"Will she or won't she?" was the question of the morning at the 4A's annual Transformation conference, which began today in Miami. Attendees wondered whether 4A's President-CEO Nancy Hill would use her opening remarks to address the gender and diversity issues raised by the lawsuit against WPP and J. Walter Thompson and ongoing fallout.
After opening with a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks Tuesday in Belgium, Ms. Hill spent a minute or two discussing the "unusual amount of public discourse and headlines that threaten to diminish our industry." That seemed to be a reference to the continuing battle over transparency between the 4As, the trade association for ad agencies, and its counterpart among marketers, the Association of National Advertisers. Ms. Hill said whatever the perception, the reality is that most agencies are "enjoying trusting client relationships."
But just when it seemed that the opening remarks were going to focus solely on the industry's postives, Ms. Hill turned to the issue of diversity.
"Ad Age's cover, while disturbing, raises discourse of gender equality to a new level," Ms. Hill said.
"Unfortunately the alleged behavior does happen," she added. "And it happens more frequently than we think."
She highlighted a number of 4As effort to address such issues, but said that the safe places and groups and internship programs alone aren't enough. Advertising agencies, the CEOs in particular, have to take charge, she said.
"Real change has to start with you, at the top," Ms. Hill said. "If you're the CEO, you are the chief diversity officer. Look at salaries. Is there a gap? If there is, fix it. Men, you must be part of the conversation. You have to start the conversation."
Regarding talent from diverse backgrounds, she said: "Believe that if they don't look like you, don't feel or think like you, they have a different reference and life experiences and point of view, that doesn't make them wrong. It makes them valuable."
The 4As, she added, is not shying away from difficult conversations, but called on those gathered to make actual change.