Cindy Gallop on holding company heads and diversity: 'They've got absolutely no intention of changing anything'

Cindy Gallop at 3% Conference. Photography by Bronac McNeill

The people at the very top of the advertising industry have no intention of changing the status quo when it comes to diversity, according to Cindy Gallop.

Speaking to The Drum ahead of her closing keynote at the 3% Conference, the founder of Make Love Not Porn said the male holding company heads were conspicuous in their absence at the two-day event in New York.

"All the people who should be here that aren't, should be here. Where are the heads of the holding companies? Where are the global chief execs of agencies in our industry? Where are the white men? If they take diversity seriously, they should have turned out in their hundreds to attend this conference. And they haven't."

Gallop said that she is frustrated at being asked what can be done about the diversity issue (in her opening keynote at the conference, she said the industry should stop using the word altogether), and said the question should be put to those at the top.

"Quite frankly, I am very fed up of being asked 'So Cindy, what do we do about diversity?' This is what they should be doing. They should be here. John Wren, Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy, where are they?

"During that Kevin Roberts debacle earlier this year I issued a public invitation to Maurice Lévy to come and speak at the 3% Conference. That would have been the perfect opportunity for Publicis Groupe to show how seriously they take diversity. Spectacularly and bizarrely, Maurice is not here speaking at the 3% Conference. What does that say?"

She also criticised Publicis Groupe and Saatchi & Saatchi for failing to respond to her tweet or engage with her on social media or otherwise during the Kevin Roberts scandal.

However, when The Drum reached out to Publicis Groupe for comment on the claim, a spokesperson said: "Cindy Gallop did say publicly that she invited Maurice Lévy at the conference but he never received any invite from her. There were approximately 1,000 women in attendance at this conference. We were by far the largest holding company with approximately 100 attendees. Our VivaWomen association did some sponsoring during the event."

The "closed loop" at the top of the industry are hesitant to change, according to Gallop, because to them the model is fit for purpose.

"At the top of our industry there is a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys. They are sitting very pretty. They have their enormous salaries, huge pools of stock options, lavish expense accounts. Why on earth would they ever want to rock the boat?

"They may talk about taking diversity seriously, but deep down they've got absolutely no intention of changing anything because the system is working absolutely fine the way it is. They don't really want to change, so I'm fed up with talk about diversity."

When asked her view on the diversity quotas recently introduced by HP and General Mills - stipulating a specific percentage of women and people of colour within their agency rosters - Gallop said that while she agrees with affirmative action, client-directed diversity quotas won't change anything.

"I'm thrilled that clients are putting the pressure on. I'm thrilled that HP and General Mills are doing this, but they won't work, because agencies can weasel their way around those kind of client demands to make it look like they've complied when they haven't. They're [agencies] not about to hire diverse people just because the client says so."

During her keynote, Gallop told junior women in the industry to start their own agencies, saying: "If you are working somewhere that does not allow you to innovate and disrupt in the way that you want to, GTFO - get the fuck out."

"I want you to be the future of advertising and start your own agency."

Agencies are selling themselves short by failing to visualise a different creative future, she said. "Our industry is spectacularly failing to see that this is how you get to be truly creative in a way that we have never yet seen. Our industry thinks that our glory days are over - our glory days have not even begun."

Drawing on hip hop Broadway musical Hamilton as a demonstration of this disruptive new creativity, she said: "Hamilton has excluded every single convention of Broadway musical to create a stunningly creative experience and it's making billions of dollars. That's what our industry could be doing if it only welcomed women and people of colour into the room where it happens."

Gallop also discussed examples of recently founded female-led agency startups such as Joan Creative and Wolf and Wilhemine, telling the audience they should rethink how to make money, suggesting current creative remuneration models are not fit for purpose.

"Too many people think this is the only business model and the only way to make money. I can guarantee you don't want to make money the way our industry makes money - or doesn't make money. Timesheets don't make money."

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