Agency Brief: Deutsch Los Angeles Chief Creative Officer Brett Craig fired over offensive email
The pressure is on agencies to take a hard look at their internal policies and improve diversity, equity and inclusion within their walls.
Ad Age recently spoke to 26 Black agency professionals about their experiences with racism and microaggression at work. The findings point to a disturbing pattern that is industry-wide.
One such story comes from Dominique Curtis, who is a Black woman and a former copywriter at R/GA Austin. Curtis was criticized for being “overly ambitious” in performance reviews shared with Ad Age by her white manager. She alleges she was paid significantly less than her Hispanic male counterpart, who she says was meanwhile being asked to “step up more.”
Deadra Rahaman, founder and principal of Society Redefined Consulting, and an ex-strategy exec and account director at agencies like Spike DDB and IPG’s Jack Morton Worldwide, says it’s common for Black women to be labeled as “overly ambitious or too aggressive,” by leadership. “I was told I should scale back my confidence because it makes others uncomfortable,” she says.
Other accusations were lodged at Omnicom Group's GMMB—an advertising, political consulting and advocacy shop that was founded in 1983 and worked on Democratic campaigns for progressive politicians such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Kamala Harris and now Joe Biden. Five former GMMB employees allege to Ad Age that Black employees are most often passed up for promotions and raises over white colleagues; are more often put on GMMB’s performance improvement program, called a “PIP”; and are unfairly criticized by leadership as being difficult to work with.
Brett Craig out at Deutsch Los Angeles
Adweek reported that Deutsch L.A. fired Brett Craig after a former employee posted to Instagram a screenshot of an offensive work email that the former chief creative officer sent to a client in 2015. A spokesperson confirmed to Ad Age that Craig was fired but declined to go further into detail. The email, which people familiar with the situation told Adweek was sent by Craig, discusses casting decisions for a TV shoot. In it, according to the story, Craig refers to a casting candidate as “Not so urban/AA” (the abbreviation stands for African American). The email was resurfaced by Kady Kamakaté, a former Deutsch L.A. employee, in an Instagram post. She wrote, “I never once felt protected or empowered enough to speak up … lest I be considered ‘too Urban/AA.’”
Will McGinness apologizes for wearing digitized blackface
Will McGinness, the chief creative officer of Venables Bell & Partners, apologized for posting a photo of himself to Instagram in 2015 in which he wore digitized blackface. Adweek first reported the incident, noting that McGinness has since deleted his Instagram account. A Venables spokesperson told Ad Age that McGinness has not been placed on leave. However, McGinness announced that he will be taking the portion of his salary that he would have lost had he been placed on leave and donate it toward sending two Black students to portfolio school. He said he will create a scholarship for each student that will cover the costs of one year of education.
“I am deeply sorry for posting something that was unquestionably offensive and highly insensitive,” McGinness said in a statement. “I’m horrified with myself and also extremely embarrassed. The irony is that as an agency, we have recently brought on Dr. Cheryl Ingram as an advisor to help us address racial inequities and as we have been building the framework for the changes we are making, the picture did not even occur to me as I had forgotten long ago of its existence.”
He continued, “The reality is that I didn’t think of it because I didn’t have to. And I see that is where part of the problem lies. In order to ensure that I am leading with compassion and empathy, I have started an ongoing training program focused on unconscious racism. I am determined to learn from this and ensure that moving forward, both as a leader and a father of three children, I am a positive example and am helping to effect necessary change.”
Paul Venables, founder and chairman, added in a statement that the agency “condemns all racism in all its forms.” Venables said that the agency recently hired Ingram, CEO and founder of Inclusology, to its executive leadership team to spearhead “a robust plan to improve our agency’s diversity and uproot any ingrained discrimination.”
“We have committed real resources–money, time, talent–and elevated DEI to the leadership level, to do this,” Venables said. “I believe we have a great handle on diversity when it comes to ensuring the balance of females to males and we also have a strong and supported LGBTQ community. But we have not gotten it completely right when it comes to race. White people like myself had not seen the hurt we’ve caused, the micro-aggressions and the flaws–no matter how unintentional, but now we must shine a light and dismantle them.”
Ogilvy USA commits to take 12 actions to dismantle systemic racism
WPP's Ogilvy became the latest agency to commit to taking the 12 actions toward achieving true equity for people of color—detailed in a letter to U.S. agencies by Nathan Young, a group strategy director at Minneapolis agency Periscope, and Bennett D. Bennett, who runs independent consultancy Aerialist.
The actions Young and Bennett detail include making a commitment to improving Black representation at all levels of the agency that is “specific, measurable, and public”; regular and consistent tracking of diversity data at agencies in order to provide a baseline for accountability; regular policy and culture audits to ensure an equitable work environment for employees of all backgrounds; broader outreach for talent to a diverse representation of schools; an expansion of internships and training programs to candidates with transferable skills, as well as leadership training for existing staff; a wage-equity plan to ensure fair compensation for women and people of color as well as a number of diversity and inclusion mandates spanning leadership and internal programs.
