Marketing Briefing: Diversity execs sound off on the current state of DE&I in advertising – a work in progress


After more than two years of commitments and promises, yet another report from the 4A’s points out that the ad industry still has a ways to go in its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

However, chief diversity officers at U.S. agency holding companies say diversity stats are just a small part of what’s happening across the DE&I landscape. Ultimately, it is, and continues to be, a work in progress. 

The past June, the 4A’s released the 2023 Diversity in Agencies Survey Report, revealing that in 2021, 73% of agency leaders identified as white, as per industry reports. By 2022, that figure jumped to 90%. To the industry, those figures could point to advertising’s progress, or lack thereof, causing questions about the fizzling out of what was the DE&I fever pitch with wake of the murder of George Floyd in May, 2020.

“As an industry, we can do better as we recently saw in the findings of the 4A’s 2023 Diversity in Agencies survey,” Tahlisha Williams, the 4As evp of talent, equity and learning solutions, said in an emailed statement. “Now, more than ever, agencies must be intentional in defining and keeping their DEIB commitments. They also need to continue to track progress, so they don’t’ take their eye off the ball.”

But to diversity executives at major holding companies, including Havas, Publicis Groupe and Dentsu, diversity stats don’t tell the entire story. And two years isn’t enough time to overhaul an entire industry.

“There’s no way that things that have been systematically and historically embedded in our lives, in our subconscious and especially within our organizations would have been undone within two years in a global pandemic,” said Geraldine White, chief diversity officer of Publicis Groupe U.S. 

In the U.S., diversity within advertising has been a slow, uphill battle, dating back to the Mad Men-era of advertising on Madison Avenue. A spotlight was shone on the industry’s blindspot on diversity at the height of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, reenergizing the industry’s focus on diversity. 

Since then, efforts have waned. Despite DE&I promises, media companies are still predominantly hiring white people. And per the 4A’s research, most agencies are either owned, or run by, white executives. 

Chief equity officers say that on the surface, it seems the industry has hit DE&I fatigue. But as the industry aims to track its own progress with diversity stats, research and articles, chief equity officers also say it’s not a numbers game, urging the industry to put diversity figures into context and pursue long term goals. 

“​​Because the work is talked about so much and has so much share of mind, that’s when you mistake the talk and the frequency of that talk for actual impact and actual progress,” said Christena Pyle, chief equity officer of Dentsu Americas. Meaning that just because agencies aren’t talking about the work doesn’t mean the work isn’t happening. Numbers can be helpful in translating progress to CEOs and business leaders. But measuring how people feel and employee sentiment is also important, Pyle added. 

Dentsu releases an annual diversity report. Since May 2021, the holding company has increased its multicultural representation from 27.1% to 31%. More specifically, executive levels are 24.% multicultural, up from 21.8% last June, per the report. This year’s progress report will be released in the fall. 

Meanwhile at Havas North America, diverse representation has increased in North America by eight percentage points from 28% in July of 2020 to 36% in December of 2022. Within that same time frame, 50% of interns came from underrepresented communities. 

Finally, since Publicis Groupe made its initial commitments, the U.S. diverse headcount has increased by more than 12%, per the company’s progress report shared publicly on LinkedIn. Of that growth, the percentage of people of color at Publicis remains consistent at 34.6% in 2023, up slightly from 34.4% in 2022. 

Beyond race and ethnicity, these diversity executives are accounting for gender, sexual orientation, disabilities and more, capturing diversity, equity and inclusion in its entirety. And beyond representation numbers, they’re tracking employee retention, promotions, employee resource group success and more. 

“We think about inclusion overall in many different categories, ensuring that we have that representation,” said Lisa Rodriguez, chief diversity officer for North America at Havas. “It takes time. We haven’t reached the goal post. You come with short term and long term plans.” 

Obviously, there’s room for improvement that’ll take the industry championing around itself and those doing the work, including diversity executives, to continue forward movement. It’s a matter of continuing through the ebbs and flows, per the execs. 

“The advertising industry is not impervious to the challenges of society,” Pyle said. “We still are a reflection of society and we haven’t broken down those systemic barriers for people who are other.” 

3 Questions with Briana Severson, svp and head of global marketing at TodayTix Group, ticket company

What does experimentation with new technologies, like augmented reality, virtual reality or artificial intelligence, look like for TodayTix?

With our customer support team, every interaction that you have right now with the TodayTix customer support member, there’s a real human behind it. But we have started to use AI to help inform recommendations to customers as well as to ensure that the words that we’re using are on brand, and the messaging that we’re putting out there is hitting the right tone and delivering that six star experience. We’re very keen as a company to scale our efforts in AI. At the same time we want to make sure that everything that we do, we’re putting the customer first. We’re never going to sacrifice customer experience for efficiency. But we are going to using AI increasingly to make better recommendations for what to see, what seat to sit in, as well as better ways to engage with our customer support team.

Why does TodayTix stick to in-house marketing and media buying as opposed to working with external partners?

All of our marketing and media buying is done in-house. We have always bought our media in-house. We’ve had consultants who we’ve worked with in different regions, but the actual buying itself has happened with our internal team. It’s something that I feel pretty passionately about and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution for every single business and every single situation. For us, the importance of having the in-house team be so deeply connected to our mission, to our audience, to what has or hasn’t worked before – actually be the ones doing the buying themselves – creates a better sense of cohesion. No plans to change that any time soon. 

Has the writer’s strike impacted how your team operates at all?

Talk about having to pivot. Every year, we have red carpet coverage of the Tony Awards. It’s our Super Bowl, if you will. This year, given the writer’s strike, the Tony Awards didn’t exactly go as planned. You have this playbook, you have this idea of how things are going to play out, but then there’s a very big cultural event that’s happening in the form of the writer’s strike. What we did was we actually slid into the DMs of a bunch of writers and comedians, who we felt really aligned with our brand mission, and we brought them into this content series that we published (and we compensated them for this). We had them perform unwritten reviews of shows that were nominated for Tony Awards this year. That ended up being one of our best performing content series that we’ve had to date. Things are moving so quickly, changing so quickly, platforms [and] events themselves are changing so quickly and you have to have that adaptability to be able to succeed. 

By the numbers

A staggering $2 trillion was generated by the side hustle market in the United States alone in 2018. As a result of this growth, a diverse range of participants has been attracted to that way of working, including millennials and Gen Zers. Side hustles typically generate about $473 per month or $5,700, per year, which can have a significant impact on one’s overall financial situations, according to new research by Website Builder Expert. The new research focuses on the growth of the side hustle economy in the US. Find more details from the report viewed below:

  • 70% of Gen Zers are actively seeking opportunities to venture into the side hustle market.
  • 50% of millennials already have a side hustle.
  • 33% of Americans reported side hustling to diversifying income sources. — Julian Cannon

Quote of the week

“Industry wide we became victims of our own success.”

Amanda Domuracki, global social lead for League of Legends at Riot Games, on the chronically online brand voice and the age of ‘late stage social media’.

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