WPP commits $10M to accelerate timeline for eliminating racism in advertising

Dive Brief:

  • WPP said in a press release that it will spend $10 million over the next three years to fund inclusions programs as the agency holding group bolsters its commitment to supporting Black and minority talent. The news is a direct response to an open letter from more than 1,200 Black advertising professionals across the industry titled “A Call for Change” that laid out 12 actions needed for the industry to address racism.
  • WPP said it will address each of 12 actions outlined in the letter on an accelerated timeline by: reviewing policies, processes and practices to ensure Black talent is elevated equally and holding itself accountable through setting targets for representation; tracking progress against these target; and publishing diversity data.
  • WPP said it will also work with clients and partners to ensure Black and minority talent is fairly represented, including by only participating in events or panels where people of color are involved. Additionally, the group will offer up its agencies to do pro bono work to support charities fighting racism. WPP will also match employee donations to select anti-racism charities up to $1,000 per person and a total of $1 million.

Dive Insight:

The WPP news underscores both the opportunity and challenges facing the advertising and marketing industry when it comes to addressing systemic racism. WPP is considered the world’s largest advertising company, and by making a commitment to fighting racial injustice, the steps outlined by the company could ignite a broader impact if other agencies follow suit.

However, the advertising agency world has long had a reputation for a lack of diversity and unwillingness to change. While WPP stresses in the release that it’s accelerating the timeline on efforts to address racism that were already underway, the announcement only comes after weeks of protests calling out systemic racism following the death of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd who was killed in police custody when a police officer kneeled on his neck.

WPP’s announcement is also in response to the open letter from Black advertising professionals that specifically points to how agencies have talked a lot about inclusion efforts with little action.

“After decades of well-intentioned diversity & inclusion efforts, we have seen little progress in making Black voices a more representative part of the creative process,” reads the letter. “We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions. And because this industry does not release or track diversity numbers, it is impossible to tell what, if any, progress has been made.”

The group of Black advertising professionals behind the letter has formally incorporated as a nonprofit called 600 & Rising and has partnered with the 4As, an agency trade group, to work together on next steps that agencies can take to weed out systemic racism in the industry.

Systemic racism is an issue also being faced by brand-side marketers, where there is a discrepancy between marketers’ diversity programs and actual execution on such programs, according to a recent report from The Association of National Advertisers (ANA). While 75% of ANA members have plans to hire suppliers with diverse backgrounds for their organizations, only 40% apply these strategies to marketing and advertising divisions. Additionally, 62% of companies cited identifying opportunities for diverse suppliers as a hurdle to their program while 54% reported difficulties in finding diverse suppliers.

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