wider and we get a round of voices to get things done, and expand the product and service portfolio and attention against multicultural marketing,” said Liodice.

Research plays a critical role as well. McKinsey, in their 2015 Diversity Matters research indicated that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians” and that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

Broadly, there is an argument that diversity does, in fact, impact business but within the advertising and marketing industry, the impact of multicultural representation in marketing and workforce is still unclear — though Unilever has reported progress as it relates to gender representation as has the ANA with their Alliance for Family Entertainment research.

“It’s not yet permeated in the industry, and our ability to embrace a total market strategy, which is what all of this is based on, I think is still spotty and not necessarily embedded in the core strategies,” said Liodice.

With that in mind, Liodice continues to press the agenda so that the industry and marketers can “crystalize the vision so that we all understand what that light at the end of the tunnel really looks like.”

And it falls back to the remit of the ANA in the first place.

“We recognize that we have a responsibility and accountability to the marketplace for a variety of things,” said Liodice. “Part of our mission statement is literally to help shape the future of advertising and marketing.”

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