Michele Cerwin – Advertising 2020

Michele Cerwin, President, HL Group

Prediction: The Future is F’d!

The advertising industry has transformed drastically in the past few years. The emergence of new and social media platforms, coupled with the integration of other marketing disciplines such as public relations and data analytics, has demanded advertisers and agencies think even more creatively and holistically than ever before.

Despite such advancement, one area of the sector has not accelerated at the same pace: leadership diversity. However, given the unyielding pace at which media and, consequently, advertising is moving, the landscape in 2020 will inevitably be “F’d up.”

Paying homage to blogger and author Julie Zeilinger who popularized the phrase, “F’d up” is used in this context to refer to the number of females who will further infiltrate the advertising industry at large, from the boardroom to the production studio. More and more women will be involved in all advertising disciplines, from the senior executive level down.

This prediction is not motivated by a sense of feminist activism or a plea for affirmative action, but rather informed in large part by the sweeping changes across the industry, commitments made by major Fortune 500 brands and companies, and the voice and power of consumers at large. Indeed, the demographic research, purchasing power, behavioral indicators, online and offline engagement in the topic, and the type of talent required in the new agency model, all point to the need for increased female leadership in the future of advertising. The commonly touted facts that females represent over half the population, control 85%+ of purchasing power in the U.S., and engage in social media at a higher penetration than males, combined with the fact that, according to Catalyst, companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest representation, make the following predictions almost unexcitingly too obvious.

Given the overwhelming evidence, how “F’d up” can the advertising industry become over the next decade?  Hitting “20% by 2020” is a reasonable guestimate.  That is, in eight years:

  • 20% of creative director roles will be filled by women, up from 3% today
  • 20% of advertising holding company Chairmen and Board seats will be represented by women

To get there, however, we will need commitment from all constituencies, including current leadership and clients of advertising services, with a boost from academia.

  • Chairmen must be bold enough to closely examine female leadership in the succession plan of holding companies and their advertising agencies. Existing leaders must groom talent for the next generation and consider diversity within the recruiting process, especially given the number of brands that target female consumers. As Tiffany Rolfe, Partner and Chief Content Officer of Co:Collective notes, “If every female creative in a management role could mentor and promote just five other women, each of those can help five more, and onward, and before long we’ll be in the hundreds. Call it pay forward meritocracy.”
  • Brands, too, must not only make a commitment to developing female leaders internally, but must also wield their influence to impress upon the leadership in their agencies. It is undeniable that the industry will pay attention to behemoths such as Unilever who recently announced a corporate diversity program that aims for gender-balanced management by 2015. Brand decision-makers naturally retain the right to understand whether their agency team has the appropriate blend of talent required to think and work effectively on their behalf. Brian Morrissey, Editor-in-Chief of Digiday, puts it poignantly: “After all, it’s hard to see how agencies can hope to create work that drives their clients’ businesses if they pretty much do it without the input and sensibilities of more than half the world’s population.”

In conclusion, an “F’d up” advertising industry would not only meet the demands of a changing social, cultural, and consumer landscape, but more importantly will deliver the highest quality product with the greatest return on investment of marketing dollars. The hope is that, by 2020, such a prediction will seem redundant, if not completely archaic.