Adweek published a lengthy piece on a Grey London stunt intended to spark industry-wide diversity. What’s the breakthrough concept? Rename the agency after its founders—two White men of Jewish descent—who opened the flagship New York shop in 1917 when anti-Semitism was prevalent. Okay, but in that very same year, Blacks held a silent march in Harlem to protest getting lynched, beaten and burned. Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur Fatt feared their names could cost them business. Blacks feared their skin color could cost them their lives—and it would take 30-40 years before Blacks would actually be hired at New York advertising agencies. Oddly enough, the Grey London scheme is intended to woo racial and ethnic minorities. So to perhaps offset all the Old White Guys imagery, the bold initiative includes minority scholarships and high school outreach efforts. Gee, how original. Sorry, but even in 2017, White men of Jewish descent have a much better and easier chance of landing jobs at Grey London than racial and ethnic minorities—and this would still be the case if the shop suddenly hired Gustavo Martinez as its CEO.
Grey London Renames Itself Valenstein & Fatt, After Grey’s Jewish Founders, in Call for Diversity
Office will take the name for 100 days, urges industry to change too
By Tim Nudd
Grey London is using the agency’s own 100-year-old origin story as a springboard for an industry-wide call to embrace diversity and acceptance via a self-branding campaign, launching today, in which it will rename itself, for more than three months, as Valenstein & Fatt, after its Jewish founders.
It’s 1917. New York is booming. Two young Jewish entrepreneurs, Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, set up a company. But anti-Semitism is rife. Their names could cost them business. So they call it Grey, after the color of the wallpaper.
The London office will fully operate as Valenstein & Fatt—changing its office signage, stationery and business cards, answering its phones that way, even operating under that name in pitches—for the next 100 days.
The initiative is happening just as the British government is triggering Article 50 and begins the process of disconnecting the U.K. from the European Union. It is also launching as “xenophobia is raising its ugly head once more, along with political isolationism,” the agency adds.
Also, the symbolic gesture of the name change is being backed up by more concrete plans, including the following steps, in the agency’s own words:
1) We are publishing our diversity data. Progress cannot be made without clear measures and transparency about who we are today. Our new study is independent and in-depth and is based on the voluntary responses of 305 individuals, which represents over 60 percent of the agency and reported according to standards set by the British Office of National Statistics (ONS). Research developed in partnership with PSB examines roots, identity, education and lifestyle. It will be measured and shared annually and we are encouraging other agencies to take it up as their methodology.
2) We are launching a cross-industry taskforce to identify the barriers to recruitment and retention of talent among ethnic minorities. The first gathering will be co-chaired by Trevor Philips OBE and CEO Leo Rayman, and we are inviting leading organizations in this space and the most progressive agencies, including chairwoman of Mediacom, Karen Blackett, to join us in agreeing industry-wide initiatives and targets. We will also commit to targets for our advertising output, to ensure that it is nationally representative.
3) We are launching the Valenstein & Fatt Bursary to pay a year’s rent for up to two young people from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. To qualify, candidates must have been offered a job at Grey, be state educated and live outside of greater London. Applications are open from this summer.
4) We will inspire the next generation, by working with 100 primary and secondary schools to introduce students to a career in the creative industries. Working with exec head Michelle Williams and education therapist Jodie Cariss and starting with the New Wave Federation primary schools in London’s Hackney, we will offer a tailor-made program for the schools involved, from assemblies to full-day workshops, coaching and agency open days.
5) We will develop our diverse talent. Recognizing that recruiting people with different start points isn’t enough, 50 individuals identified as ones to watch will be matched and formally mentored by our executive and senior leadership. In parallel we will run community mentoring workshops open to any member of the agency who wants to participate.
[This video explains more about the project.]
Adweek spoke to Sarah Jenkins, chief marketing officer at Valenstein & Fatt, about the initiative.
Where did this idea come from?
We’re an agency that is feeling the craziness of the last 12-18 months. The world feels a little bit uglier. A little bit less welcoming. So we wanted to make sure we were celebrating difference. And getting diversity right into the heart of our organization. Coincidentally it’s a big year for Grey this year—100 years old. So the Valenstein and Fatt story feels relevant and meaningful in the context of business and society today. Subsequently celebrating them, and telling their story, was the right way for us to make a definitive statement about our diversity commitment moving forward.
While a great gesture, this idea will also clearly cause confusion here and there. Is dealing with that confusion an embodiment of the kind of hard work needed to commit to diversity?
It’s definitely got some risk, but good ideas are hard work and generally require a healthy kick of bravery. Which is a lovely parallel with the spirit of our founders. It definitely helps that we are in the communication business, so hopefully, for the vast, vast majority of the time, we can avoid confusing people.
Tell us why the concrete steps you are also taking will make a difference.
We should first talk about what we are going to get wrong. Diversity is complex, nuanced and gnarly. So they might not all make the difference we are wanting. We’ll fail fast and go again and tell everyone what’s gone wrong, so they don’t make the same mistake.
That said, we have worked hard to get our first initiatives right. We have talked to some brilliant and smart organizations like Channel 4 and the Social Mobility Foundation. Progressive agencies like Mediacom. People who have spent years thinking about the problem and the solutions, like Trevor Phillips. And we’ve backed our own instincts.
When you break down the initiatives, it’s hard not to see them working in some form. One-hundred schools. That’s at least 1,000 kids we are going to hang out with, possibly closer to 5,000 or even 10,000—how can they not help inspire kids to stay curious and think about a career in our industry?
A bursary to help kickstart your first 12 months in—how can they not help us attract some of the best state-educated kids in the country?
Dedicated time and investment to ensure all our diverse talent are able to develop and a clear leadership program to ensure all the glass ceilings are smashing and stay smashed—how can that not inspire the next generation of young leaders, no matter what their background and who they are?
Working with the best agencies and businesses in our industry to push the diversity agenda, so that the smartest, most creative minds are applying themselves to a big gnarly comms and behavioral challenges—how can that not shift the diversity dial in ad land?
What metrics will you look at to gauge the improvement in diversity, both at Grey and across the industry?
As an agency, we will gauge success by seeing more diverse talent coming into the building. And that is any diverse talent. We would love to encourage more people from BAME backgrounds. And more people who are state-school educated. To have more diverse talent identified as future leaders. Future leaders we then keep in our agency, or at the very least we keep in the industry.
As an industry… for agencies to stop fudging their diversity numbers and realize that diversity is a genuine commercial win, not a marketing headline or some weird, point scoring exercise. For advertising to be seen at the forefront of diversity in business, particularly in attracting the best young talent. I mean, fair play to the accountancy firms for leading from the front, but surely, with our insane communication and creative skills, we should be helping them set the bar, not be running behind them.