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Brand 2020: How Coca-Cola, Mondelez, BBC and Paddy Power are facing up to the diversity debate

December 16 2016

In 2016 The Blueprint and The Drum Network launched Agency 2020, an initiative which brought together innovative agency heads to talk about what agencies will look like in the year 2020. As a follow, up to those findings, we have turned the tables and asked brands what they will look like in terms of shape, structure and purpose in the years ahead as we launch Brand 2020.

Change is a constant within agencies who are continually evolving to meet the demands of the clients to whom they deliver marketing services. But what are the key challenges and factors that are driving change within marketing departments at the brands that we all know and love?

This issue recently formed the topic for a roundtable discussion hosted by progressive talent search company The Blueprint and The Drum Network, the findings of which will form a series of articles entitled Brand 2020 to be published over the coming weeks. The Blueprint brought together four leading brands around a table to offer their thoughts on the above subject matter and more.

The first Brand 2020 session focused on the complexity of today's media landscape, the theme for the second part of the Brand 2020 discussion centred on topics that have hogged more headlines than any during 2016 – the war for talent and diversity. We can perhaps thank former Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts and his ill-advised comments on women in the creative sector for ensuring that the spotlight remained on diversity during 2016, but if we are honest it has been an issue that has been bubbling away under the surface for as long as this writer has been covering the media and marketing sector. But linked to that is the war for talent. Finding and retaining great talent, while trying to create a diverse team remains a challenge.

The Brand 2020 panel who met at The Riding House Cafe

Giving their opinions at the roundtable session hosted at The Riding House Café in London were (clockwise from top left) Aedamar Howlett, marketing director at Coca-Cola; Gareth Moss, partner at The Blueprint; Catherine Blizzard, director of marketing and audiences at BBC Worldwide; Paul Doran, strategic partner at The Blueprint; Philip Lloyd, head of advertising at Paddy Power and Philip Jackson, global brand strategist at Mondelez.

Core Findings

The panel felt that the diversity of today’s fast paced modern world simply isn’t adequately reflected within the industry that is tasked with marketing products and services to it and the issue for many brand directors is how can brands be culturally authentic and reflect their audience if the brand’s own marketing team and the agencies they are working with aren’t diverse either. Is solving this issue as simple as bringing in more women, more people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, more disabled people, more older people or more people with different sexual preferences? Or do we need to think more about effectively about how becoming more diverse internally can help us to connect with our diverse audiences?

Likewise, the marketers around the table felt that competition for marketing talent has never been as fierce as it is today, especially as that competition is not just coming from other rival brands, but also from platforms like Google, Facebook and the Huffington Post and now organisations such as Deloitte and Accenture who are also entering the marketing sector in a big way.

Kicking off the talent debate one attendee said: “This is going to sound arrogant, but for many marketers, the idea of working at our organisation is a draw not only because is it this amazing global brand that everybody knows, but we do have a reputation for training people to be good marketers. In light of that, the big challenge for us, and I am sure for many brands, is actually retaining talent. Once they’ve ticked that box and done the training, their value has gone up and they can quite easily move on to bigger higher paid roles.

Another attendee added: “Retaining talent is about developing people in their broader lives to be able to lead a fulfilling life while also doing the job that they do, because that’s becoming increasingly important, particularly for millennials. We’ve had to change in that way over the years. So, attracting the talent isn’t so much the challenge, it’s about retaining it.”

The general feeling with regards to finding and attracting new talent was that there remain plenty of new candidates out there, but what is muddying the waters somewhat is the absolute need to create what is viewed as a diverse team, both in terms of its make-up and in terms of its expertise that can enable brands to communicate effectively with their own diverse audiences.

Diversity focus

“Diversity is definitely a focus in our organisation as it is in most I’m sure,” said the marketing director of a global FMCG brand. “Our structure has in the last few years almost been forced to bring in diversity, so for instance, no longer is our team just British or Irish, which is amazing, because that development brings in so many fresh perspectives to what we are doing and what we want to do.

“The other thing that is key for us is gender diversity, particularly in our marketing team where we do actually have a very high proportion of females. The key issue here is about supporting those females to progress through to leadership roles. That is a programme that we operate very proactively with mentoring schemes to make sure women in our organisation achieve their full potential.

“The other diversity issue we focus on is age diversity. People are always talking about having more millennials on board because they understand new tech, new consumers and I’m not arguing against that at all. But brands need to remember that in the UK we do have an ageing population, so we also need to understand everything about that ageing population and make sure our team is in a position to reflect that in our campaigns and communications.

“It’s about being open to the idea of being attuned to all of your consumers. By having a rich diversity of people within your organisation helps to build an internal culture of diversity. And from there it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Another marketing chief added: “Our organisation is going through quite a big diversity programme at the moment and one of the best courses I’ve been on as part of that was around unconscious bias. Everybody has this unconscious bias, but it is about recognising this in yourself and making sure that it is not stopping you recruiting somebody who could be really good for your brand and team? It doesn’t matter what colour their skin is or whether they’re disabled or not. It’s the skillset you need to complement the rest of your team. We shouldn’t simply recruit in our own image.” 

There was consensus that while diversity within an organisation is important, consideration of the diversity outside the organisation that interacts with the organisation is equally as important.

Consumer at the heart

“When we are creating content we put the consumer at the very heart of what we’re doing and that’s the sense check of what we do, but by having different voices with different perspectives and different experiences when you’re reviewing work or a piece of marketing content or our strategy, it always adds value to have different voices and perspectives sitting around the table.

Diversity is such a sensitive topic, that too much manipulation could be seen as a brand simply trying too hard to be culturally correct as one attendee ascribed to.

He said: “Yes, the trying too hard thing is a factor. We once looked at putting someone with a disability into one of our ads. It was just an incidental person, not a featured person. We didn’t it do in the end because we realised that if we wanted to consider ourselves progressive marketers then crowbarring a disabled person into our ad wasn’t the thing to do. We came in the next day and realised that we were almost doing it for ourselves.”

Another attendee added: “I think the assumption as well is that your approach to diversity has to come from within your company. One of the things that is really important for us is to just take the time and to invest in a sense of understanding of human beings in their most diverse form. It can be very easy to get caught up in your own moment, in your own brand’s nonsense, but talking and listening to what is going on in the wider world is very important. If you don’t do interpret right as a brand you can sound preachy or people can smell that you’re trying too hard and it’s all not quite right.”

Clearly diversity, talent retention and the battle to build fully rounded marketing teams is going to remain a challenge not only in 2017, but for many years to come. But, if 2016 has given us one thing then it has put diversity fully into the spotlight and has made every organisation in your sector take a good long hard look at itself, which can surely only be a good thing.

The next Brand 2020 article will be published on 14th January 2017 and will look at the trend for brands to bring marketing and creative services in-house, how this will continue to manifest itself in the years ahead and what the fallout could be for agencies.