While Rome burns, we are busy building a new city

Bec BridesonIn this guest post Bec Brideson explains how women are moving to start their own agencies founded on different principles to traditional shops.

It started when a seemingly innocent PR announcement in a string of new hiring’s stirred up a hornets nest, which went global with global industry heavyweight Cindy Gallup’s tweets; then became the headline story for Mumbrella, AdNews and even Fairfax dailies.

It is at the face of it just another gender debate, and example of corporate groupthink. But in fact it highlights more than the lack of diversity in the advertising game. It typifies hegemony seemingly blind to its own biases and disconnected from the audience they are paid to understand and influence.

And there are plenty of industries that have the same issues.

In July this year, Government MP Sharman Stone, commented on the lack of women in Federal parliament and told the ABC: “The public is over it. They look at Parliament, they see it as time-wasting, totally confrontational, men versus men screaming at each other to see who can get thrown out the quickest.”

Just last week, the talented and clever Clare Bowditch went to the Screen Music Awards, and asked, “Where are all the women? It’s 2015, how can this still be happening”.

There are many instances, all over the world and all over Australia where this is simply part of everyday life.

So what’s changing and why did Leo Burnett’s hiring policy make headlines?

Perhaps it’s the fact that the social media revolution means women can now gather more support and media-attention when they call it out.

Women are being heard, and with more profile women like Gallop and Bowdich speaking out, women are feeling more and more empowered to join in and speak out.

Likewise in the advertising and marketing space the restlessness is getting louder.

Female consumers are voting with their wallets and making brand preferences known with the power of social media. They are the new arbiters of brands’ success.

With women responsible for $28 of the $35 trillion global consumer economy the ruse is up.

There’s no more hiding.

Leo Burnett’s, Ogilvy, Clemenger, DDB; these agency’s named eponymously after advertising’s forefathers may still continue to hire en-masse the “five-white males”. And these males will keep dominating the awards shows at Cannes, New York Festivals and D&AD’s and accept their awards and with that their rising profile and dominance in the industry.

But as these palaces struggle to maintain their dominance over an industry in turmoil, out on far edges there are over 65 start-up agencies spread all around the globe. Built mostly by progressive and clever women, who are outside the gates, inventing a new culture while the old Rome burns.

And we are being the change we want to see in the world, and the industry.

We have mortgaged our homes, taken the risks and worked long and hard to invent new strategic tools and platforms. We’re developing new sciences that better match todays’ reality (where women account for 90% of discretionary purchasing power).

We are rejecting the traditional Ogilvy-esque worldview of marketing as a form of warfare, with its language of waging campaigns, battles and conquests.

In a survey undertaken with these marketing-to-women specialist agencies in 2014, it was found that most agency principals feel that they are not taken seriously by the industry or by the wider marketing fraternity. Worse still, they are excluded from the industry press and the wider media. They are simply not on the agenda.

But this week’s noise around the “sameness” in the ad worlds’ creative departments gives hope that the old industry model is finally ready to evolve.

It demonstrates that a culture change is underway, and the business-as-usual of the old guard is becoming increasingly unacceptable.

In the book The Athena Doctrines: How Women and the Men Who Think Like Them Will Rule the Future, by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, is detailed and documented research about what we need to do to stay relevant and ready in a world characterised by more consumer change in the last ten years, than in any previous period of history.

Then there’s countless papers by The Boston Consulting Group, Ernst and Young and the likes of Maddy Dyctwalds book “Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better” that clearly show that the tipping point of the economy is indeed here.

Enlightenment is all around us for those who care to usher in innovation and deliver solution-based results for the new booming female economy.

With 91% of women saying they don’t think marketers or advertisers understand them, the hiring of “5 white guys from Leo’s” is serving only to repeat the past, rather than think intelligently about the future.

Ad land, it is time to embrace this future, because it already happening with or without you.

  • Bec Brideson is founder of Venus Communications and Global Marketing Women 

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