HP diversity targets for PR and ad agencies appear to be working, says comms chief

HP's move to ask its agencies to employ more women in leadership positions appears to be working, according to its comms chief - who said sometimes both stick and a carrot is needed to encourage change.

HP's Karen Kahn (second left) with Francis Ingham (ICCO), Rachel Holbrook (Airbnb) and Charlotte Witte (Prime)
HP's Karen Kahn (second left) with Francis Ingham (ICCO), Rachel Holbrook (Airbnb) and Charlotte Witte (Prime)

Speaking at a panel session at Cannes hosted by Edelman, which has been working with the technology giant since last September, HP chief comms officer Karen Kahn said: "The numbers are all moving in the right direction."

PRWeek reported last year that HP asked all its agencies, including then-incumbent PR firms FleishmanHillard and Porter Novelli, and advertising shops such as BBDO, Fred & Farid, and Gyro, to increase the number of women and people of colour in leadership positions.

Kahn said today: "In the legal world, we did the same thing, but instead of being a carrot, it's also a stick - that if you don't increase your numbers, we reduce your fees by 10 per cent."

Asked if HP plans similar action against PR and ad agencies, she stated: "We haven't cut the fees yet. It’s a one-year score card. We'll let you know at the end of the year - it's going to be the end of October."

She added: "Driving change is hard. The legal world, the marketing and communications world; these are industries that have not changed in many, many years. So sometimes the only thing you can do if the carrot doesn’t work... is to know there's a stick that’s at the ready."

Kahn said agencies have responded positively to the challenge - she was "bracing for impact but we didn’t really get it".

"One of the agencies said: 'I wish you asked us to do this 10 years ago, we would look very different'."

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