Leo Burnett’s all male announcement sends all the wrong signals warns Grey creative leader

Nils Leonard Grey LondonOne of the world’s most respected creative leaders has said Leo Burnett has damaged its brand by sending the wrong signals to the industry with its announcement about hiring an all white male creative team.

After fierce criticism for the announcement from equality campaigner Cindy Gallop stirred fierce debate in the Australian industry,  Nils Leonard, chief creative officer of Grey London, warned agencies are as accountable for their actions as the clients they are advising.

“Whatever we thought, we used to be dark arts advisers and the hirings and moves and changes we made mattered to very few people and were seen by very few people and we are now very public,” Leonard told Mumbrella.

Last year Leonard created a firestorm in the US when he said that the perfect creative leader was “fierce, fearless and female” and is in Australia to deliver the D&AD President’s Lecture.

And he said Leo Burnett had badly misplayed the importance of its announcement and what it said about the industry as a whole.

He added: “So we have to think like we advise our clients which is what’s your purpose? What do you want to be known for as an agency – never mind the clients that you work for – as an agency?

“If that is your approach, you then ask yourself, we are making a statement about our future and in that statement we have got these people, you have to question it, you don’t have a choice anymore.”

He said that agencies needed to change the debate from who they were hiring to what it said about their business.

“Do we hire men? Yes. It’s the wrong debate. The right debate to be having is what signals are you sending to the industry, which is clearly in a very sensitive place, about your role in it.”

Leonard said he had also been taken to task by Gallop about an all-male hiring announcement in the UK, and had learned something important in dealing with the criticism.

While tackling the issue head on, noting that his agency had a female CEO and women in high level executive positions, it had also helped to shift his thinking.

“I’m proud of our diversity, I’m proud of our lineup, and I’ll take anyone to task on it. But what I did realise in that moment was that the mistake we had made was the signals that we want to send to the industry.

“You have a choice there as an agency. If they (Leo Burnett) could rewind and make a slightly different statement, would they? They definitely would.

“The hires we make signal to people the sort of company we want to be in the future. I wouldn’t demonise them for it though.”

However, he also had advice for people who jumped on the bandwagon through social and comment threads, questioning how much thought they were giving to the issues before sounding off.

“We totally need to have the debate. But a lot of people jump into massive support or massive criticism of these issues.

“Cindy wants to take people on. She’s a firestarter and I lover her for it. But the people that jump on the bandwagon need to think a bit harder about their point of view.”

Simon Canning


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