By continuing to use The Drum, I accept the use of cookies as per The Drum's privacy policy

Black Lives Matter: have ad agencies followed through on their promises?

Black Lives Matter: have ad agencies followed through on their promises?

It’s been over six months since George Floyd died under the knee of a police officer, sparking a series of protests about racism and inequality across the world. At the time, advertising’s biggest players pledged long-overdue action to address these issues in their own organisations and the wider industry. But how are those promises holding up?

For ad agencies — often criticised for a lack of diversity within their walls and in their boardrooms — 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.

Last June, UK ad agencies initially signed an open letter co-ordinated by Creative Equals 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”.

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

In 2020, holding companies housing some of the biggest ad agencies in the world each unveiled the measures they are taking to address these longstanding issues.

Today, The Drum explores how, more than six months on, ad agencies have started to follow through on their promises and make good on their pledges.

So, how have they done? We take a look at what was promised last summer vesus what's been delivered so far.

Reporting by Rebecca Stewart, John McCarthy, Imogen Watson and Ellen Ormesher

WPP

Promises:

  • In June 2020, WPP pledged to 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.

  • It also pledged to “use its voice” to fight racism and advance the cause of racial equality in and beyond the ad industry.

  • On top of this the business pledged $30m over the next three years to fund inclusion programmes within WPP and to support external organisations.

Progress:

  • WPP has made headway in responding to the Call for Change letter.

  • The business has established a Global Inclusion Council in recent months to advise WPP’s chief exec and board to accelerate change across WPP. The Drum understands this group has been meeting every two months since September, giving voice to under-represented groups; advising on appropriate inclusion and diversity goals, recommending new systems and strategies, and identifying barriers to progress.

  • The Group M owner has also established a taskforce to give particular focus to the challenges facing its Black colleagues and communities in North America. Training wise, it’s launched mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff. On top of this, monthly Safe Rooms have been taking place between stuff where “honest” conversations can be had about these issues between employees.

  • As for data, WPP has publicly committed to gathering and reporting the makeup of its workforce in its annual sustainability report. In order to ensure its leadership is more diverse it’s enrolled 20 Black leaders from across its agency pool to participate in the McKinsey Leadership Program.

  • Pledging accountability, WPP has further committed to include diversity and inclusion goals in the annual bonus plans of its leadership. This will start in 2021.

  • New global and regional inclusion and diversity leaders have been hired across operating companies to provide expertise and help execs push forward action on the firm’s commitments inside their respective agencies too.

  • When it comes to creating more diverse work, in July 2020 the company issued a commitment to inclusiveness, diversity and anti-racism in its ads. This includes a pledge to ensure that it does not perpetuate harmful, negative stereotypes. In line with this, it has created an ‘Inclusive Marketing Playbook’ in collaboration with UniWorld Group (part of WPP) to enable global teams to put inclusive marketing principles and best practice front and centre.

  • The agency giant also launched its Diversity Review Panel in January 2021 for people to raise any concerns regarding negative stereotyping in work they are producing for WPP and its clients.

  • Senior staff, including Judy Jackson (WPP), Monique Nelson (UWG) and Kai Lawson (WPP) are part of a group of prominent industry spokespeople (eight in total) spearheading ‘#WeAllRiseTogether‘, an initiative designed to support, progress and improve racial equity for the Black community in the US.

  • The business also recently supported the launch of the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation with more than £1.3m in donated media via GroupM and its media partners.

  • Beyond this, WPP has identified 20 charities and non-profits to fund, and says donations have already begun to reach these organisations to support their work to fight racism, develop minority talent and address issues that affect Black and ethnic minority communities.

Mark Read, chief executive, WPP says: “Since June 2020, we have pushed forward on our set of commitments and actions to help combat racial injustice and support our Black and minority ethnic communities. We have established our global Inclusion Council to accelerate change and give a voice to under-represented groups, rolled out anti-racism and inclusion training across WPP, and conducted a fundamental review of our hiring, promotion and development policies and practices to ensure that they are inclusive and free from bias.

