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It's time to get uncomfortable: Why we should heed Cindy Gallop's call for the ad industry to change

Cindy Gallop photographed at The Drum Live by Julian Hanford

For as long as I can remember, people have been talking up the need to change the advertising industry for the sake of its own survival. From trendy new start-ups to industry stalwarts, barely a day goes by without a clarion call for change. Yet here we still are.

So I had a sense of trepidation and a slight sinking feeling when Cindy Gallop took to the stage at The Drum Live to talk about, yes, how to change the industry.

Gallop, a former Bartle Bogle Hegarty NY chairman, is better known today as a controversial TED speaker and for her two start-ups MakeLoveNotPorn and IfWeRanTheWorld.

It was instantly clear how she has made her name as a public performer – fast-talking, provocative and passionate – Gallop charmed the conference hall as she shared her view of the advertising future. How it needs to transform itself if it is to save itself from a race to the bottom and innovation from outside.

So far, so familiar. Yet Gallop’s message was subtly different to the new model pioneers who pledge to do things differently before settling into the status quo. For a start, she advocated that change should come from every one of us, starting with small changes (or microactions) that are so easy to enact “why wouldn’t you?”. Competitive collaboration, rather than collaborative competition, she called it.

It’s somewhat reminiscent to me of the “marginal gains” philosophy pioneered by Sir Dave Brailsford who transformed British cycling by doing lots of little things a little bit better or differently.

True, Sir Dave has endured some torrid headlines in recent days with his Team Sky’s performance during this year’s Tour de France under some scrutiny. But isn’t this proof of how a team – or a brand, a company, an agency – can raise the bar and transform a sport, sector or industry as others compete to catch up?

Perhaps Gallop is on to something. But one thing bothers me. We’re not all as passionate, or as clear in our convictions as a Gallop or a Brailsford. Indeed, Gallop herself has mostly stepped outside of the industry to realise her ambitions: were she still heading a major agency or network I’d be more convinced of the likelihood of collective change.

One thing's for sure, though, this go-getter’s got balls.

Except she hasn’t, has she? She’s (still) one of the few females to break through in a male-dominated world. And this needs to change. She said that the future is female ‘informed’ and called upon the men in the audience to ‘get uncomfortable’, to realise that women (and ethnic and other minorities, for that matter) challenge the status quo because they are never the status quo.

One small change she advocated is for leaders to look at their businesses, see where they’re all male, or male dominated and change that. Another is to change the language around the industry, striking ‘failure’ and ‘risk’ out of the business lexicon.

Should we not then also strike out the testosterone-fuelled (and largely false) synonyms for bravery, too? The ‘balls’, the ‘bollocks’, the ‘cojones’? It’s a small change we all could make.

Talking of female inspiration and empowerment, also at The Drum Live was my latest professional crush Pippa Glucklish, co-CEO of Starcom Mediavest. Glucklish, speaking on a panel about talent and training in the industry, spoke of the programmes her network is putting in place to support women.

As well as support networks and female-friendly working policies, she outlined a scheme helping women get back to work after a career break. (Hat tip here, too, to Starcom Mediavest’s regional HR director Liz Nottingham).

It’s a great idea, because whilst men have career breaks too, the majority are women because they’re the ones having babies. And a year out in media, especially digital media, can feel like a lifetime. And if, as statistics prove, women are the majority purchasers, and majority influencers of purchases, then surely that subset of ‘mums’ is a more powerful influence still? We need them in the industry.

As Gallop might say, it’s just common-bloody-sense.

Catherine Turner is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. She lives in London and specialises in the media, marketing and advertising industries. Read her full feature on Cindy Gallop's call for change from The Drum Live. You can watch Cindy's full talk on The Drum YouTube channel.

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