Diageo to agencies: We want your gender diversity stats

The marketing industry needs to make 'faster progress,' says CMO

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Liquor giant Diageo is putting more heat on its agencies to share gender equality information after a similar effort earlier this year was met with a mixed response.

Global Chief Marketing Officer Syl Saller recently sent letters to Diageo's agencies asking for details like the percentage of women on their leadership teams, information on their gender pay gap, and how they plan to address any gender imbalances.

"Despite all of our collective efforts as an industry, the pace of substantive change has been too slow in how women are portrayed in content, how qualified women are represented at a senior level in creative development and how women are selected to be creative directors on content," Saller stated in the letter, according to an excerpt shared by a Diageo spokeswoman. "We need to make faster progress and the time for action is now."

Diageo's shops include 72andSunny (Smirnoff); Anomaly (Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan, Crown Royal); AMV BBDO (Guinness); VMLY&R (Baileys); and Carat, which handles media.

Syl Saller, CMO of Diageo
Syl Saller, CMO of Diageo Credit: Diageo

Diageo began asking for gender diversity information earlier this year, GrĂ¡inne Wafer, global brand director for Baileys, said in July during an appearance at the Diversity in Marketing & Advertising Summit in London. But Wafer said when she started seeking the information she was "met with some blank faces," according to coverage of the summit by The Drum.

"Some people are able to say 'I know exactly what it is, here's ours.' Or 'we're not there yet but we have a plan'. That's all I want to hear. That you have a plan," she said, without naming specific agencies, according to The Drum.

Saller's letter appears to be a way to put more pressure on the agencies to cooperate. While the letter sends a strong message, Diageo at this point has not laid out any specific targets or outlined consequences for shops that are not living up to gender diversity expectations, the company confirmed.

Beth Wade, global chief marketing officer at VMLY&R, said in an emailed statement to Ad Age: "Like Diageo, we strongly believe diversity enables better creative and more effective work. We have received the recent letter from Diageo and will be submitting our response." She pointed to diversity efforts the agency participates in, including 3% Certification and Free the Bid, which is pushing for more female ad directors.

Wade added: "As part of the Baileys global digital agency-of-record selection process earlier this year, we showcased these diversity efforts to the team. We look forward to working with Diageo on their efforts to achieve gender balance and diversity in advertising."

Anomaly and 72andSunny, two of Diageo's largest creative agencies, declined to comment directly on the Diageo letter. 72andSunny publishes its gender diversity stats on its website. It shows that 20 percent of the agency's creative directors globally are women, while 45 percent of employees at group director level and above are females. Carat declined comment.

Diageo has among the best track records for gender diversity in the alcohol industry. Women comprise 40 percent of its executive committee, while 45 percent of Diageo's senior global marketing leaders are women. Earlier this year Diageo joined the Free the Bid organization, pledging to call on its ad agencies and content producers to include at least one female director on all creative bids. Also, Diageo recently developed a framework that it will use to improve gender portrayal in its marketing.

Diageo drew headlines in February when it put a woman on the face of Johnnie Walker bottles, calling her "Jane Walker," as part of a limited-edition run timed with Women's History Month.

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