Posts Taged diversity

Influence Used Right: Big Brands Demand Diversity from Agency Partners

Take a look at this picture of 2014’s most senior leaders at the top 13 PR agencies by revenue, and the top two agencies by revenue growth in 2013:

Credit: PRWeek

Credit: PRWeek

Zero minorities. And just four women in a field where 65-70% of the workforce is female.

A lack of diversity has plagued ad and PR agencies forever. But as of last week, several major clients aren’t staying quiet about it.

Because last week, HP’s CMO Antonio Lucio sent a letter to HP’s five ad and PR agencies insisting that they improve the diversity of their workforces within the next 12 months, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Lucio’s letter called for agencies to increase the number of women and minorities in creative and strategy roles, with 50% of their workforce to be made up of women, to match HP’s own advertising department makeup.

“Including women and people of color in key roles is not only a values issue, but a significant business imperative,” Lucio said in the letter. Women buy 53% of personal computers and 45% of printers, Lucio told the Journal. HP’s three ad agencies, which includes Omnicom’s BBDO, Fred & Farid, and Dentsu’s Gyro, have 30 days to submit a plan or face a possible rejection.

The HP directive should not come as a total surprise. In 2013, HP CEO Meg Whitman is said to have expressed outrage during an agency review after four shops in a row presented all-male leadership teams.

General Mills is also insisting on more diversity. Last week, the food giant announced that agencies competing for its creative business have to have a staff of at least 50% women and at least 20% of color, according to AdAge.

“We can’t control agencies, but [with] the kind of budgets we have in marketing and PR, we can influence with the spend we have,” Karen Kahn, HP’s chief creative officer told PRWeek. “The best way we can have impact is to change ourselves and work with our agencies to change.”

The New York Times’ Diversity Problem

New York Times' Diversity

In late September, the New York Times’ piece on television producer Shonda Rhimes hadn’t even appeared in the Sunday paper before the online world blew up over its seemingly racist and sexist content.

Written by TV critic Alessandra Stanley, the piece on the highly successful African-American producer Shonda Rhimes starts, “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

The New York Times’ quickly issued an apology of sorts (An Article on Shonda Rhimes Rightly Causes Furor). Stanley claimed to have “referenced a painful and insidious stereotype solely in order to praise Ms. Rhimes and her shows for traveling so far from it.”

Though the racism is new, Stanley has an infamous track record for tearing down women. Stanley’s column about Katie Couric, which came out nearly a decade ago, was so brutal that it is still mentioned in media circles. Two years after it ran, New York Magazine wrote, “The Times has had some great moments in cattiness…But Alessandra Stanley’s 2005 categorization of Katie Couric’s Today Show persona as ‘downright scary’ is one of the greats.”

Who is responsible for the New York Times’ diversity problem?

Ultimately, Stanley is responsible for her piece, but editors played a major role.  The Times’ culture editor, Danielle Mattoon, claimed that multiple editors – at least three – read the article in advance, but none of them raised any objections or questioned the content. Mattoon’s excuse?: “Alessandra used a rhetorical device to begin her essay, and because the piece was so largely positive, we as editors weren’t sensitive enough to the language being used.”

This lack of sensitivity may be the result of a lack of diversity.

Dean Baquet, the executive editor, made history a few months ago when he became the first black editor to lead The Times; he replaced the paper’s first female executive editor, Jill Abramson. Baquet has said he sees a problem with diversity in some areas of the newsroom, including among the 20 cultural critics, where there are only two persons of color — the chief book critic, Michiko Kakutani, and a TV critic, Mike Hale — and no black critics.

“I would criticize us for that,” Baquet said. “I would love to diversify that area,” as well as others. He noted that The Times has had black critics in the past, specifically mentioning Margo Jefferson, but now, he said, “it’s an issue and we need to work on it.”

In an editorial with The Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, the importance of diversity in the newsroom and editing rosters is emphasized.

“The role of editors is crucial here. Editors constantly save writers from mistakes or misjudgments. Writers can’t always take the long view or judge adequately whether their tone or rhetorical devices are working as they think they are. I can’t count the number of times an editor has done me that great service.”

“But several things have to happen for that to work effectively. Editors have to be able to recognize pitfalls – and a more diverse staff of editors throughout The Times could certainly help with that. (Among the more than 15 culture editors, for example, just a few are nonwhite.) And they have to be empowered to do so.”

At A. Wordsmith Communications we are lucky to work with the American Copy Editors Association (, an international alliance of editors. The role of editors goes beyond ensuring clarity and grammatical correctness. A good editor, an empowered editor, should act as the final gut check. ACES understands this, and will be tackling the issue of diversity in editing this year, leading up to their national conference in Pittsburgh in March.

The bottom line is that there is an opportunity to make meaningful change, and at The Times would be a good place to start.

Shonda Rhimes is best known as the creator, head writer, executive producer and showrunner of the medical drama television series Grey's Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice and political thriller series Scandal. Photo credit: ABC

Shonda Rhimes is best known as the creator, head writer, executive producer and showrunner of the medical drama television series Grey’s Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice and political thriller series Scandal. Photo credit: ABC