How can advertising become more diverse?

The UK advertising industry is 90% white. How can it become more diverse, not just in terms of ethnicity, but also in relation to class, gender and sexuality so that it better reflects the audiences it is making work for?

The UK advertising industry is 90% white. How can it become more diverse, not just in terms of ethnicity, but also in relation to class, gender and sexuality so that it better reflects the audiences it is making work for?

Last night, the IPA in London hosted the launch of Diversity in Advertising, a film created by the Ideas Foundation to encourage debate about the lack of ethnic minorities working in advertising agencies. Established ten years ago, the mission of the Ideas Foundation, as explained last night by its founder Robin Wight, is to increase diversity in the advertsing industry by working with schools on education projects and running workshops to encourage students to consider advertising as a career and delivering work experience, internships and apprenticeships in advertising to provide a pathway to that career.

After showing the film, a panel chaired by Sir John Hegarty and consisting of Jonathan Akwue, partner and global client MD at Engine, Angela Rutledge, digital project director at Partners Andrews Aldridge, IPA president Nicola Mendelsohn, Trevor Beattie, founding partner of BMB and Saatchi & Saatchi MD Magnus Djaba discussed some potential ways forward for the industry.

Some key poins came out of the discussion:

1, That work needs to be done at schools to make students aware that the advertising industry is an option for them, both by talking to children direct and to careers advisers (a key part of what the Ideas Foundation does). Also, as both Djaba and Mendelsohn pointed out, parents need to be convinced that advertising can be a suitable career, particularly in the case of parents fom ethnic communities. This problem is made more acute with the rise in tuition fees.

2, That the current placement system, whereby people wanting to go into creative departments are still often expected to work for free, works against diversity. Several panellists made the point that this is a question of class as much as it is of race. Beattie proclaimed that advertising is still the same as it was when he entered it “too posh, too white, too male”. Tuition fees, he noted, are changing the dynamic further, noting that his agency’s placement students have got “posher and posher”. Beattie is doing something about this by funding students via his own foundation and is also adamant that agencies must pay thier placements. “I don’t undersand why agencies don’t pay,” he said. “It baffles me and it makes me ashamed.”

There is also the question of cronyism, with too many placement opportunities and jobs being awarded as a result of nepotism. One HR head from a leading agency in the audience stated that she had found out that at her agency 76% of placements last year were nepotistic, most of them going to the children of clients.

3, That the industry itself is responsible for solving this, not anyone else. Djaba made the point that the way to move forward on this is to make the case for increased diversity as a means to improving the work done by agencies. Both Hegarty and Jonathan Akwue made the point that more progress would be made by making diversity a positive rather than expecting agencies to act out of guilt. Hegarty suggested advertising set itself the goal of becoming the most diverse industry in the UK. Former MP Oona King, now heading uo diversity at Channel 4, suggested from the audience that, to achieve that, advertising could learn from TV and sign up to a similar programme to that operated by the Creative Diversity Network in the television industry.

It’s important to note that advertising isn’t alone among the creative industries in being far less diverse than the population at large. Similar problems exist in design and the media, for example. Hopefully last night will give some momentum to real change taking place in the industry. In the short term, anyone wishing to help is encouraged to contact the Ideas Foundation.



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  • Violent

    Good point raised on nepotsim, I have witnessed it personally in a variety of guises and from many viewpoints, none of them acceptable.

    It’s certainly alive and well in the graphic design biz, and I can only assume it’s the same, if not worse, in advertising. The worst thing is if you call out nepotism, you’re labeled a bitter nobody, jealous of others’ success. I’ve been dragged over the coals for openly disputing nepotistic appointments despite seeing better candidates.

    Keeping your golf buddies and the well-heeled in success is clearly more important than the quality of your product in many corners of this industry, sadly.

  • M. Davis

    Bla, bla, bla. Watch the video from 13:52. You’re welcome.

  • john Johns

    Its not about race, its about the industry being closed to people without rich families.

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ John Johns

    Sir John Hegarty made the point last night that in the 60s and 70s there was a major influx of working class people (mostly men) into creative departments. Their influence helped make UK advertising the best in the world at that time. Somehow, since then, the industry has lost that diversity in class terms.

  • qwertyuiop

    ” its about the industry being closed to people without rich families”

    Why is this a problem? Life isn’t fair… deal with it.


    [comment deleted by moderator. It’s an important topic, why not make a worthwhile contribution?]