“Our success relies on accountability, so for the first time from 2021, diversity and inclusion goals will be included in the annual bonus plans for leadership across WPP. While there remains a great deal of work to do within WPP and our wider industry, we have made good progress and taken a number of important and tangible steps against our long-term commitment.”

Publicis Groupe

Promises:

  • As part of seven actions and commitments, Publicis pledged to 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 its 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 French network also pledged to launch a Diversity Progress Council to evaluate these actions, composed of Publicis Groupe staff and clients as well as academic and youth representatives.

  • It also said it would 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.

Progress:

  • Publicis says it’s remained steadfast in its commitment to the seven actions announced in July to drive diversity and inclusion in all its forms with ongoing measurement and accountability. Since then, it‘s been in the build phase, rigorously operationalising across all actions and establishing diversity, equality and inclusion at the center of our organisation, and we are committed to measuring progress and releasing its data annually.

  • Last year, Publicis did indeed launch a Diversity Progress Council, which was created to combine the insights and expertise of influential inclusion champions alongside its own internal leaders.

  • The group debuted in October with an inaugural meeting of the following members: Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard; Goldman Sachs’ Lisa Opoku; Harvard Kennedy School’s Iris Bohnet; Publicis Groupe’s Arthur Sadoun, Carla Serrano, Emmanuel André and Renetta McCann; Publicis Media’s Lisa Torres; Publicis Sapient’s Lucy Devassy; and Leo Burnett’s Aki Spicer. Importantly, the Diversity Progress Council reviewed and endorsed Publicis Groupe’s seven actions and commitments being placed into the diversity and inclusion space.

  • In the UK, Publicis recently published the ‘Embrace Change’ plan to promote diversity across Publicis Groupe UK agencies and the industry, with three focus areas: to attract more people from diverse backgrounds into the industry; to remove barriers to entry; and to create a culture that supports people from under-represented groups as they progress through the workforce and into leadership roles. And earlier this month, it announced the appointment of a new head of diversity and inclusion for Publicis Groupe UK, Kate Williams.

  • Across the Atlantic, October seen Publicis expand its annual Multicultural Talent Pipeline (MCTP) program to reach 400 college students from 70 university and industry partners across the US.

  • Conducted virtually in 2020, this three-day experience curated programming designed to galvanise diverse college students around career opportunities in our industry. Notable speakers included P&G’s Pritchard and Damon Jones and Disneyland’s Sybil Crum.

“These efforts are more than programs aligned with a commitment, they are part of a significant organisational change effort, and are being developed with that understanding and intent in mind. With our focus, operational rigor, leadership and accountability measures, we will be launching many of our initiatives and partnerships in the coming months,” says a Publicis spokesperson.

Omnicom

Promises:

  • Last year, Omnicom boss John Wren said: “We must turn these horrific events into a catalyst to make lasting change —as individuals, as a company and as a community.”

  • 19 June (Juneteenth) was made a permanent holiday to reflect each year on the anniversary of Floyd’s death. There was a promise to hire more and strengthen its investment in the talent pipeline.

Progress:

  • In January, the company hired Emily K Graham as Omnicom Group’s chief equity and impact officer and senior vice-president, of diversity and inclusion comms, reporting directly to John Wren. It falls upon this new hire to accelerate its diversity and inclusion efforts and execute ‘Open 2.0‘, its push for systemic equity across its agencies.

  • It says the first stage of that is hiring and empowering those driving Open 2.0‘ in a statement: “Our plan will only be successful if we have a strong base of diversity and inclusion specialists implementing it”. It has “more than doubled the number of diversity and inclusion leaders to roughly 25 in the last year.

  • “Most of the global creative networks and Practice Areas” have a dedicated diversity and inclusion leader reporting to the chief executive. It’s still building this diversity and inclusion spine.

