Actions will speak louder than words for Grey London’s push to rise above the industry’s diversity rhetoric, starting with its decision to take on the name of its Jewish founders.
For the next 100 days the agency, which is one of the biggest in the world, will be known as Valenstein & Fatt in what its senior team vow is anything but a cute marketing stunt. Instead, it plans to challenge the same prejudices that forced its founders to name their agency after the colour of the office’s wallpaper for fear of their Jewish names costing them clients. That was 100 years ago, and while parts of the industry have tried to tackle the issue, it is often a case of old problems, new hope.
A bellwether of this tension can be seen as a few weeks back when the UK’s advertising industry body the Institute Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) published a list of 47 so-called industry game changers. Among the luminaries, just six were women and everyone was white, revealed Business Insider. While some observers will argue the list isn’t representative of the issue as it is today, Grey believes more could be done and has concocted a five-point plan to ensure it is walking the diversity talk.
Part of the plan will see Valenstein & Fatt make its diversity data publicly available for the first time. Current diversity analyses are “flawed”, claimed the agency, while its own independent study has recorded not just the “diversity you can see, but everything that constitutes it” - background, identity, lifestyle and more.
Furthermore, the agency is putting together an A-Team-style taskforce that will attempt to weed out those barriers preventing more ethnic minorities from pursuing careers in the industry. Co-chaired by broadcaster Trevor Philips OBE (once chair of the government's equality commission) and Leo Rayman, Valenstein & Fatt’s chief executive, the agency will invite others to join its cross-industry collective which will abide by an agreed set of targets and initiatives. The agency will also commit to targets for the work it does for clients, which could lead to similar pledges that were made by Unilever’s agencies last year after the advertiser vowed to purge gender stereotypes from its ads.
“Recent events, from rising instances of hate crime and terror attacks in London to the triggering of Article 50, have sent shivers through our society and businesses, but it should also inspire a collective and determined attitude that our country and our companies will not change for the worse.” said Rayman.
Plans are also afoot to work with 100 primary and secondary so that kids from all backgrounds are made aware of a potential career in advertising as early as possible. Part of this will see the agency work with executive head Michelle Williams and education therapist Jodie Cariss to offer full day workshops, coaching and agency open days for the New Wave Federation primary schools in London’s Hackney ahead of a wider rollout to all the schools involved.
As much as the focus is on creating a place where people from all backgrounds would want to work, the agency assures it is also cognizant of developing its own diverse talent. To do that, it has identified 50 “ones to watch” across the agency, who will be matched and mentored by its executive and senior leadership team. For those not on the list, the agency will run community mentoring workshops for everyone.
The final piece of the puzzle is a bursary to pay for a year’s rent in London for two young people from ethnic miniorty and disadvantaged backgrounds. Candidates must have been offered a job be state educated and live outside of Greater London, the agency stated, while applications are open from this summer.
“By calling their agency Grey, what Valenstein & Fatt were saying is, whatever you call us, whatever you think about us, look at the dazzling quality of our work. You will never be able to resist us,” said Phillips.
“So the lesson for leaders of today is to stop thinking that the great boss of the future looks like they looked when they were 21. We need our businesses to say to people; don’t be like us, be yourselves, do something new, bring something that no one has seen before. The thing that leads us to value people’s inherent differences is that spark of creativity that comes with diversity.”
All these efforts will happen under the Valenstein & Fatt name, which has dropped Grey’s San Serif for a new logotype set in Century Schoolbook.
Grey has been working on a way to crystalise its diversity plan for some time, with momentum gathering behind the idea five months ago. Since Rayman’s appointment to the head of the agency last summer, he has worked with a senior team that includes chief marketing officer Sarah Jenkins, chief operating officer Wayne Brown and chief strategy officer Matt Tanter to position the agency as the antithesis to the industry’s systemic diversity problem.