Industry responds to ‘alcohol in adland’

In response to our recent feature ‘Alcohol in adland and its impact on staff’, Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan put the topic to some of Australia’s prominent agencies, in order to see how the industry has, and looks to, respond to this issue. And to see if office trends are changing, as companies slowly reintroduce staff back into offices, along with client entertainment.

There is an acknowledgement in the advertising world that events and socials can, and have been reliant on alcohol.

“The industry has historically been built-off a social culture, much of which is around a drinking culture,” says Pauly Grant, Publicis Groupe ANZ’s chief talent officer. “I do however think things have changed somewhat, especially since COVID. This could be due to the fact there are lower numbers of staff in the office due to our hybrid way of working.”

If half the office is at home, then the perceived pressure to drink, be sociable or match other’s drinking is somewhat reduced. And it’s not just staying home that is changing drinking habits, but people’s commuting trends are influencing their decision whether or not to stay for that extra drink says Grant.

Pauly Grant

“People are walking or riding into work more often, so seem to be reducing their at-work drinking. That being said, partner Friday lunches seem to be creeping back onto the scene over the last couple of months.”

Some perceive that routines are changing as staff and the community return to pre-pandemic activities. “I do think there’s been a shift post COVID – people want to spend more time with friends and family, there are still fewer work events than there were in 2019, and people are choosing not to drink or to drink less for various reasons,” says Priya Patel, DDB Sydney’s managing director.

For some however, the question of alcohol as an issue in the industry is also a reflection of a wider community as a whole. “Australia does have a drinking culture, and that trickles down into advertising’s relationship with alcohol locally too,” adds Patel.

“The question around whether it’s an issue or not is an important one, but in some ways I feel it’s also irrelevant,” says Nathalie Brady, general manager at M&C Saatchi Australia. “I’ve always believed that our workplace reflects society, and with that comes diverse people who not only celebrate differently, but also have different perspectives on alcohol consumption, whether due to their culture or the challenges they may be facing.”

Nathalie Brady

DDB’s head of social, Alex Watts, who was interviewed in last month’s feature, says that solving the adland drinking culture problem is about two things: choice and support.

“Giving people alternatives – both in terms of what to have in your hand at a party, and where and what that celebration is – is key, and DDB does a great job of providing that choice,” he says.

One thing that’s agreed upon, is that it’s ok to say no to alcohol, and this can be achieved, as Watts says, though providing alternatives to drinking at every step of the way, whether that be drink choices themselves, or making an effort to host events and gatherings that aren’t centred around the consumption of alcohol.

“To create an inclusive environment, it’s important to have a variety of events and social gatherings with a focus on things other than alcohol” says Grant.“We have in the past year made sure that we offer staff non-alcoholic drinks, from Kombucha to mineral water, as well as other drinks such as non-alcoholic beer.”

Of course, adjusting to these changes can take time, as does convincing staff to get on board. Yet with as disruptive a year as the pandemic has provided, what better time than now to implement some big changes to the culture around alcohol consumption?

“With a number of entry-level staff starting each year, it is our responsibility to set them up properly – ensuring managers are leading by example, educating people on responsible drinking, and making sure staff feel comfortable and included in social events” comments Grant.

Patel also says that a culture change starts with those in charge: “At DDB, we’re really conscious that culture starts at the top, and we need to lead by example.”

She continues: “Our internal drinking culture has definitely improved over time. We believe we’ve created an inclusive and welcoming environment for all, but we can always do more and that’s a priority for us.”

Priya Patel

And as industry events and staff parties also begin to return, changes to event planning will take this into consideration, something Brady says has already come into consideration in recent years: “We also looked at designing some of our social occasions around more than just alcohol, and sometimes no alcohol, it can be done, but it’s not the easiest.”

Brady continues: “Post COVID, our aim is to continue in the same vein. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have a bar in our new outfit, quite the opposite, it will be the envy of most. For us the challenge isn’t the drinking, it’s how we redesign our cultural events with more people working remotely.”

While this is a topic that will continue to evolve, Watts is happy about the progress that has already been made: “The initial Mumbrella article started a conversation internally at DDB that I was glad to be a part of about how we’re doing as an agency, what our alternatives are, what our social calendar looks like – and we’re in a good place, where there is space to be more than an agency that drinks.”


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