The heads of marketing at several major brands recently made vocal commitments to diversity, putting both their strategy and money behind a business philosophy that will pay huge dividends to their companies.
Just last year, the CMOs of tech giant HP, telecom corporation Verizon, and food brand General Mills established requirements that their marketing agencies take certain actions to support and nurture diversity in their ranks:
HP sent a letter to its creative talent agencies demanding better diversity in key creative and strategy roles among its incumbent agencies, saying that “anything was on the table” as a response for partners that couldn’t meet the standards.
Study after study confirms that innovation is improved and accelerated by broad perspectives and diversity of thought.
“HP thrives on innovation,” wrote Chief Marketing Officer Antonio Lucio. “Study after study confirms that innovation is improved and accelerated by broad perspectives and diversity of thought. Marketers are expected to have deep understanding and insight about their markets, about decision makers, and about customers.”
The cereal maker created a set of guidelines required in order for an agency to be eligible to make a pitch for its US advertising business.
The requirements mandated that the agencies’ creative departments be at least 50% women and 20% people of color.
If you are going to put people you serve first, the most important thing is to live up to it and make it a key criteria.
The move is part of the brand’s strategy to improve customer experience and better connect with its audience. As Anne Simonds, the brand’s CMO said: “If you are going to put people you serve first, the most important thing is to live up to it and make it a key criteria.”
Verizon called upon its agencies to report the current state of their workforce diversity and share what action plans they were putting in place to improve those metrics in their recruitment for marketing positions.
Pushing agency partners to improve diversity reinforces and reflects the company’s own culture of diversity and innovation.
Our purpose-driven culture gives everyone at Verizon a seat at the table to ideate and work together to solve the world’s biggest challenges.
In the words of CMO Diego Scott: “Our purpose-driven culture gives everyone at Verizon a seat at the table to ideate and work together to solve the world’s biggest challenges. That’s why I’m reaching out to you today to ask that your company make an important commitment to drastically improve the percentage of women and people of color in leadership roles and continue to support our diverse supplier community by awarding more subcontracting work to diverse businesses.”
Why Big Brands are Pressuring their Marketing Partners
Improving the equality of opportunities and diversity of backgrounds in a business is a moral and occasionally legal imperative. But it also has a significant, measurable impact on productivity, growth, and longevity:
- Serving diversifying markets. Buying power is becoming more and more fragmented, spread among genders, races, generations and more. Consumers are also increasingly fragmented across subcultures, niche interests, new media channels and more. If your marketing operations are stocked with professionals that look alike, are all from the same place, and have similar experiences and interests, you can’t expect them to effectively engage your diversifying audience.
- Retention of top performers. Ambitious, high-performing women and minority team members working in an organization with an actual or perceived glass ceiling will look elsewhere for career growth rather than sticking around and producing excellent work.
- Improving adaptability. The world is changing faster than ever. Some businesses are better than others at keeping up. The organizations best equipped to anticipate coming changes and evolve alongside them are the ones with a variety of perspectives and experiences. “Instead of all thinking alike and coming up with the same solutions to the same issues – perhaps not always the best ones – we can bring real value, creativity and innovation – and the best solution – to each new situation,” says Jorge Caballero of Deloitte Tax for a Forbes report on the business value of diversity.
- Enhanced reputation and brand image. Gender equality in the workplace is becoming a more and more prominent social issue. Organizations that are able to earn a reputation as supportive of women and minorities are often rewarded with publicity and goodwill that reflect favorably on your brand. On the other hand, notoriety for inequality can have the opposite effect.
What You Should Do
Just because someone is the CMO of a major Fortune 500 brand doesn’t mean they’re always right. But if you notice any trends that multiple high-profile minds are adopting, it’s worth taking a second look.
In this case, there are definitive ROI-oriented reasons to follow their lead and improve diversity. Here’s where to start following their lead:
Before creating ambitious diversity standards for others, it’s wise to lead by example.
As HP’s Antonio Lucio said: “The first thing we did was put our house in order, the second thing was invite those partners we have to do the same.”
That means implementing and enforcing diversity standards in your marketing department’s hiring strategy. From marketing executive searches to recruitment for marketing positions throughout your team, you should always strive to find the best available talent. And whenever possible, you should be incorporating candidates from a variety of backgrounds so you can make sure your decision is a good one.
Consider what Allie Kline; CMO of AOL recently had to say about the issue:
Watch her Full Interview with Bloomberg
Turn up the Heat on Your Agencies
Agency support is a key part of many marketing operations. The diversity of experience, background, and opinion ability among your agencies’ staff directly impacts the innovation, creativity, and effectiveness of your own marketing.
It’s entirely appropriate to ask your external and insourced agency partners for a report of their workforce breakdown, like Verizon did. Like HP, you can also pressure them to adopt hiring policies to improve diversity among parts or all of their organization. And like General Mills, you can require all bidders for your future business to meet minimum diversity standards.
Don’t Stop at the Agency Line
Putting standards on your agencies is one of the most obvious places to start enforcing diversity initiatives outside of your own employees. But there’s another place that even major organizations like the ones listed above miss that is critically important: your interim marketing staffing, consultants, and contractors.
Marketing staffing firms and creative talent agencies too often go overlooked when corporate considerations for diversity are made. That’s a critical oversight in marketing, where those partners are injecting talent directly into your team. If you rely on contract marketing talent already, or have a need for it in the future, make sure that your vendor partner is diverse itself and has systems in place to ensure the talent they bring you matches or beats your own standards for quality and diversity.