Advertising Age reported on the latest 4A’s soiree—titled “Accelerate”—which ultimately showed the industry is really just accelerating in circles, as evidenced by the following excerpt:
Diversity and equality
Issues of diversity were pervasive at this year’s conference. In her opening remarks, 4A’s CEO and president, Marla Kaplowitz, talked about some of the work the group is doing in this area.
“Although the 4A’s has discussed and created programs focused on diversity issues in the industry, we have not done enough for our members to address inclusion in the workplace,” she said. “It’s time for action, so we are creating a series of playbooks and tools—guides to really help our members.” One new initiative, she said, is an “enlightened workplace certification.”
In a panel Tuesday afternoon on the topic of diverse leadership, Karen Costello, chief creative officer at The Martin Agency, talked about how the agency has navigated the waters since creative veteran Joe Alexander departed following an internal investigation into an allegation of sexual harassment.
“Creative departments are such a unique microcosm at agencies,” she said. “They’re ground zero for the worst behavior in our industry very often, but they’re also sort of ground zero for some of the most empathetic people, because that’s kind of where creativity comes from. So my personal experience at The Martin Agency has been unique because that agency was a bit of ground zero for this Me Too movement in advertising.”
Costello said many of the men at the agency were horrified at what had happened, and asked colleagues how they’d be able to help.
“That’s one of the biggest things: All you need to do is ask “How I can help?” That shows that you’re listening and being empathetic,” she said.
Costello added that the agency has started saying “ouch” as a safe word of sorts—connoting that a comment might be inappropriate or could make someone uncomfortable. “We just create a little bit of an environment that allows people to say, “What you just said isn’t cool, but let’s all just kind of work through this as opposed to making it a big, ‘Oh, you hurt my feelings.’” She added that it’s a balance of employees knowing they can speak up in a lighter way, or be taken seriously if a more in-depth conversation is desired.
First, for Kaplowitz to admit, “Although the 4A’s has discussed and created programs focused on diversity issues in the industry, we have not done enough for our members to address inclusion in the workplace,” is nothing short of pathetic. Why are industry “leaders” so open to share they have not done enough regarding diversity? How long before these “leaders” are held accountable for not doing enough? Hell, shouldn’t someone minimally establish a standard for doing enough? Otherwise, the admissions sound like negligence. Additionally, to announce the creation of playbooks and an “enlightened workplace certification” is even more pathetic, as such lame ideas have already been pooped out and promoted by patronizing White advertising agencies and patronizing White women’s clubs. Does Kaplowitz realize the 4As already published a diversity playbook by Adonis Hoffman—an individual with legitimate cultural competence—that states exactly what White advertising agencies must do for progress? Like too many in the industry, Kaplowitz is regurgitating efforts that have been around—albeit ignored—for decades. It all indicates that the new 4A’s leader has probably not done enough on diversity throughout her career. Ouchy.
Second, Costello’s comments are equally disturbing. To declare creative departments are ground zero for the worst behavior and ground zero for some of the most empathetic people, as well as The Martin Agency being ground zero for the me too movement in adland, deserves a triple ouch. For one thing, it underscores how slow the industry has been to acknowledge me too—hell, the Erin Johnson lawsuit preceded the Joe Alexander affair by at least a year. For another thing, The Martin Agency has been slower to address true diversity. Between gender-based discrimination and race-and-ethnicity-based discrimination, Costello is dealing with a diversity double whammy. Ouchy-ouch. Oh, and it appears the “ouch” gimmick means the Richmond-based White advertising agency is finally undergoing diversity training—or watching instructional videos on the topic. But the viewings are likely a mandate from IPG versus a brainstorm hatched by Costello. Ouch to the nth degree.
In the end, Kaplowitz and Costello might be victims of circumstance. That is, former 4As President-CEO Nancy Hill tried to make diversity a priority and arguably delivered contributions to the cause. However, the trade organization has no authority to dictate anything, leaving White advertising agencies to do the bare minimum or less in achieving positive change. So Kaplowitz is fighting an uphill battle. Meanwhile, Costello inherited the creative reins of a premier shop that has not done enough in the area of diversity and is reeling from the biggest scandal in its history. So she’s fighting an uphill battle too. On the flipside, Ad Age noted, “Issues of diversity were pervasive at this year’s conference.” Um, issues of diversity were pervasive at the 4As Transformation Conference in 2010 too. At some point, the hand-wringing and navel-gazing—as well as the recycling of Band-aid tactics—must be replaced with innovative actions that actually ignite progress. The truth is, the only group in adland to experience progress in the past ten years is White women—as clearly demonstrated by figures like Kaplowitz and Costello. Yet they both admit to not having done enough in the area of diversity. Time will tell if they turn out to be part of the solution or the problem.