Has Adland Lived Up to Its Promises One Year After George Floyd’s Murder?

Niamh Carroll 25 May, 2021 

The murder of George Floyd on the 25th May 2020 sparked a wave of global Black Lives Matter protests. Protestors took to the streets across the world to demand an end not only to the police brutality seen that day, but also to call for wider structural change to eradicate systemic racism. 

During the weeks following George Floyd’s death, various agency CEOs promised to tackle racism and in June last year over 200 industry leaders signed an open letter co-ordinated by Creative Equals. The letter recognised that “the advertising industry needs to create and maintain inclusive cultures sensitive to inequity and the pain of racism.”

Chief executives at some of Adland’s biggest agencies, media owners, platforms and trade organisations signed the letter including from WPP, Publicis, Facebook, ITV and the IPA. The letter pledged to empower boards to drive representation and inclusivity by making it a part of their strategic priorities with clear KPIs, actions and goals, to call out racism whenever it was encountered, and to check preferred suppliers’ lists to ensure advertising isn’t funding racism or white supremacy. 

6000 Black ad professionals signed a letter dubbed “Call for Change”, that outlined an actionable 12-step plan for agencies. 

But one year later, how much progress has actually been made and has the industry been living up to their promises?

Dino Myers-Lamptey, founder of the Barber Shop, a UK-based independent agency, pointed to one of the letters that was signed by industry leaders last year. 

“Over 500 leaders, from over 200 companies were quick to sign the Adland Commits 10 point action pledge, yet in the recent survey one year on sent to all those signatories by CreativeEquals, only 76 companies took part.  From this minority of signatories, we can see that progress is being made by some, but a worrying lack of progress is being made by most,” he said. 

Myers-Lamptey pointed to the survey results which found that only 29 percent are collecting ethnicity pay gap data, 43 percent have failed to set KPIs and objectives for the leadership team on diverse representation and inclusivity, and 44 percent have not implemented anything to encourage white employees to become accountable allies. 

“One in five report that there are no plans to do a composition check of their leadership team, and meanwhile the percentage of C-Suite/Senior Leadership Team that are Black has fallen from 3.2 percent to 2.9 percent.  All this from the minority that were confident enough to complete the survey. This makes you wonder, what the employee version of this very same survey would say. One year on, and Adland is proving to be poor at keeping promises,” he added.

Demi Abiola, business director at PHD Media, says that the events of last year changed the conversation.

“There has been a shift in terms of the dialogue being more open about addressing the issues of diversity within or lack thereof at the workplace and what steps are needed to tackle the underlying problems. The recent Black Representation in Marketing ( BRiM) framework launch supported by the Ad Association is a positive step in creating long lasting change by providing a resource for companies and individuals in aiding Black representation in our industry and the work we produce,” he said.

He warns that this needs to be sustained through action as well as words.

“However there needs to continue to be a sustained narrative about inclusivity in addition to accountability from within the industry. It cannot truly say it has lived up to its promise until the corridors in which we work are truly representative of the society in which we live,” Abiola said.

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