“Together, as a collective Ogilvy community, we must own the shared responsibility of fighting inequality and racial injustice in all its forms, everywhere it exists,” Ogilvy USA leadership sent collectively in a memo to U.S. staff. “That responsibility starts today with holding ourselves accountable and recognizing anti-racism as a business imperative.”
The agency continues: “After over a decade of diversity and inclusion efforts at Ogilvy we have not seen nearly enough progress in increasing representation and leadership of Black employees throughout the company.”
Among the actions Ogilvy says it will take include “providing more transparency into our workforce diversity” and goals for improving equal representation of people of color “at all levels.” Ogilvy says initial information will be released before July 31 and The Ogilvy Advisory Council “will maintain ongoing access to data and a formal progress report will be issued company-wide in June 2021.” The agency says, effective immediately, it will not sponsor conferences or allow talent to sit on panels “that do not reflect racial diversity.” Ogilvy says, effective immediately, that “no external hires will be made without BIPOC representation in the candidate slate.” The Ogilvy Advisory Council will also be reviewing “recruiting processes and make recommendations on other career development programs to help Ogilvy retain BIPOC talent,” according to the agency memo. Read all of the actions Ogilvy laid out in the memo here.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to our Black colleagues who have shared their stories of racism, both personal and professional, over the past two weeks while also leading trainings, discussions, and helping to draft new policies,” Ogilvy leadership wrote in the memo. “Thank you for being brave every day since the moment you stepped foot into Ogilvy as a person of color. It is now time for all of us to be brave, by moving to action that will allow us to become the Ogilvy we need to be–an anti-racist Ogilvy. A trusted organization for BIPOC communities where the system exists not just for some people, but for everyone.”
Ogilvy's stance comes after WPP this week became the first holding company to announce a commitment to taking "decisive action on each of the 12 points in the 'Call for Change'" open letter. WPP also announced an investment of $30 million over the next three years to fund inclusion programs within the holding company and support external organizations fighting racism.
Some brief mentions
Ad Age’s I-Hsien Sherwood reports that non-binary and trans-owned creative, marketing and advertising studio Posture Media is offering a free branding sponsorship to a Black-owned business, freelancer or entrepreneur. Applications are open through July 1 for a package that includes developing a brand identity, designing a logo, creating business cards and a website with online shop, free domain hosting for a year and a social media campaign. “I think it's critical for white-owned companies to dedicate their time, labor and expertise to Black empowerment,” says founder Winter Mendelson.
Circus Maximus Head of Digital Ashley Richardson-George is spearheading a new podcast series at the agency which it says is "centered around Juneteenth and reflections on freedom and being Black in America." The agency is airing “mini podcast” episodes that will live on its Instagram page. The first two episodes are out. In one, Richardson-George sits down with her father to discuss his life and thoughts “on how far we have to go in an exploration of what freedom means to him,” Circus Maximus says.
The Variable launched an effort to “raise a mirror to white people’s implicit biases that too often see people of color as ‘suspicious,’” the agency writes. The Variable says it created an e-commerce site through which Black and Brown people can “call out the ridiculous bias and racism they face every day.” The site sells sweatshirts, shirts and hats with the statement “I’m Just” with a normal activity that white people, unlike Black and Brown people, can do without fear of how they’ll be perceived, including “jogging, napping, mowing, shopping, working, protesting, living.” The agency says all proceeds will be split “between the national organization Color of Change and several local organizations in our hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina that are working to go beyond protests to policy by toppling laws that sanction, support or cover up the murders of people of color.”
Havas Lynx Group elevated Jon Chapman and Paul Kinsella to chief creative officers from executive creative directors. They will continue to drive the agency’s creative and strategy. Under their guidance already, the duo have led Havas Lynx Group to collect over 200 awards in recent years including being named Cannes Lions Healthcare Agency of the Year.
Teresa Herd, the former VP global creative director and head of Intel’s in-house unit Agency Inside, announced her new gig. Herd will be teaming up with San Francisco agency Hub to build a new practice that aims to help brands create new in-house creative agencies and make internal teams “run better.” The practice is called Hub Inside/Out. Since she left Intel in early 2019, Herd has been consulting brands including Zillow and Boston Beer.
87Social, a new London social media agency born out of independent network The Beyond Collective, was appointed social media agency of record for Subway U.K. and Ireland. 87Social will manage content strategy, ideation, production and media support for all of Subway’s social media channels in the U.K. and Ireland. The agency will partner with sister shop Above+Beyond on campaign amplification.