Letting the light in:

Diversity in advertising agencies

While Stan Richards’ unfortunate comments created tidal waves across the advertising and marketing industry, the conditions that made them possible are, sadly, nothing new. They’re emblematic of two themes that course powerfully through our industry—issues that require a reckoning bigger than we have historically been willing to make: our sense of exceptionalism and our responsibility to the work.

Let’s face it: advertising has long embraced a view of itself, and its practitioners, as exceptional people. We have Special Talents. We do Important Work. And we have Big Ideas. All of which, we believe, exempt us from the ordinary rules. It’s an attitude that allows leaders like Stan to treat important things as not. And to forget (so ironic, this one) that words really matter. That sense of exceptionalism also means that while other sectors have been forced to widen their embrace of gender and ethnic diversity, advertising has had no such burning platform—perhaps until now.

Topofmind percent
Fewer than 0.1% of agencies doing national work today, are led by women.

AdAge, the same publication that first broke the news on Stan Richards, shared that of all the agencies across the United States doing national work, women-owned agencies comprise the .1 percent (no, that decimal is not misplaced). This means that, as a woman-owned marketing and creative agency, Langrand has a handful of peers across the country. Consider that I am Latina, and the statistic shrinks ever closer to zero.

Our industry and its creative output reflect the limitations of a very narrow perspective—the people who work at advertising agencies—who, like the tech industry, are disproportionately male, white and economically privileged.

Stan’s remarks also beg the bigger question of our work—and what we do in the service of that work. The purpose of advertising is to sell. That means finding out what motivates people to act (and buy), what they believe in and identify with, and, if you’re good—how to change their minds. And too often what we’ve done as an industry is reduced people to crude categories and served up stereotyped representations to sell. If you’d like to see the dark side of this—look no further than the current political climate and the advertising landscape in our most recent presidential election.

As people who work in advertising, we understand our power to shape how people think and feel. But, do we use our platform to move discourse forward, or are we finding new and creative ways to simply stay mired in the collective muck?

I believe the answer is being made for us, and we need to listen.

Women, people of color and LGBTQ+ communities are no longer interested in existing at the margins or in doing business with companies or brands who keep them there. Consumers want—they demand—brands that see them, mirror back their stories and create meaningful connections with them. And, unfortunately, our industry hasn’t kept pace with the societal changes that are underway. Addressing these issues in a comprehensive and purposeful way is important work. And it’s long overdue.

It’s time that we radically rethink how we open up our agencies and let some light in.

I, for one, am ready to get started.

This was originally published on LinkedIn
Shannon Langrand