Work & Wellbeing

The overturning of Roe will touch every part of the ad industry — it's time to act

By Michelle Edelman | Owner, chief executive officer and chief strategy officer

May 9, 2022 | 6 min read

Abortion is not restricted to the spheres of law, healthcare and ethics — it's both a cultral and consumer issue that shapes the advertising and marketing industry from its infrastructure down to its daily operations, argues Michelle Edelman, owner and chief executive at PETERMAYER. Edelman spells out what she sees as the critical responsibilities that marketers have to their employees and audiences today.

Woman with megaphone

/ Adobe Stock

In the last month, we’ve been privy to something we never should have seen and now can’t unsee: a draft opinion leaked from the US Supreme Court.

On the week approaching Mother’s Day, American women learned they are on the precipice of losing constitutional protection for their right to choose to terminate their pregnancies — a right that has been in place for nearly half a century. It's a right that most of my employees have had their entire lives.

I’m not here to opine about whether abortion is a “right to life” or “right to choose” issue, nor whether Roe was a flawed decision from the start. I'm not here to predict what’s next in terms of loss of rights, nor what happens when women engage in illegal means of obtaining care or travel across state lines to obtain it. I'm not here to debate whether abortion is a moral or legal matter or harp on why the crumbling of trusted institutions into political playthings has come to feel as commonplace as it does.

As a female owner, chief executive officer and chief strategy officer of an advertising agency headquartered in an anti-Roe state, I’m here to talk about what we as advertising leaders are supposed to do about it all. And there’s a lot of "it all."

It’s a workplace culture issue. It’s a consumer issue. It’s a social issue. And as public as it is, it’s of course an intensely personal issue.

The fight to keep abortions constitutional is emblematic of every fight of our lives to shoulder burdens equally and obtain equal opportunity. If 24% of women will have an abortion in their lifetime, 76% of women will not, per 2014 data published in the American Journal of Public Health. Which is to say, Roe is not about abortion for most women; it’s about being seen as more than our physiology.

As business leaders, we have a responsibility to our people and our community

In the last week, I’ve seen distraction, sadness, anxiety and resolve in conversations with our female employees. Lead with empathy and the understanding that this is exhausting. Give your women space to discuss their thoughts and feelings. If they want to walk downtown to join a protest during the workday, let them. Let your workplace be a safe space for them to talk and learn from each other. The work will get done. But we need a hot minute — because the world as we’ve known it is changing under our feet.

What else can you do? Build new solutions into your healthcare policies. Tell your employees that if they need to travel out of state for medical reasons, they will have the time, support and protection of their employer to make their own medical decisions. As businesses, we are empowered to set policies that support our employees any way that we want.

As advertisers, we have a responsibility to our consumers

Consumer attitudes and needs are going to change a lot — both as they relate to products and to content.

You can no longer trust your gut, because your gut comes from what you've learned and been conditioned to feel. But most of us in advertising were not around during the time before Roe, and we can’t possibly know what it feels like. We don’t have a collective memory of a society without reproductive choice. We’ll need to approach parenthood, sex, children, romance — so many topics, creative mechanisms and products — with 'beginner's mind' as women reshape their lives to adjust to new conditions and context.

There are a lot of brands that look at consumers on a national scope; we will now need to look at them through a mico-level lens. People will experience dramatically different realities depending on the state in which they live. Personas will have to be built with this in mind; we can’t generalize in the way we’ve become accustomed to. Brand platforms will need to be broad and inclusive of a multitude of differences, and built to flex — we can’t cling to the past, because the present becomes the past very quickly now.

Above all, don’t despair

These moments, as uncomfortable as they feel, are moments to retrench. They are in fact moments of progress. It doesn’t feel like it. Yes, a door is likely to shut. It’s our job — as leaders, advertisers, women and allies — to throw open a whole bunch of windows.

We are a collective group of wildly creative and innovative problem-solvers. So, how are we going to innovate our way out of this one?

I’m confident that we can. And we will.

Michelle Edelman is owner, chief executive officer and chief strategy officer at PETERMAYER.

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