Julian Douglas: advertising’s image problem is really about access
What’s holding agencies back from making greater progress on diversity? IPA president and VCCP international chairman Julian Douglas argues agencies must double down on improving access into the industry.
As the ad industry finds its feet after the pandemic, how can it ensure it is attracting a broad base of talent? / Unsplash
It’s 12 months on since the start of my IPA presidency and, despite a few setbacks, things are looking up for the ad industry in many ways. The lockdowns of 2021 are behind us, ad spend has bounced back, and we’re able to go to the office or work from home as we please. Even conferences and awards have made a welcome return, from SXSW to the upcoming Cannes Festival.
Yet there is one dark cloud that still lingers over the blue horizon: the talent crunch. Like many industries, the upheaval of the past two years has caused many people in advertising to reassess their priorities and value exchange with work. Much has been written about the great resignation and the resultant talent exodus. With the competition for new talent hotter than ever in all creative industries, is it time for advertising to ask itself whether it has an image problem? And that is exactly what we did at the most recent IPA Council meeting debate, the unfolding of which was fascinating.
The Chatham House Rule, which we observe in all IPA Council meetings, precludes me from sharing who the speakers were (despite one of them sharing a pic on LinkedIn). The proposer made the sound argument that in an era where we are ranked as the UK’s least-trusted profession, people pay to avoid ads in the media they consume, and with slow progress against the targets we set ourselves in terms of diversity, we do have an image problem. Ain’t that the truth, and the motion was indeed carried.
However, there was a significant point made by the opposer that almost swung the vote. That clients spent over £23bn on advertising in 2020 suggests there isn’t an image problem. And most agencies report they have no shortage of people applying for their entry-level roles, with many oversubscribed several times over. But there is a lack of diversity among those applicants they receive. So maybe the issue isn’t an image problem: it is an access problem.
Today we understand the need to attract people from all backgrounds with all skill capabilities. This means we need to look wider, beyond the expected places and channels, to find fresh sources of untapped talent. It is heartening to see brilliant initiatives continuing to thrive throughout the industry, from Brooklyn Brothers’ Night School to Brixton Finishing School to the long-standing Ideas Foundation – each one tackling head-on the lack of diversity and social mobility in adland. At VCCP we are setting up an academy in Stoke to raise awareness of advertising as a viable career opportunity by inspiring, training and hiring local young people in their home town.
Letting fresh talent know about the opportunities that exist right across the UK will be the focus of the 10X-ed Advertising Unlocked, which returns in November 2022 – more to follow on this later in the year.
But let’s not focus only on access and recruitment. Perhaps more important is the experience that new joiners have once they join our industry. There is no point in working hard to attract fresh talent from underrepresented groups if they do not feel included once they are through the door, whether physical or virtual.
A great starting place is the brilliant ‘Belonging’ by Sue Unerman, Kathryn Jacob and Mark Edwards, an instruction manual on how to build a better workplace where everyone feels like they belong, and The IPA Talent Conference on May 4 will build on this much-recommended read. We’ll be providing tangible, actionable initiatives to tackle wellbeing issues, nurture talent to go on to be our future leaders and celebrate the inspirational people paving the way who have made the final 2022 IPA iList.
In the spirit of 10X, we have to move things on by leaps, not bounds, this year. The industry is getting its mojo back; it’s an exciting and prosperous time, full of new creativity and opportunity, but it’s also time we direct the talents we collectively have into tackling the talent issue and making those outside our brilliant industry recognize and realize its true potential.
Julian Douglas is president of the IPA and international chairman of VCCP.