Adland is a cosy club for some; why do so many want to leave?
Welcome to Best of the Week, written in beautiful, chilly Sisters Beach. It’s good to be home in Tasmania for the rest of the winter.
Making space - the ACA carrot or Woolley’s stick?
One of the challenges of writing about the marketing industry is finding an acceptable point on the spectrum between naivety and cynicism.
It’s an industry the demands scepticism to write about properly. Most of the articles from over the years that I wish I could rewrite have been where I was insufficiently sceptical and people got free passes they did not deserve. But to continue to work in the industry without being driven mad, you also need to find ways to love it, and luckily there are many.
The last few days have seen me seesawing between cynicism and scepticism about the establishment’s reaction towards adland’s cultural problems.
As I’ve previously written, my scepticism radar was triggered by the industry bodies’ reaction to an initiative to ask bosses of agencies pitching for accounts to sign statutory declarations around harassment issues in their work places. This push by Darren Woolley’s marketing consultancy Trinity P3 was followed within hours by a press release from Advertising Council Australia.
The timing of the press release, clearly in response to the Trinity P3 initiative, triggered the scepticism radar. The press release felt like spin. The language didn’t seem to match the actions. It was being framed as an alternative to the Trinity P3 approach.
“We recognise that over the past few years there has been considerable media coverage on the significant impact that sexual harassment, bullying and assault have on individuals, their friends, families and communities,” said the release.
Note that it didn’t seem to quite accept that there had actually been harassment, bullying and assault, merely that there had been media coverage. It continued:
“While this behaviour can occur in any industry and many of our members have strong frameworks and processes in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff, ACA recognises the need to not only lead by example, but support the industry to do better every day. It is for this reason that ACA launched its landmark DE&I program, Create Space, in November 2021.
For those not working in HR, DE&I stands for diversity, equity and conclusion, by the way
“More than 2,600 people in the industry responded to the inaugural census, providing the most robust and extensive data on demographics and experiences at work that the industry has ever had. This data has informed a strategic program to accelerate greater inclusion and diversity across our entire membership base as well as the wider industry.”
So the answer to the issue of harassment was to… conduct a survey. And there seemed to be some magical thinking that if workplaces became more diverse, the bad behaviour would stop. “The only way to prevent sexual harassment and bullying is to create an industry culture that simply does not tolerate it.”
So it was a fight to avoid feeling cynical when ACA began to stream its Make Space data on Thursday morning. More so when CEO Tony Hale read out his introduction: “In the main, the results are really good. We’re largely a diverse industry with the vast majority of people having a huge sense of belonging and experiencing low levels of discrimination.”
Of course, it’s Hale’s job to look for the positives. As he acknowledged on this week’s Mumbrellacast, his role is to see the glass as half full.
But as they began to share the data, the cynicism radar stopped pinging. It’s an honest assessment of the problems. The survey data itself was anything but spin. The webinar deserves watching. It was a substantial piece of work. When you watch the webinar or read the Make Space data, there are some shameful statistics.
One of the most concerning numbers was that 8% of women surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment in the industry in the last year. That’s a rate about three times higher than a similar survey in the UK ad industry.
More than half of women said they had been unfairly spoken over or not listened to in meetings.
And with wide implications for the industry, 20% of those surveyed said they are likely to leave the industry because of discrimination or a lack of inclusion.
The impression of adland is that it’s a wonderful, fun club to be a part of if you fit in - which broadly means being a white bloke who went to a good school.
“We see a high likelihood of turnover in marginalised staff, including women, gender non-conforming, LGBTQI+ people, people with physical or mental health conditions, and those from ethnic minority groups,” said the report.
Read that previous paragraph again and consider what that says about an industry whose job it is to tap into popular culture.
According to the survey “the people who report the lowest sense of belonging and highest career challenges tend to be women from an ethnic minority”.
