‘Lack of diversity means marketing no longer a destination industry’

Marketing is no longer a ‘destination industry’ for young people and must do more to attract people from diverse backgrounds if it wants to ensure it has the best talent and is reflecting British society, according to a panel of experts.

Speaking at an Oystercatchers event on diversity last night (20 January), Michael Brunt, circulation CMO at The Economist, said marketing departments are “too lazy” when it comes to recruiting, expecting people to come to them rather than realising they need to go out and find the best talent.

“I don’t think marketing is a destination industry for a lot of different groups of people and it’s our job to go to them not wait for people to come to us. One mistake people make is when we’re talking to the big specialist marketing recruitment firms we say quite lazily that we want a range of candidates. That is not going to solve the problem,” he explained.

That there is a diversity issue in marketing is not in doubt. According to a recent survey conducted by Marketing Week, 26% of marketers report that there are no people from ethnic minorities in their teams while 27% said there were no lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people and 51% that their departments lacked people with physical or mental disabilities.

‘Diversity agenda must come from the top’

There are a number of initiatives across the industry aimed at boosting diversity. The IPA has a target that 25% of new joiners should be from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds by 2020, while MOBO and the IDEAS Foundation are working with brands to reach different talent pools, both at graduate level and in schools.

However, Karen Blackett, chairwoman of MediaCom, says for real change to happen it must be embraced by the people at the top – the CEO and CMO.

“It is not about appointing a diversity officer or a diversity champion, it has to come from the person leading the organisation or else change will not happen. It has to be something that is cultural and part of the DNA of the organisation,” she explained.

How marketing can solve the diversity problem

Nevertheless there are still a number of other barriers to the marketing industry becoming more diverse. Chief among those is marketing’s ability to promote itself.

Blackett explained that when she was at school her parents wanted her to become a lawyer, accountant or doctor because marketing was not seen as a real profession and that education is required both for students and their parents. She also said marketing must get better at explaining to prospective talent why they should work in this industry rather than head to a company such as Uber.

“From an industry perspective we can’t compete with the huge bonuses of other industries. But what we are able to do as a communication industry is actually change the way people value themselves and feel about themselves,” she commented.

“Yes [marketing] helps brands and products sell things but actually what people see reflects as a barometer of how they feel and you can do that working in our industry and we need to talk about that more.”

Karen Blackett, chairwoman, MediaCom

Flexibility at work is also key. At MediaCom they have a scheme called ‘Project Blend’ that helps managers have conversations with staff around how they work to allow flexibility. Meanwhile Brunt said that at The Economist flexible working is available to everyone, not just parents, so “they don’t feel guilty they are getting different treatment and there is no resentment”.


However, Catherine Mayer, cofounder of the Women’s Equality Party, said there is no one single fix and that society in general needs to look at how it approaches diversity but that marketing can play a crucial role by reflecting reality.

“There are so many factors that are all interconnected. The way we approach teaching and career advice, equal treatment by and in the media; all these problems reinforce each other. After the Second World War marketing contributed to putting women back in the kitchen. If marketing helps create a problem it can also help solve it,” she said.

Blackett agreed: “What we see on TV and in magazines and newspapers influences society. If you see more people from a BAME audience or more women then it becomes possible. We are a mirror and a barometer of society.

“Make sure that if you are in a creative agency in some of your ads that you cast people from a diverse background. Make sure that within your own companies you have people from a diverse background. Then we will start to see the change.”