Why people like Kevin Roberts no longer belong in Ad Agencies.

workplace diversity

(marketingmagazine.com.my) –By: Rodd Chant

This past week, Kevin Roberts, Chairman at Saatchi & Saatchi and Head Coach at Public Groupe, gave an interview in which he made what can best be described as incredibly misinformed comments about gender diversity in advertising agencies and the ambitions, or lack thereof in his eyes, of women in the industry.

As I read his interview I had a bad taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t the fault of the coffee I was drinking.

One of his statements included –

“We have a bunch of talented, creative females, but they reach a certain point in their careers … 10 years of experience, when we are ready to make them a creative director of a big piece of business, and I think we fail in two out of three of those choices because the executive involved said: ‘I don’t want to manage a piece of business and people, I want to keep doing the work’,” Roberts said.

How could a so-called ‘leader’ at one of the biggest advertising networks be so out of touch? Does he use his smartphone or a tablet to make notes or does he prefer to carve images on a rock wall like a caveman would?

He even said the gender diversity in advertising debate “is all over”.

That is just downright ridiculous.

He also decided to take a swing at Cindy Gallop, a successful advertising executive who is a staunch advocate for gender diversity in advertising.

But I dare say Cindy has a much better right hook than Roberts when it comes to this topic. His comments proved he is not qualified to be in the ring with a heavyweight, he is still in the light welterweight class.

In my two plus decade career I have worked with and met some amazing women in this business, some of whom were leaders and some who should be leaders and have the ambition to get there.

So many advertising agencies, for as long as I have been involved in the business, have been boys clubs and that has to change.

When I landed my first ECD (Executive Creative Director) position and needed to hire people, I didn’t look at gender, race, or color; I looked at talent and abilities. In one year I hired nine new creative staff – six were women.

That first ECD role was actually at Publicis, the place that seems to be about to put an end to Mr. Roberts career.

His comments still have me shaking my head in disbelief.

Considering there is a woman running for U.S. President right now it is unbelievable that he could have such a myopic view.

I’ve met career-focused women who work in all industries – law, engineering, medicine, science, the arts, publishing, education, hospitality, marketing, sales, design, and as mentioned in advertising.

I have seen no difference in their ambitions and dreams apart what is bestowed upon them from males who seem to think that only those with XY chromosomes belong at the top.

If I was Mr. Roberts and I had to go in to have some surgery any time in the future I would be very wary if the surgeon is a woman. He may just wake up missing a couple of things that give him his ‘manhood’. Hey, mistakes happen.

For advertising agencies of today to succeed into tomorrow they need to change or suffer the consequences. And yes, not every ad agency is a boys club, but many are, sadly.

If I was back in management today of a big agency I would much prefer to have a woman counterpart to work alongside and with or for that matter to work under and answer to.

Why? For balance, that’s why. I could never profess to know everything and have all the answers and when you have equals from both genders you get a better view of everything.

In fact, agencies should have an even balance of male and female, different races, and members of the LGBT community.

There should also be people with disabilities and those who can speak various languages. We live in a diverse world.

An ad agency is creating communications that need to connect with everyone in every community, if you have a bunch of white males (and I am only speaking to New York here and being very general to make an example) that either live in Soho or Williamsburg, or are straight and married with kids and living in Connecticut, how can you have a true understanding of who you need to talk to in your ads and communications?

You need a group of people with different views, lifestyles, backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences.

Yes I know we have research and all that. To which I say – codswallop (have always loved that word).

Real creative ideas and thinking come from life, interactions with others, and getting amongst communities and listening to them (no, not from behind a two-way mirror in an unnatural environment where the people talking are being paid $50 and fed sandwiches and sodas).

To get better ideas you need better diversity amongst the people coming up with the ideas, it’s really that simple.

Now, does everyone who works in an advertising agency want to be in management? No, of course not, but that applies to men and women.

I have male friends who have told me they would never want the jobs I had in big agencies. I used to joke to some friends that the ‘E’ in ECD actually stands for Excel spreadsheets…not very creative.

But Mr. Roberts biggest mistake was assuming he knows what every single woman in advertising is thinking; he conveniently dumped them into a box where they all should sit in his view.

How can a person be in a position such as that, be paid millions per year (I’m guessing), have a title that includes the word ‘Coach’ in it and say these things? It is mind-boggling.

If I was running an agency today I would be doing my utmost to change the situation, someone needs to do it and do it well and with meaning. Lead by example; show other agencies what needs to be done.

Show clients you truly understand the consumers they need to connect with. I’m pretty sure smart clients would appreciate this.

So my advice to anyone that is reading this and that truly cares about the industry they are in and its future is that right now is your chance to be the one (or hopefully more than one) who changes the industry for the better. Do it, there is nothing stopping you apart from yourself.

Make a difference; don’t make excuses.


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