Agencies will reach their target markets more often if employees reflect
society at large, not just the youthful, white, middle-class section of
it, Alison Hardy argues
Look around the account management and planning departments of any large
agency and what do you see?
Probably a lot of people who look like yourself. White, middle-class
people, under the age of 40, who grew up in the south and were educated
at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol or Durham universities. What’s the
Well, ask yourself what proportion of the UK population answers to this
description, or even how many times you’ve seen it on the target
audience selection of a creative brief.
Hardly any. Hardly ever. ‘People like us’ is so minute a proportion of
the population as to be insignificant anywhere outside the ad
The population - the people for whom we make the ads - are, in reality,
nothing like us. They are younger, older and more ethnically diverse.
They didn’t go to university and can’t imagine why anyone would want to
live in Clapham.
I wouldn’t contend that they are happier because of these things. They
don’t understand us. And yet we claim to be able to understand them.
Why is there so little diversity in agencies? According to the Central
Statistical Office, five-and-a-half million people now describe
themselves as belonging to ethnic minorities. Where are they?
Come to think of it, where are all the people over 40? (a question I
find myself asking more and more as I approach the dread date). And
where are the fat people?
Our clients don’t have this problem - they are more diverse than us.
But are we confident that they like being surrounded by people who are
younger and thinner (‘hipper than thou’ as one client described it) than
The industry’s first problem is the way we go about graduate
recruitment. We’re lazy. Sending a couple of people to Oxford to take a
suite at the Randolph for a couple of days and conduct some interviews
is hardly ‘spreading the net wide’, yet this is still how most agencies
go about it.
Secondly, every interviewer’s natural tendency is to incline towards
people with whom they feel comfortable. This is a huge mistake.
But, you might ask, isn’t this what groups are for? We don’t have to be
the target market. We can go out and research it. Another mistake.
Too often in research, we focus on the core of the target market and
don’t include other groups which may exercise a big influence on our
Look at the youth market. The population is 90 per cent white, but
nobody would suggest that the culture, music, language and clothing of
teenagers is created exclusively by white kids; in fact, it’s rather the
reverse. If this is true of today’s teenagers, won’t it be true of
And what about the times we don’t do research? The decisions that are
made every day based on the gut feeling of people in the agencies.
Decisions that might be reversed by someone saying: ‘Hey, there’s a
whole world out there you haven’t thought about.’
You might argue that we want to hire people from more diverse
backgrounds but there aren’t the qualified candidates. This sounds
suspiciously like the excuse used by male managers 20 years ago (‘we’d
like to hire more women but there aren’t enough qualified women around’)
and is equally redundant. We’re a medium-sized agency and we managed to
find some. So can you.
We do ads for a living. We have to ask ourselves: do we want to do ads
for other advertising professionals or do we want to do ads for people?
If the answer is the latter, we need to change the composition of the
people we hire - and fast.
Alison Hardy is the planning director of Leagas Shafron Davis
This article was first published on Campaign