Advertising Week Briefings: “We didn’t retouch and we didn’t lose the business.”

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Many agencies are pioneering cultural change and a push for more diversity in the advertising world.

A panel discussion between Georgina Pownall, former Managing Director at McCann Melbourne, Gayle While, outgoing CEO at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne and Kimberlee Wells, CEO at TBWA\Melbourne & Adelaide, explores the importance of challenging assumptions and current practices and a move towards inclusivity and acceptance.

They came together for Advertising Week’s Briefing event hosted by marketing lecturer Lucio Ribeiro. These were the key talking points.

The impact of advertising on shaping culture and new movements 

Creativity has a powerful ability to shift stereotypes and acceptance around the way people see themselves, according to Kimberlee Wells, CEO at TBWA\Melbourne & Adelaide. She continued by stressing that businesses need to stay true to their core values when creating advertising, even if it’s not their first instinct.

“There was an instance with a client with a woman who was six weeks postpartum and a retouching brief came through to our agency. But because we stand by our purpose, I had staff come into my office and ask, ‘What do we do’?

“I said, you don’t retouch, we’ll remind them that they’re a brand that has built their business on real women. The staff member then asked what happens if we lose the business? I said, ‘so be it’.

“We didn’t retouch and we didn’t lose the business.”

Georgina Pownall, former Managing Director at McCann Melbourne agrees, adding that it’s about leading with the initiative to start the conversation and being brave enough to challenge the status quo.

“McCann had the first Bakers Delight ad in 25 years that didn’t feature a 45-year-old white male baker. Everyone was a bit scared about it, but in fact, the client was supportive and we went with it.

“We need to show leadership. When you hear somebody say, ‘I never saw myself represented in anything when I was growing up on TV’, think about that, and take that to work with you.

“We’ve had really interesting conversations with clients that might be doing some work around their sustainable development goals that haven’t necessarily pushed them forward enough, and also importantly around purpose.”

Wells added: “Yes, I think being on the proactive foot from an agency perspective is as important as helping to continue to champion the direction that our clients are going.”

Getting more women and diversity into the Workplace

While gender equality is incredibly important, we need to take a closer look at diversity on the whole, according to Gayle While, CEO at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne.

“There is undoubtedly a need for more gender diversity and there are two ends to that spectrum. One is that we need to ensure that advertising agencies feel like they’re great places to work regardless of gender. For new generations coming in, the Googles and Facebooks and so many other creative areas are seen as more interesting and as having more of a career development plan.

“So we’ve got to make our environments really interesting and flexible for that generation. We need to give them confidence and growth when coming into creative departments.

“Secondly, we need to make sure we’re retaining mums and older women – they need to feel like there’s a role for them within agencies. The younger people who come in are being given more opportunities than ever before.

“We’re looking at improving policies and flexible working arrangements. We’re offering more support to enable returning mums to return to the workforce and then showing them as role models as well.”

Pownall agreed, adding: “Women are half of the world’s population and there just needs to be certain standards of this. It’s about real women in leadership, in culture and in society.”

Wells concurred, saying that the industry needs to embrace more empathic and diverse female leadership.

“Women leaders need to be the type of leaders that other women want today. Certainly early in my career, the female leaders that I had, I didn’t want to be like because there was too much masculinity assumed to the position.

“I think that far more empathetic leadership is what we see coming through from women who are still very strategic and very commercial but deliver through the lens of empathy.

Wells also noted that she doesn’t love conversations about gender equality, “because I feel like they swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction”.

“Agencies led by five white women that have all been educated through a similar lens, grown up in the same society, and operated in the same circles are no different to agencies led by five white men.”

The specialist vs the generalist in ad agencies

Georgina Pownall is firmly of the opinion that internships are an important first step in determining particular skill sets and career choices.

“I think internships are important, and it’s the responsibility of ad agencies to have really strong and rigorous intern programs.

“As an employer, I would like someone to know what they want to do once they’re an intern, and finish with a really clear understanding. If you don’t, go and talk to more people. But don’t sit in a job interview for an account coordinator and say, ‘I’m not sure what I want to do’.”

While I had a slightly different perspective, saying that as agencies are evolving, a growth mindset rather than necessarily a certain skill set is more important for a role.

“If you’re curious and solve problems, you’ll be interested in the next best thing and so we’ll learn a lot from you, and your value will be there.

“There’s a degree of having an openness to being a generalist. Each great agency is made of T’s and I’s, because you can’t have lots of people who are generalists and nobody who understands the depth of something.

“It’s about what is right for an agency, but I think we’re going to see a shift in role within agencies, and people being broader in what they bring.”

Wells was of the view that a winning personal approach coupled with an appropriate skill set was the ideal combination.

“You’ve got to know what you do and be good at it. You’ve also got to be great to work with. And being great to work with trumps skills.

“So the passion and the productivity that Gayle has spoken about… if you should show up with that, you pretty much have the job.”

*Photo credit: Rocio Faraco

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