Adweek interviewed JWT New York CEO Lynn Power, getting her take on “gender and diversity at JWT after the big lawsuit.” After the big lawsuit? Um, it hasn’t even gone to trial yet. Regarding exclusivity and discrimination at JWT, Power believes there are differing internal and external perceptions for the White advertising agency. “You can meet the people in the leadership and the people you’re going to work with,” said Power, “and you can decide if this is a culture you want to be part of.” Okay, but taking a peek at the JWT New York Executive Leadership seems to show the external perception is pretty accurate. Plus, it should be noted that Power came to JWT via Arnold New York, where “Our Fearless Leaders” are equally lacking equality. Sorry, but external perception is strongly supported by internal reality.
Q&A: CEO Lynn Power on Gender and Diversity at JWT After the Big Lawsuit
And how the internal and external perceptions of the agency differ
By Kristina Monllos
Adweek: What are you doing to encourage diversity and gender equality at JWT’s New York office?
Lynn Power: We talk a lot about diversity as a business driver—also because our world today, sadly, is more divided than ever and it’s important to recognize that it’s not just about what we think about in New York or the coasts. There’s lots of different opinions out there and there’s lots of different people out there and we need to reflect those opinions and people and consumers and humans in the work that we do. So the best way to do that is to embrace diversity of thinking, diversity of different types of people across all walks of life, and finding ways to bring people in that may not have thought of advertising as a place that they were logically drawn to or their first thing that they wanted to do.
With the Erin Johnson case [in which Johnson, JWT’s chief communications officer, sued the agency for discrimination and accused its former CEO Gustavo Martinez of making “sexist and racist comments”], the perception of JWT has shifted. What would you say it is now?
Well, I think there’s an internal perception and an external perception, and I’d say internally, we’re rocking. I think people are feeling really good about the direction we’re going and the momentum we have and I think the culture has changed quite a bit. And certainly since I’ve been there [three years ago], it’s changed a lot. Sometimes the external perception doesn’t quite catch up, hasn’t caught up with the internal perception. … If you think about just in the past few months, we launched some work with Black Lives Matter, which, to me, is action. Really living our beliefs, not just talking about it. We’re doing some work for HeForShe and we are [working for Save the Children].
How do you change the external perception of the agency?
It really comes down to the people and the agency. We hire lots of people. We’ve had a really good new business track record and I always say to people, “You know what? Make up your own mind.” You can come in. You can meet the people in the leadership and the people you’re going to work with, and you can decide if this is a culture you want to be part of. So I’m not trying to convince people to think of us a certain way or tell people what’s right or wrong.
As a woman in a powerful position at an agency that has just spent a year dealing with whether or not it was good to women, do you feel as though the onus to make change is more on you than on your male colleagues?
Look, I have my own experience having worked at the agency and my experience was a good experience. I guess I feel like it’s an opportunity. I’ll think of it that way. Clearly when something like that happens—we can’t talk about that case—but it creates a lot of conversation. I look at it as, “If I can drive that conversation into a place where we can lean in even harder and do even more because we are an agency that’s now talking about it, that’s a good thing.” I’m in a position as a woman to be able to kind of have an unapologetic stance on pro-equality, pro-women, pro-diversity, supporting women’s leadership, helping women figure out their own voice. And not just women, but diversity across the board. So I feel good about that, because I think I am in a position where I can hopefully have a bit of an impact in a good way.
Would JWT want to try and rebrand?
I always feel like our work does speak for [the agency], and maybe it’s my perspective on leadership as I’m much more of a doer. There are other leaders who are much more about, you know, “Rah, rah, rah,” and kind of out there in a more visible way. But I do hope that enough action and enough momentum will create a little bit of energy around our brand. … I would say a big priority for us is the quality of our work and really not just having a couple of things that are great that pop, but really having it be a full body of work that we think is outstanding.
What do you think is overrated right now in the space? Is it influencers? Is it experiential? Is it VR?
This may be a little controversial, but I think the idea of having to be “always on” is overrated. For a while, I feel like our clients were being told constantly that you need to have a high volume of stuff every day. But do you really need a post for National Donut Day? I don’t know. Is it really that relevant? … I think there’s a resetting of that notion of content and how much you actually need to do to be effective and instead trying to go deeper and [create] more meaningful things.
CEO, JWT New York
President, Arnold New York