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How Marketers Can Change Agency Culture


How Marketers Can Change Agency Culture

In 2016 Avi Dan a NY based Agency search consultant wrote an article in Forbes titled Why Aren’t Women Starting Their Own Ad Agencies? The thrust of his discussion acknowledged the increase in women at the top of the big Madison Avenue agencies and celebrates the transformation: “This development is long overdue. For decades, Madison Avenue didn’t just restrict women to the back of the bus, it actually didn’t even allow women on the bus”.

He continues with his hypotheses on women missing opportunities to go on their own. Citing obstructions such as females up against the Madison Avenue’s “boys club” and exclusory behaviors to fraternize with clients after hours, on the golf course or at sport events. His findings: females were in a weak position in regards to networking with potential clients.

Proposing deeper analysis – Avi Dan offers the shortage of female creative directors as another reason. His experience that new agencies are launched by “creative stars” (think Australia: Monkeys, AJF, Global: M&C Saatchi,Droga 5 etc) mostly include a couple of male creative directors. He figures since there were historically just 3% female creative directors in the industry his hypotheses bodes well.

A quick scan through the comments you will see women, like myself have explained to him that at last count there were over 70 female-founded creative agencies around the globe. Avi acknowledged he was referring to were those over $100MM. But here’s the rub – how does one become a $100MM agency without the business opportunity?

Ab Inconvenienti Veritas?

Ironically he exposes the unconscious biases systemic in the industry. Womenkind founder Kristi Faulkner explains that agencies need time to grow. Jay Chiat started his legendary agency 25 YEARS before acquiring the Apple account which put Chiat Day on the map. The boys who started BBDO did so at least 120 years ago. Faulkner argues that the upsurge of female-founded agencies has inaugurated. Like her agency they are comparatively in infancy.

Faulkner advises “Besides time, talent, creativity and insight, starting an ad agency in a fragmented business during uncertain economic times takes a high tolerance for risk, tons of fortitude, and yes, balls. Don’t short-change the women who have all that, Avi. We’re working hard to turn our upstarts into $100MM agencies every day. “

Globally, despite pockets of resistance, there are the beginnings and realignment in recognizing women’s influences; there is a reassertion women have been attempting to fulfill since the Equal Opportunities Act. (According to the World Economic Forum – there’s just 217 years more to wait).

In Australia there begins a National Inquiry looking into one of the many things that derails women’s careers – a hostile work environment in which men exert a form of power of women.

The #metoo movement, and vocal support from people in powerful positions – including actresses, politicians and thought leaders is giving us all pause. The gradual awakening of those ready to live in the new-world order is gaining momentum.

Government bodies such as the WGEA looking to create workplaces that meet a standard of behavior and commitment to inclusive and diverse work places.

The support is finally arriving in all forms: the first frontier has been commitments for gender-balanced workforces at all levels of the business. The second will be in the un-silencing of gagged women and support to hear their lived experiences.

The invitation to listen and the enquiry to commit to change is a welcome revolution.

Under the Obama Administration in the US a policy was implemented to ensure that women-owned businesses did not suffer the same fate as Avi Dan supposed in his Madison Avenue discussion. In effect they committed to leveling the playing-field by giving them greater access to Federal Contracting Opportunities.

Pepsi and J&J are among a few global clients who have implemented equal and fair procurement processes – much like the internal progress made by blind-resume and hiring policies. While some Australian businesses have recently committed to an equality policy – does this behavior extend to their business partners and suppliers?

For Australia to follow suit in Federal Government with an “equality” practice in place with indigenous and gender-diverse policies would certainly signal a commitment to transformation.

Creating fair procurement practices in government would make an incredible difference and set the benchmark for other industries.

Currently No Such Process Exists. So What Can We Do?

1. We are undertaking sentiment research around this and seek the perspectives of Marketers and Procurement professionals. Please take this 3-minute survey and share your perspective. Results of the research will be made public and all answers are anonymous.

2. If you have more than 50% female ownership of a creative agency, we want to hear from you. Share your agency business here, where we will begin a list and resource for ‘Women With Agency’ in order to provide better visibility of female-founded businesses.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Bec Brideson, Founder, Venus Comms

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