  • A

    @ qwertyuiop

    In response to your idiotic comment

    Why is it a problem that human beings who are equal and should be treated equal and have equal rights are for one reason or another being denied a chance to work in an industry they want to. Why is it a problem that those who are born into this world at such an advantage already (ie being white and rich) are putting up a glass ceiling for other genders and races whether as an indirect consequence of something of a more sinister reason.

    We (those who are not in the rich and white/ male bracket) demanded equality with giving all men the franchise, the suffragettes, against slavery and apartheid, for civil rights, and we will not “deal with it”. We will demand it in the workplace in 2012. Life isn’t fair, lets do something about it

  • Ray

    I’m from a mixed race background, grew up on London housing estate and still manage to earn my crust as a designer. Have done for the past 15+ years.

    Worked my way through both my BA and MA. Worked fucking hard to earn every position, every client. The effort, success and failure, had nothing to do with me, or my up-bringing, or my race, religion etc. . . . my portfolio and the effort I put into it got me where I am today.

    The client couldn’t give a monkeys if you (the agency) is ticking all the PC boxes. They want their work to be relevant to the brief, have a point of difference, be on time and on budget and above all creative. Putting kids in this situation because of political agendas will do them more harm than good. No intern or junior will work for my team if they are not up to it. FACT! I can’t afford it! . . . and frankly it is totally unacceptable and unfair to those that are.

    Earn your strips like everyone else! (And people like myself will treat you with the respect that you deserve. Not because the PC brigade has told me to!)

  • Karl Foster

    Class war rages but we pretend it’s gone away.

    Might always decides that it’s right and the rest of us are envious or full of spite. Same excuses I’ve been hearing for nearly 50 years.

    If the established agencies won’t hire non-white, non male talent then set up your own business and put the established one’s out of business (free enterprise competition).

    There is no one coming to bail you out you will have to do it all yourself (you always will). When you become the established agencies remember that white people are also a diverse commodity and hire the talented ones too

  • Richard Paris Wilson

    As an aside to the discussion, it’s worth noting the company who made the film, Media Citizens (, and that this initiative was instigated by Faisal Ahmed (CleverPeeps). In addition to all the great work done by the Ideas Foundation in making this happen.

    Good article, Patrick. It was a great event. Well done to Dare for actually opening their doors on the 29th of Nov, and to Creative Review for supporting this issue. Let’s hope something actually happens now.

  • Adam Smith

    As a creative who’s just got my first job, the limitations for my group was money. My university group was massively more mixed than my agency. People have fallen away purely because of money. It’s impossible to get decent experience without somehow surviving on the cheap; I was lucky enough not to pay for accomodation, but my friends are looking at at least £150 of their £200/week placement money going on accomodation.
    Date into account tube fares, food, the cost of producing/printing a portfolio and unemployment in between placements… it’s easy to edge towards that unorthorised overdraft.

    Aside from being paid more, I don’t know what the solution is; a greater variety of people may well be aware of these opportunities, but their financial situation generally conspires against them.

  • Harish

    Unfortunately, the resistance and anxiety we read in some of these responses are not uncommon, yet founded upon misunderstanding. For example, just because one person felt he experienced no barriers, it does not mean this does not happen. We should not confuse all efforts to address diversity as the work of some ‘pc brigade’. A good guide is to look at the evidence, not the stories in the newspapers or in the pub. It’s simply true that there is massive under-representation in areas such as race, social class and gender across many industries, not least creative & media.

  • Harriet

    It’s a serious issue, but it’s universal in the creative industries. Where are all the black directors? Black producers? Black screenwriters?? It’s inherent in the culture.

    Good documentary. Nice series of films, too. Interesting and honest opinions.

  • Dave Campbell

    Seems like we’ve got an ‘Uncle Tom’ here – I guess you don’t want to rock the boat because you seem oblivious to the challenges and obstacles certain groups face.
    It’s all good saying earn your stripes – do you really believe most applicants haven’t been good enough?

  • me

    best analogy i’ve ever heard for being Black in advertising came from the late great Phyllis Hyman.

    she said, as a female singer on tour, she noticed that after the shows, there were female groupies lined up for all the male performers, from the headliners to the members of the band. but as a star/headlining/female singer, there were no male groupies lined up to see her after the show. none.

    it’s the same in advertising. i’m a Black creative director. i have a good job. but it’s not like there are ten companies (all of whom claim they need qualified diverse hires) lined up offering me jobs. nobody is fighting over me, the way they are fighting over my white peers and it’s b.s.!