Unskilled managers contributing to the lack of diversity in the ad industry argues Paul Fishlock

SAGE question time

One of the founders of BMF Paul Fishlock, has argued “training has left agency land” which has resulted in completely unqualified people being left in charge of hiring, contributing to the lack of diversity in the industry.

Speaking on the Question Time panel at the Secrets of Agency Excellence conference the Behaviour Change Partners principal said: “Creative people in particular, if you’re really good at coming up with ideas and making ads maybe you’ll get the tap on the shoulder that says ‘congratulations, you’re now a creative director’ and suddenly you’re in a management role and running a department.

“People who’s only skill, and a very good and valuable skill is coming up with campaign ideas, find themselves running departments and looking at resource utilisation spreadsheets and they’re fucking useless at it.

“Hiring is really difficult. Hiring well is a skill that very few people have completely intuitively. When you have creative people who are suddenly in the position of hiring other creative people for $150k, $200k, and no ones ever told them how to vet applicants and how to conduct an interview. They sit down and go ‘well that was a good chat and he seems to have won lots of prizes, send him the contract’.

“Training has left agency land. I can’t see it coming back but it would be a very good thing if it did.”

Fellow panelist, former Lion and Virgin Mobile CMO Jon Bradshaw argued clients need to care about the makeup of their agencies, saying: “I care because I want different perspectives. My consumer base is 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female and 10 per cent ethnic. I want the perspective from the people solving the problems because that’s the reality of what I’m trying to sell to.

“It’s much better for a creative department to have diversity, not for its social architecture benefits which are significant, but because if you’ve got different people from different backgrounds thinking about the same problem you’re going to have a little bit of tension and friction and that’s a good thing in the creative process.”

For Virginia Hyland, the founder and principal of HM Communication Group, having a diverse teams gives her an edge when pitching against “five white guys”.

“What I’ve made sure is 60 per cent of my executive team are actually from different ethnic backgrounds and they bring a flavour to our client’s business, I know when I’m pitching against five white guys I go ‘fantastic, this is a great day for my agency’ and I embrace it,” she said.

Kevin Macmillan, creative partner and founder of The Works, suggested there needs to more women in leadership positions as a step to solving the diversity issue.

“Is it just more leaders? From a female perspective are there not enough? Maybe we need to have more women in leadership positions and making sure it’s not just blokes running the show.”

The panel also discussed the separation between creative and media and the need for better collaboration between agencies.



Hyland argued the split between creative and media has led to agencies losing their self-belief.

“The reason we’re all splintering now is because creative and media splintered apart but we’ve got half the answer on the media side and the creative guys have the other half of the answer,” she said.

“The reason that we’re all losing our belief is that when a client challenges creative ‘is that going to work?’ you need to be able to tell them the answer.”

Speaking from a marketer perspective Brand Strategy founder Bradshaw echoed the need to bring creative and media back together.

“The problem is now the medium it goes in can change the idea you want and the idea you come up with is fundamentally going to change the medium. That integrated type of thinking is really hard” he said.

“The split of creative and media never had anything to do with what a client wanted in the first place. It was all driven by the agency’s need to create more money and have different competing clients in different parts of the business.

“You never broke it apart because that’s what the client wanted, you did it for you. Put the fucking thing back together again.”

On agencies collaborating Fishlock said the “rules of engagement” need to be clear up front.

“If there’s any sense that there’s a grey area in the middle and there’s even a few dollars that could go one way or the other, it’s going to end in tears,” he said.

“If it’s going to work, somebody whether its on client side or strong agency management from the collaborators have to go ‘right, this is your bit, that’s what you’ll make from it, this is our bit, that’s what we’ll make out of it, nobody’s going to make shit if we don’t work together’.”

However Macmillan expects rostered agencies to continue to compete against each other for work as for the client it can make the work better.

“It’s how it has to be. If I was a client with a budget I’d be thinking ‘how am I going to make the most out of this?’ and I’d probably pit a few agencies against each other because they’d do anything for the work.

“What agencies need to start doing is see it as a positive thing. It’s difficult. I do find agencies whinge and whine too much and aren’t doing a lot about it. The reality is that is is what it is.

“Clients have a problem and as an agency our job is to find a solution not to give them another problem on top of the problem they already have.”

Miranda Ward


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