Diageo CMO Asks Ad Agencies To Provide Gender Equality Data

By Neat Pour Staff |

Diageo’s Chief Marketing Officer Syl Saller is putting her (well, Diageo’s) money where her mouth is on gender equality. The exec in charge of the liquor giant’s $2.25 billion annual ad spend sent a letter to every key media and advertising agency contracted by Diageo demanding statistics on the agencies’ gender diversity and pay gaps.

In July, The Drum reported that several brand gaffers including Gráinne Wafer, Diageo’s global head of brand for Bailey’s, requested diversity plans from the agencies, but mostly received “blank faces” in response.

Saller apparently was not impressed with the milquetoast reply. Last week, she made a request of her own. In the letter, she asks for specific data sets from the media agencies.

  • The percentage of women in their leadership team
  • The percentage of women in their creative leadership
  • Information on their gender pay gap
  • Their plans to address any gender imbalances in their organization

“I am writing to you looking for your support in addressing an important issue facing our business and our industry – gender balance in advertising,” Saller’s letter began. “We believe that diversity is a key enabler of making better creative and more effective work, and want to make sure we are putting this right at the forefront of our marketing and creative development work.”

The communique did not dive into potential consequences for inaction or egregious diversity records. However, we are dealing with some big dollar accounts managed by media industry heavyweights: VMLRY&R (Baileys), Anomaly (Captain Morgan and Johnnie Walker), AMV BBDO (Guinness), 72&Sunny (Smirnoff) and Carat (misc. Diageo).

The letter also included a little bit of Diageo patting themselves on the back. The text made note of progress made through the corporation’s recent “framework” program to eliminate stereotypes and promote diversity. 

For example, the spirits megalith were early members of the United Nations’ UNStereotype Alliance and partnered with Free the Bid. The company also boasted about extensive training and evaluation of gender and racial portrayal in advertising over the last six months. Currently, 40% of their Executive Committee are women and 45% of their senior marketing leadership globally are women.

“Despite all of our collective efforts as an industry, the pace of substantive chance 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 wrote. “We need to make faster progress and the time for action is now. We can all benefit from more diverse teams which leverage the talent in our industry – fostering a better culture and producing better work. And we can only do this by supporting each other to move forward together.”

Diageo, themselves, have come under fire past infractions, but the company is quick to cite improvement. A Diageo spokesperson told Neat Pour that a prime element of the framework program is “We’ve been honest publicly about where we’ve gotten gender portrayal right and wrong in our creative.”

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