Media Buying Briefing: Agency holding companies are busy trying to advance DE&I efforts, but take divergent paths to get there

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With last week’s news that Juneteenth, the anniversary of slavery’s end in the U.S. in 1865, had officially become a federal holiday last week, the agency holding companies all gave their employees the day off (as did Digiday Media).

But what bigger-picture progress have the major holding companies made in the 14 months since George Floyd’s murder galvanized the world into recognizing institutional and systemic racism?

To their credit, each of the six holding companies have instituted policies and programs that tackle racism and promote diversity, equity and inclusion, both internally through talent, education and recruitment as well as externally through commitments to invest in minority media or working with organizations that promote DE&I.

“We cannot PR or market these topics,” said Emily Graham, Omnicom’s chief equity and impact officer. “We should be figuring out and diagnosing where we have progressed, fallen short. And that becomes our compass — not what we can perfectly craft on a social media statement.”

There’s a long history of bias to overcome, said Lisa Torres, president of the multicultural practice at Publicis Media, who noted Publicis will be announcing in a few weeks a new initiative with clients to increase investment toward minority owned and targeted media. As an industry, “we have built an ecosystem that is based on efficiency and scale,” said Torres. “That causes a level of disadvantage because it’s about who can get the biggest audience at the cheapest CPM. It doesn’t account for content, context or influence or any type of affinity.”

At a broad level, the holding companies take two different paths to making progress. The numbers path has holding companies’ media units committing to spend a percentage of investment on minority media (IPG’s Magna unit committed 5 percent of its media spend, and WPP’s GroupM committed to 2 percent).

Some get there without specifically planning to. “We’ve invested in Black, LGBTQ and women’s media and content,” said Greg James, global chief strategy officer at Havas Media Group. “A good example of how we didn’t start with numbers but have gotten there is, in the U.S., now 10 percent of our programmatic spend is going to those outlets in the marketplace.”

Others are partnering directly with content, including Dentsu aligning with OZY Media and Hero Collective, Havas joining the Conscious Ad Network and IPG’s Magna unit just last week partnering with Black-owned ReachTV.

Secondly, the infrastructure path involves tackling institutional blocks to equity and inclusion, from eliminating bias in data to fostering promotion for people of color within the holding company. And every holding company has outlined multi-point efforts to address those issues, from the creation of employee groups that represent various ethnic groups, to embedding empowered DE&I representatives who report directly into divisional CEOs (as opposed to reporting to HR, which has largely been seen as ineffectual at creating change).  

“I’m not going to play a numbers game — because I don’t know what the number is,” said Publicis Media’s Torres. “We need to tackle this from an infrastructure standpoint to get to the right number. And if you’re not doing it that way then you’re just throwing money at the problem and not fixing the piping. You can flush water through the pipes, but if the pipe still has a crack, you still have a leak.”

Added Omnicom’s Graham: “It’s Both/And. I don’t think it’s one or the other. Any organization that wants change to be long term has to do their internal housekeeping first, so they can be strong foundationally before they go out to external spaces.”

One element the holding companies share is a near-compulsive need to claim they were first at one element or another of tackling DE&I issues. Publicis points to a 20-year history of embracing multicultural work through its Tapestry unit. Havas’ James notes that it created the first social equity marketplace in the U.S., the U.K. and Spain. And Omnicom claims it was one of the first holding companies to hire a diversity officer at the corporate level.

It must be noted that three of the six holding companies, for varying reasons, didn’t make an executive available to speak with Digiday regarding their DE&I efforts: Dentsu, WPP and IPG.

The hope is that the Juneteenth holiday this past Saturday gave the everyone in the agency world an opportunity to think about how the changes implemented over the last year can lead to permanent, systemic improvement for all BIPOC people.

Color by numbers

Digiday Research conducted a survey looking into how buy- and sell-side people think about platforms. The survey was conducted in May 2021, and tapped a sample of 117 agency and brand professionals; for those who answered “agency,” all the subsequent questions addressed the way their agency used the platforms on behalf of clients, while those that answered “brand,” addressed how their brand used each platform. Here are some of the findings:

There are significant gaps in how agencies and brands perceive platforms’ value

  • Nearly 80% of agency respondents say Facebook is valuable for brand-building, compared to 67% of brands
  • 67% of brand respondents say TikTok is valuable for branding, compared to 55% of agency respondents
  • 30% of agency respondents say TikTok is valuable for driving client revenue, compared to 19% of brand respondents

Facebook and Instagram are the only platforms that a majority of respondents see as valuable for driving revenue

  • 56% of respondents said FB was valuable, 56% of respondents said Instagram was valuable
  • 38% of respondents said YouTube was valuable
  • Nobody else came close: Twitter 15%, TikTok 11%, Snapchat 3%

FB, Instagram and YouTube are the only platforms that a majority of respondents said were valuable for brand-building

  • Instagram came out on top: 78%, followed by Facebook (69%) and YouTube (56%)
  • After that, none of the platforms even cleared 30%: Twitter (28%) and TikTok (26%) were closest.

Takeoff & landing

  • SparkFoundry named former Coca-Cola commerce executive April Carlisle to be its new executive vp of commerce, to lead that expanded unit. Carlisle most recently had run her own consultancy, ACX Consulting.

Direct quote

“We’ve … regrettably demonstrated a consistent inability to do the work required to break the cycle of pain and suffering that’s been compounding for hundreds of years.”

— IPG CEO Philippe Krakowsky in a letter to employees on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.


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