WPP shifts strategy for U.N. Women gender equality initiative

The holding company is launching a six-market campaign alongside the U.N.'s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

NEW YORK: WPP is taking a more focused approach to its partnership with U.N. Women this year, the holding company said at a media briefing on Thursday.

Its Creativity for Equality initiative is centered on the U.N.’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, building on its commitment to Common Ground, a collective effort by the major holding companies to solve global issues.

Starting on November 25, the holding company will roll out local campaigns in six markets – the U.S., the U.K., Thailand, Turkey, Mexico, and India. Tailoring culturally sensitive approaches to these U.N. "priority markets" is critical, according to Lindsay Pattison, chief transformation officer at WPP.

"We’ve had 26 campaigns supporting different aspects of gender equality [from] 33 agencies," she said. "While they have been incredibly important...they were quite disjointed. [Now, we want to] focus our efforts and resources and creativity."

J. Walter Thompson is leading on creative in every country, while GroupM is the lead shop on media partnerships and investment strategy, Pattison said. Hill+Knowlton Strategies is leading the central communications strategy, according to Kate Grundy, director and founding partner of Better Impact.

The H+K team is comprised of Candace Kuss, director of social media; Becky East, associate director; Laura Byrne, content lead; and Grundy.

More than a dozen agencies will participate in the initiative, but the holding company is determining which firms will be involved in each market, Grundy said, via email. Oath, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, Unruly, and Spotify are serving as media partners, and Group M is securing further global details.

Plans for the initiative have been underway since the end of last year. Nanette Braun, previously chief of comms and advocacy at U.N. Women, floated the idea initially, Grundy said via email.

After Braun became comms chief at the U.N. globally this year, "WPP picked it up with the rest of the team and ran with it," she added.

WPP global planning director Ben Kay is spearheading the effort, which includes three dedicated staffers and 60 employees working on the campaigns in addition to their daily responsibilities, Pattinson said.

In a sign of WPP’s "new era," Pattinson said CEO Mark Read signed on the holding company to U.N.’s Women Empowerment Principles that same day.

"I think WPP, in a new era, also wants to show we have heart and purpose," Pattinson said.

Read was named CEO in September, succeeding Martin Sorrell, who resigned amid an internal probe into alleged misconduct. Sorrell, who later took the helm of S4 Capital, denied wrongdoing.

Pattinson joined WPP in May 2017 to simplify the group and get its agencies to work more closely together on its top 50 clients.

During the media briefing, Pattinson noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the same day. The event underscored the progress women have yet to make.

"There’s never been a better time to talk about gender equality," Pattinson said. "Even today in the States, we have a woman, who experienced a violent assault [36] years ago, is having to talk about that in a challenging environment."

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director at U.N. Women, emphasized the need for data and evidence to measure progress, as one in three women have experienced gender-based violence.

"Creativity for Equality is also important because there’s an illusion of progress in how far women have come," Mlambo-Ngcuka said. "It is only when we provide – not fake news – true stories, backed up with data, data that can be measured, evidence that can be brought to bear, that people can engage how far we’ve come."

WPP’s relationship with U.N. Women started at the 2016 Cannes Festival for Creativity. Alongside Omnicom, IPG, Havas, and Dentsu, WPP said it would support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with a focus on Goal 5, achieving gender parity and empowering women and girls. To date, GroupM has raised more than $1 million in pro bono media placements and $6 million in earned media.

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