Black Lives Matter: what have advertising's biggest agencies promised?

The Drum has rounded up the pledges from ad holding groups following the death of George Floyd / Tony Webster - Flickr

As the struggle for racial equality continues, The Drum outlines the long-term pledges that advertising's biggest businesses have made to address racism, inequality, discrimination and micro-aggressions within their own organisations, and beyond, over the past month.

The death of US citizen George Floyd in police custody in June (and the outcry over others who endured a similar fate including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Elijah McClain) has sparked six weeks of global outrage and protests. It has also led to an ongoing discussion about how individuals and society, including businesses, can help dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy from the ground up.

For ad agencies — oft criticised for the 'male, pale and stale' approach to leadership and a lack of diversity within their walls — the Black Lives Matter movement has forced those at the top to hold a mirror up to their own policies around diversity, inclusion and supporting Black talent.

UK ad agencies initially signed an open letter pledging solidarity with the Black community, promising to take action on inequality and “maintain inclusive cultures that are sensitive to the enduring injustice and pain of racism”.

The effort was coordinated by Creative Equals, a body dedicated to promoting diversity in the workplace, which has set up a steering group to monitor the progress of those who signed it.

Another letter dubbed 'Call for Change' and signed by 6000 Black ad professionals emerged, outlining an actionable plan 12-step plan for ad shops to follow in order to enact change.

Spearheaded by Nathan Young, a group strategy director at Minneapolis agency Periscope, and Bennett D. Bennett, who runs independent consultancy Aerialist, this address to the industry emphasised that although Black ad execs were encouraged by the message of solidarity sent out by ad leaders following Floyd's death, the words rang "hollow" in the face of their daily lived experiences.

"Agency leadership had been blind to the systemic racism and inequality that persists within our industry," it read, noting that "many gallons of ink have been spilled on op-eds and think pieces, but tangible progress has eluded this industry for too long."

In the weeks since, holding companies housing some of the biggest ad agencies in the world have each unveiled the measures they are taking to address these longstanding issues.

Below, The Drum has rounded up the responses and outlined how agencies are measuring their progress.

WPP

On 17 June, WPP announced a set of commitments and actions to help combat racial injustice and support Black and minority ethnic talent.

Explaining the pledges, chief exec Mark Read said: “Over the last three weeks, I have heard an outpouring of pain, anger and frustration from Black colleagues, along with clear demands for change. This is the moment to embrace that change, and to use our creativity, our scale and our influence to make a difference in the fight against racism.”

But what are the key tenets of the holding company's promise?

  • WPP will take “decisive action” on each of the 12 points in the Call for Change letter, ranging from investment in the career paths of Black employees and measurable commitment to improving Black representation in senior management

  • A pledge to “use its voice” to fight racism and advance the cause of racial equality in and beyond the ad industry. This means working with clients, partners and industry bodies to ensure Black and minority talent is fairly represented in creative work and within the wider industry.

  • The promise of $30m over the next three years to fund inclusion programmes within WPP and to support external organisations

Publicis

At the start of July, Publicis boss Arthur Sadoun outlined seven actions (designed with help from 18,000 of the network's staff) designed to push the businesses’ diversity and inclusion mandate forward.

“What has become clear is that too many initiatives and disparate efforts without focus do not drive the necessary impact to truly change things,” Sadoun said.

“This is why we deliberately want to take fewer but stronger actions with on-going measurement and accountability.”

Here are some of the big steps Publicis is taking:

  • It will publish and monitor its diversity and inclusion data. Though French privacy laws ban under penalty of sanctions the collection and use of ethnicity data, it’s already disclosed data for our US workforce, revealing that 5.4% of its workforce in the US is Black. This includes 8% in junior levels, 4.6% in mid-level positions and just 1.9% at the senior leadership level.

  • The holding company has promised to be intentional about cultivating the careers of Black talent across all roles within its organisation, through structured career development programmes, mentorship and personalised coaching. It will also design a recruitment, interviewing and onboarding experience that champions Black talent

  • A vow to make everyday bias training required for all Publicis employees.

  • The business will also invest €45m over three years on diversity, inclusion and social justice. More specifically, this will fund the new training programmes, apprenticeship development and support the network’s relationships with NGOs and institutions fighting against racism and inequalities.

  • It’s also launching a Diversity Progress Council to evaluate these actions, composed of Publicis Groupe staff and clients as well as academic and youth representatives.

IPG

“We are now at a tipping point when meaningful change and progress are being demanded to address a situation centuries in the making,” said IPG chief executive Michael Roth in an open letter to employees in June.

Following consultation with staff, the group has revealed a series of initiatives designed to combat systemic racism.

The plan includes:

  • Greater transparency when it comes to diversity data and action on inequal pay.In recent years, IPG has hired third-party economists and statisticians to help us find possible pay disparities in its US organisation, against a broad set of criteria. Roth has committed to continue these reviews with further improvements to its pay practices.

  • Tying goals relating to hiring, promoting and representing people of colour and women to executives pay packets. Though details on this are sparse, Roth promised that his leadership team’s ability to “meet these goals (or not) will impact compensation”.

  • Investment in time and resources to cultivate more inclusive leadership and management through learning and practical experiences, including support for all managers and human resources, to ensure employees “are allies and advocates for each other day-to-day”.

  • Investing additional resources to help scale its Business Resource Groups (collectives which focus on unique interests and concerns of employees who identify with specific dimensions of diversity) globally.

Omnicom

In an internal memo, Omnicom boss John Wren Wren recently commended Omnicom chief diversity officer Tiffany Warren and the Omnicom People Engagement Network on the “tremendous progress” they have brought to Omnicom over the course of the past decade.

However, he recognised that efforts to date have “not nearly been enough.”

“We must turn these horrific events into a catalyst to make lasting change—as individuals, as a company and as a community.”

Since George Floyd’s death Omnicom group has:

  • Declared Juneteenth (19 June) a company-wide holiday. Though it’s not clear if this is permanent or for 2020 only.

  • Pledged to use the discussion led by Warren and the Omnicom People Engagement Network, as well as the “guidance of our diversity leaders” to improve existing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

  • Vowed to “strengthen” its support of programs it’s already investing in, including the AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Program, The LaGrant Foundation, 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program and Adcolor.

  • Said it will adopt “new programs where appropriate and hold ourselves accountable in the areas of training, recruitment, talent development and retention, and compensation.”

Havas

Havas chief exec Yannick Bolloré gave staff a day off in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing to “contemplate our roles in improving racial justice and diversity in and outside of our business, to take personal action or to do whatever you feel best serves you, your personal journey, your loved ones and your communities."

In June, Bolloré said the company was actively working on additional resources, programming and actions that will be shared both at global and village/agency level in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, it has:

  • Launched a curated media marketplace via its media arm – representing Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ and other minority-owned publishers, as well as publishers that create content specifically for underrepresented communities.

Dentsu Aegis Network

In a statement sent to Adweek at the start of June, Jacki Kelley, chief exec of of Dentsu Aegis Network’s American operation, said “with transparency, we have begun open discussions with our employees and will work with them as we build plans for a truly equitable workplace, absent of discrimination, racism, or bias.”

The holding company has yet to outline its measures, and said it will share the outcome of these discussions following “meaningful progress”.

  • Kelley said: “My promise to our teams is we will not mistake activity for progress. I don’t want any of our work to be seen as an opportunity for press or to pat ourselves on the back for just recognising what our Black and POC colleagues have been pointing out for far too long.”

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