  • Omnicom’s newest director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Ana Leen, has vowed to “strengthen” its support of programs like the AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Program, TheLaGrantFoundation, 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program and Adcolor. “[These programs] are critical to helping our agencies increase Black representation, as well as representation of all diverse communities at all levels.”

  • The business says it is still doing the “heavy lifting” of getting the diversity and inclusion team in place and is enthused by its Talent Advancement Program, which provides an internal networking platform for its professionals and to maximize career advancement and retention.

  • Taking the sheen of the progress, New York ad agency Hero Group filed suit against Omnicom-owned agency DDB last year for “exploiting” it on the US Army account. The case continues.

IPG

Promises:

  • IPG chief executive Michael Roth said the company was at “tipping point”.

  • It promised greater transparency when it comes to diversity data and action on inequal pay. There was a carrot on the end of the stick, the diversity drive was also linked directly to exec paypacks.

Progress:

  • IPG now tracks company performance against key indicators for racial equity such as workforce representation, hiring, promotions, retention and survey scores annually. A similar examination tracks pay equity. It says: “These reviews help to ensure that our employees are compensated fairly based on their job, skills and experience, and without regard to protected characteristics such as gender and race.”

  • It has hosted 34 IPG Business Resource Group programs connecting with over 11,000 employees touching on inclusion, pronouns, gender bias and more. Managers were provided “conversation guides” and tips for dealing with “micro-aggressions” and ensuring “fairness in staffing decisions”.

  • All senior leaders have access to the IPG’s ‘Diversity and Inclusion Resource Toolkit’ to access employee resources and LinkedIn learning opportunities and there’s also a manager’s guide on ‘Navigating Political Turmoil’. It maintains a newly launched website, which hosts dedicated resources on gender identity, culture, parenting and caregiver responsibilities, age, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity and several biweekly newsletters exploring race relations, being a Black woman, wellness and inclusion, and disability inclusion.

  • Furthermore, the business says it offered wellbeing opportunities and inclusion healing therapy sessions for employees and managers.

Newly appointed chief executive Philippe Krakowsky, in a company-wide memo commemorating Martin Luther King Day, said: “At IPG and at our companies around the world, we continue to focus on ensuring that our workplaces are inclusive, and that opportunities are made available, in equal measure, to all of our people. We work hard to celebrate diversity in our ranks.

“As so many of our agency leaders have said, that’s important work that must remain an intentional priority for us, on a daily basis, in order for our actions to measure up to our aspirations. It’s also why IPG was the first holding company to release the racial and gender make-up of our leadership ranks in the U.S., setting a new standard of transparency for the industry, as well as establishing a stark public benchmark that we must address and improve on.”

Dentsu

Promises:

  • At the start of June, Jacki Kelley, chief exec of Dentsu's American operation pledged it would work with its employees to build plans for a truly equitable workplace, absent of discrimination, racism, or bias. She swore not to mistake activity for progress.

Progress:

  • Dentsu claims it created an open and safe environment to listen to its team’s feedback and ideas. This helped it to develop a clear set of global principles that it used as a guide on how to operate its business. It says this framework will now help it “drive concrete action and tangible change”. Using this ‘common framework’ Dentsu says it has now built on a number of programmes it already had in place, taken new actions and made targeted investments to drive positive and sustained change.

  • It has introduced a dedicated resource in each of its regions to work with leaders and colleagues to drive progress in ways that reflect the needs of its people in each market. This is supported by ‘regional councils,’ made up by senior leaders and sponsorship. These teams are devised to raise and address issues, in order to identify means for improvement.

  • Dentsu has taken steps to improve ‘people data’ in markets where it can collect it legally. It says this will help it to better understand the diversity of its workforce, and to identify and address inequality.

  • It says it has reviewed policies and working practices to remove bias. That process has led it to work closer with its recruitment partners, to examine how it can open up more opportunities for diverse talent.

