Why isn’t your agency full of big, beautiful weirdos?

Channel 4’s ‘Altogether Different’ ad had strong representation across the board

There’s no such thing as ‘normal,’ and making your agency more representative should be at the center of your 2022 plans, writes Anna Dalziel as part of The Drum’s focus on Marketing and the Marginalized.

I loved Channel 4’s recent campaign ‘Altogether Different,’ which champions ‘big, beautiful weirdos.’ Not because it was wonderfully shot, featured strong representation of well-known celebs and utilized the channel’s recognizable hallmark of using comedy to openly have ‘uncomfortable conversations’ (although it did do all of this so well).

I loved it because it summed up a view I’ve held for many years – that there’s no such thing as ‘normal.’ We are all different, yet the same. And rather than look at what makes us different from each other, the campaign looked at what unifies us – like good analysts have done for years. And this unity is what our industry needs to address if it is to attract and (more importantly) keep diverse talent.

We need to look around our offices or on our Teams calls and see and hear from a range of voices so that different opinions and insights contribute, so we’re challenged and so we have a range of experiences shaping the work we create for clients. So that everyone is comfortable with the culture we create and live in our agencies.

But to do this, we need to be honest with ourselves, and understand the barriers stopping people joining our businesses or staying in them. I know this feels like an enormous task because I’ve worked in inclusion for over a decade, but there are simple steps to get the process going.

Firstly, we need to understand the challenge is twofold – attracting diverse people and retaining them. I’d recommend reading Kathryn Jacob, Sue Unerman and Mark Edwards’s recent book Belonging for actionable insights into fostering inclusion in the workplace. It lets you see things from other people’s perspectives, which is so important. This leads me on to the next part – understanding the barriers. What is stopping people from joining? And when they do join, what is making them leave? Knowing these reasons or having the answers means you can start to address the challenges without making assumptions.

Take ageism, an issue that is close to my heart and is why I set up 40 Over Forty last year with Charlotte Read and Anna Scholes. For years I’ve seen amazing, talented people join our industry in their 20s and by their late 30s they’d left, taking with them all that industry knowledge, experience and potential. It was, and still is, happening for many reasons – namely feeling overlooked, undervalued and disconnected from the industry they represented.

Thankfully, more accolades for the over-40s are being launched and I’m hearing about more policies being put in place, like the working group I’m advising on for the Advertising Association to address ageism across the spectrum. Real action is happening to make people feel welcome, and this is true in other areas of inclusion.

Class diversity is another underrepresented group in advertising. However, we are seeing real change in this area. Ally Owen’s work with Brixton Finishing School is encouraging a range of talent into our industry, while Jed Hallam’s Common People is working with people in marketing, advertising and media (both brand- and agency-side) to make change from within.

Poor ethnic diversity is also being tackled with organizations such as the cross-industry framework Brim and We Are Stripes to both help diverse talent enter the industry and also ensure they remain. So many people are using their challenges and lived experiences in the industry to lay a positive pathway so things can change, and I’m enthused to see real action starting to take shape. I’m hoping we’ll start to see the impact of all these efforts in the next year or two.

Disability is another vast and misunderstood area of inclusion and diversity within our industry, as it can be physical or mental. Yet we’ve seen some progress being made in this area such as the Valuable 500 platform, which was formed as a global movement putting disability on the business agenda, with brands such as American Express making open commitments on how they make disability part of their business agenda. And The Advertising Association’s (AA) ‘All In Cenus’ has already set out a simple action to take toward greater inclusion by asking businesses to audit their company websites to ensure they are accessible to all. This is not just to attract talent but also retain it, as the AA found one in five advertising practitioners with a disability were likely to leave their company.

I’m not saying changing your website will stop people leaving – it’s going to take more than that. But positive change is incremental, and steps need to be taken. Brands and agencies can also look at how they can become a disability confident employer through a government scheme.

The fact is, our agencies are not reflective of the societies we are living in or the culture we represent. The ONS shows us the facts and figures on what makes up the UK today, and the number of people living with various disabilities, the range of ages, the split of men and women, and the multicultural and ethnicity diversity all provide a benchmark for us to work toward.

Making your business more representative should be at the center of your 2022 plans. There are so many great organizations that agencies can partner with to help guide you through. I know that people are often worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, but doing nothing is worse. We need to have open and sometimes difficult conversations to move forward.

I 100% believe that if Britain is made up of big, beautiful weirdos, then your agency should be too.

Anna Daziel is the founder of 40 Over Forty.