And women generally still fare worse in adland. Some 25% of women said they had been bullied or undermined at their company (compared to an also concerning 15% of men).
And 23% of women said they had experienced gender-based discrimination, compared to 4% of men.
Even more starkly, 56% of women said that taking parental leave had negatively impacted their career, compared to just 3% of men. Adland is not a club for people who put family first.
That may partly explain why junior and mid level agency ranks are majority female, but the C-suite is still male dominated.
Women earn between 21-33% less than men doing the same role, the survey suggested.
Just 75% of women working in the industry say they have a sense of belonging.
Race is also a factor. 15% of people of southern Asian background say they have experienced negative behaviour or discrimination, and 31% said they are likely to leave the industry.
It’s also a pressured industry. The most common problem is a mental health issue, (28%) followed by stress (23%) and fatigue (12%). Many of those suffering from a mental or physical illness report being bullied
And it’s an industry that tends to have little room for anyone in the second half of their working careers. Only 4% of people in adland are aged over 55, compared to 16% of the wider Australian workfroce.
And despite the industry’s raison d’etre being to tap into the psyche of ordinary Australians, adland’s socio-economic makeup is radically different. Most of those entering the industry come from private or fee paying schools. The low entry level wages are a barrier for public school kids.
It’s an incredibly concerning read, not least because it’s not particularly surprising. Seeing the data to back it up is confronting though.
So what to do about it?
If the Trinity P3 approach is the stick, the ACA is working on the carrots The plan is heavy on best practice guides for managers and template equality policies for agencies.
And maybe some of that will help.
What I’m not so sure of is that the ACA approach assumes good faith on the part of managers to take on its best practice suggestions. There are plenty out there, I suspect who quite like the world they are in charge of even if it’s a club that does not welcome everybody. Status quo may well be fine by them.
In the coming months, we’ll see both the carrot and the stick play out. Some agencies will lean into the ACA recommendations, and may slowly get incremental benefits in being seen as a better employer. Meanwhile, others may be forced to resolve festering problems or face making embarrassing disclosures to Trinity P3’s clients next time they pitch.
This week’s census provides a factual foundation for both approaches. On reflection, it’s not something to be cynical about.
The sinking Unmade Index
It was another week of bumping around the bottom for The Unmade Index, with further falls on Monday and Tuesday, a small rally on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by another 0.7% drop yesterday.
Our index of Australia’s ASX-listed media and marketing companies is once again hovering close to the 600-point floor representing a 40% decline since we began the year on 1000 points.
With heftier interest rate rises now looking certain, yesterday’s worse performer was the Nine-aligned real estate site Domain, which was down by 3.66%, taking it just below a $2bn market cap again. HT&E, owner of ARN, did best yesterday, with a 1.7% growth. However, the stock was still down by 5% for the week.
On the list(s)
And finally a couple of bits of housekeeping.
First, we had a piece of good news for the team at Unmade this week. We’ve been shortlisted in three categories of the Publish Awards.
Running for 25 years now, the Publish Awards are the publishing industry’s longest-running publishing awards program.
The Publish Awards have their roots in trade body Publishers Australia’s Bell Awards, which later became the Excellence Awards, and then the Publish Awards when Mumbrella took them on.
Unmade is shortlisted for launch of the year, my colleague Damian Francis is shortlisted for best single article for his exhaustive examination of the insurance marketing battleground, and I’m in the running for columnist of the year.
And while we’re on the topic of my favourite things, the program for the Byron Writers Festival was announced this week. I’ll be speaking at the event, in what feels like a career milestone for me.
On Friday August 26, you’ll find me in The Saturday Paper marquee, discussing how Australia’s media got where it is. And the next day, I’ll be in the Greenstone Partners Marquee, discussing the rise of fake news in the Truth and Other Lies session.
You can grab tickets via this link.
Time to let you go about your Saturday. Damo and I will be back on Monday with the Start the Week podcast.
Have a great weekend.