  • Dentsu points to its schools and early career programme, The Code, as one avenue for improving diversity in the workplace. Now in its fourth year, it says this scheme has opened the doors of the ad industry to students from disadvantaged environments, particularly those from BAME backgrounds. The programme delivers immersive workshops, work experience opportunities and apprenticeships, and has now been rolled out globally across Dentsu's nine markets.

  • Beyond this, it has invested in education and training for staff members globally including bespoke inclusive leadership training. It says it is continuing the conversation and action through global live learning sessions.

A Dentsu spokesperson says: “We are whole-heartedly committed to building a diverse workforce and create a culture of opportunity and inclusion. We will continue to monitor and measure our progress and ensure leadership accountability to do this.”

Havas

Promises:

  • In June, Havas chief exec Yannick Bolloré pledged that the agency would actively be working on additional resources, programming and actions to be shared both at global and village/agency level in the following weeks.

  • It also outlined its own comprehensive ‘Commit to Change‘ plan, which comprised seven initiatives specific to its Black, employees, and how the business operates – as well as both long-term and short-term plans aimed at improving representation.

  • The plan included comprehensive education and awareness for employees at all levels — with senior leaders participating in the most sessions. Other areas of focus included: providing more industry access to those in career transitions, veterans, and high school graduates; committing a significant percentage of internship opportunities to diverse talent; and focusing on leadership development and mentorship opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and people of color talent.

  • In October, Havas UK reaffirmed its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the appointment of a new diversity and inclusion executive committee and the launch of a new 10-point charter, setting out the business’ commitments over the next five years.

Progress:

  • Havas began its progress by creating 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.

  • In August, the company launched its inaugural North America Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee. It comprises of senior leaders from the media, creative, and health networks representing the Black, Asian, Hispanic and LGBTQ+ communities, oversees NA diversity and inclusion strategy and initiatives that aim to drive change across the region, as well as ensure that the commitments in the NA Commit to Change plan are met.

  • Havas is also reengineering systems such as recruiting and talent assessment. Claire Telling was hired as chief people officer for Havas Creative North America and is in the process of implementing a strategy focused on improving the quality and diversity of candidates, while also centralizing its recruiting resources to better optimize them. Regarding talent assessment, there is a new process underway that specifically focuses on diverse talent and their advancement in the organization.

  • Recognising that education is a crucial component in fostering a more inclusive workplace, Havas has structured its education series in an inverted pyramid, where the more senior members of staff receive more educational training. The first tier of Education and Awareness has launched with several thousand employees across all three business networks in NA completing the first phase of our mandatory education courses—courses focused on managing bias and inclusion in the workplace.

  • It is now moving forward with Tier 2, designed for senior managers, team leaders, and executives. In partnership with Ethos, this series will provide online courses, as well as two live sessions for additional lessons.

  • In early December, Havas launched its new manager development program, Havas Emerge, as well as announced its Fellows for the 4A’s Vanguard program — two initiatives that invest in diverse talent and will help them become stronger and better leaders.

  • Work is underway in France too, with plans to align local diversity and inclusion initiatives across offices and create a united people strategy. Through this process, Havas is driving initiatives and actions on issues like gender equity, removing social barriers to employment, creating space for the disabled community, and racial inclusion and diversity.

Patti Clarke, global chief talent officer at Havas Group said: “Havas’s vision is centered on ‘making a meaningful difference for businesses, brands, and people.’ To be successful at that, our agencies need to be an environment that not only has diversity of people and ideas, but also an employee population growing in their awareness and appreciation for each other.

“We are proud of the progress we are making with the diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives we have implemented around the world, but we know real change will take more than six months. Havas is committed to that journey. Our focus continues to be ‘to do more and do better’ to build a more diverse, inclusive, and just Havas — so that all our interactions internally and externally make a positive impact on people and society."