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Encouraging ad shop diversity: marketers, the power is in your hands


Encouraging ad shop diversity: marketers, the power is in your hands


Bec Brideson started Women With Agency to encourage more female founders of agencies in Australia, but also to find out what’s holding marketers back from engaging them. Here, she explains how you can help the cause.

The use of diverse marketing agencies is lacking and more needs to be done. Bec Brideson launched Women With Agency (WWA) to encourage more marketers and business leaders to include more female-founded creative agencies on their pitch lists.

Brideson tells Marketing about WWA, its aim, and how marketers truly have the power to be champions of ad industry diversity.


What is Women With Agency? How did it begin?

BecBrideson-150 BWHaving won a number of pitches off the Australian Government Campaign Advertising Supplier Register (CASR) list over the years, I started to think that this process was the most fair when it came to winning pitches and it could be easily applied to pitches out in the corporate world.

It got me thinking about the lack of diversity in our suppliers, even my own. Do I work with Indigenous Australian suppliers? Minority owned digital agencies? No. Well, why not?

Why don’t more marketers? There’s certainly a trend globally for this change. Well, it’s time Australia jumped on the bandwagon.

From there, I knew that in order to rally support (and support the fact that I believed this is a problem), I had to gather the data points as proof. That’s when the study started and why I need even more submissions as I don’t want to leave any rock unturned across Australia.

WWA is a call to action – the use of diverse marketing agencies is lacking and we need to do more about it. WWA is asking clients,  marketers, brand CEOs to remember: Who holds the power? You.

And you have the power to demand more from your agencies, including who to put on the pitch list. Don’t just choose the same old five you always do. Choose outside the box. Choose differently. You might end up with something you never even expected.

WWA doesn’t require a commitment by the client, marketer or CEO to hire the female-founded agency – but it does require a commitment to act accordingly (putting one female-founded agency on the pitch list) for every pitch you put out there.

And to judge each pitch fairly.


Please tell us about the study

The WWA study is ongoing and we are keen to reveal its findings. However we need more submissions – yes, marketers – we want to hear from you! Whether you’re a senior marketer or just a junior, your voice is important. Hit us up, it only takes five minutes.

What we have found out so far from top tier marketers is astounding. Firstly, that there is a definite and large interest in having more female-founded agencies and diverse suppliers. Like with many innovative brand-side marketers from the US and around the world (Syl Saller, Marc Pritchard) who have spoken up and demanded better from their agencies, there is a similar and growing want in Australia.

What is disappointing, however, is that marketers feel hampered. They do not want to push for a greater diversity of suppliers for a number of reasons, one of them being that they do not want to appear to have an agenda or a certain set of politics, especially in this climate, that might limit them and their ambitions. Admittedly, a good deal of the time it has to do with a lack of resources and budget or time poverty.

However one small problem that our WWA initiative could resolve is where marketers can go to find female-founded agencies – especially as they are often at a loss for where to find them. WWA will offer a database similar to #FreeTheBid for marketers to find
female-founded agencies in Australia, and hopefully more female founded offerings relevant to their expanding needs.


Why is WWA so important to start now?

It’s important because we are an industry that is sorely lacking in diversity. Based off a pWc report from a few years ago, and the numbers of minorities and women in real leadership positions, we know we need to do better. Our business is to talk, understand, communicate and create behaviour change or action in those to whom we speak, and neither our audiences nor our processes match that diversity.

As I always say, when our internals do not match our external outputs – Houston, we’ve got a problem!

One way you can increase that diversity is by enabling or seeking diverse suppliers. Let me be clear, that is not so you can just give them the work – I don’t believe in that. I think work needs to be earned, not given – thanks to a handshake under the desk or relied upon
because we grew up playing footy together. That opportunity should be shared for other agencies to have an attempt – especially with ones that usually never get the opportunity.

That’s all. That’s why it’s important – because I know that inevitably people will confuse it with a quota or ‘tokenism’ to appear more diverse. No, like everyone else, diverse suppliers must also earn their way and deliver the work/results but by reducing their barriers to participation, they can more easily prove they deserve every right to be there as anyone else.


Why are you only aiming the study at marketers? Is that who you are speaking to, not agencies?

My focus is on female-founded agencies that remain small thanks to industry barriers to participation. Perhaps in future I can focus on how agencies can change to emulate that of female founders or I can help them understand why they too should be hiring diverse suppliers, as agencies themselves have multiple suppliers too.

But yes, this is purely aimed at marketers. That’s because – and I think marketers often forget this – they have all the power. With the short tenure of agencies, and now even CMOs, we are both robbing each other of that power.

Agencies need to support their chosen clients with great work (and gratitude) and clients need to demand better and remember that an
agency’s livelihood, actions and culture is also in your hands.

As marketers, you can demand they do better – or go elsewhere. That all lies with you.


What are some major barriers to diversity and what have been some big wins and losses for progress in marketing and advertising?

I think we’re getting there – but it’s not close. I think the greatest barriers have nothing to do with current leadership or a lack of confidence in and by women; I think they are instead structural. We want change, but change is impossible to mount when the very structures and systems we use are gender biased, perpetuate stereotypes and hinder women from contributing at their most and best.

What we need is a true shake-up and we need it fast. I don’t mean that we need female-founded agencies to take over, but we certainly need a flattening of comms’ closed networks and a greater acceptance and utilisation of new lenses that reduce bias and expand our
understanding of what modern markets want and demand today.


What would be your advice to women in marketing who are considering launching their own business?

Don’t do it!

Just kidding, of course do it. I’d advocate for watching one of Cindy Gallop’s presentations when she speaks to this. Her advice is indispensable and beyond valuable. I won’t lie and I want to be transparent, it’s incredibly difficult. Even 15 years after we launched. I wasn’t just a small starter agency – I was being held to even higher standards as a female agency head, and forget telling them that you want to explore the incredible market opportunity (and niche market?) that is the 51% population of Australia – the female market and consumer.

  1. What I would advise is leave your innovations open, be agile, and use up every resource (even the ones you don’t currently know you have) at your disposal. What I mean by ‘leave your innovations open’ is don’t restrict your services to what other agencies are doing – think about your niche, what it is that you can do – that no one else can do. I’ve seen agencies create brilliant communities out of their own ‘owned media’, they’ve jumped on burgeoning trends before others (think CX or trust) and they’ve created game-changing tech that they can even sell to their competitors.
  2. Build your thought leadership. Why? You’re going to have compete harder, smarter and with greater agility. That’s not necessary a bad thing but it is going to be a much harder slog than you think. When I say know your niche – once you do it know it
    (mine is the female consumer), start building your expertise as the only person who can speak to it or have authority over it. This takes a long time, but when it’s done – you become the go-to person to go to when an issue arises and as I’ve found, when it comes to women – these come often!
  3. Get in touch with me and get on the WWA database is my final piece of advice. We want you, so I have a vested interest but I also have a deep interest in making sure that other women’s companies grow and have the opportunities to compete fairly with every other agency out there. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did, and if I can eradicate those barriers and limitations – then I know there will be so many more women like me making great shit out there.


Further reading


Image credit Małgorzata Witczak


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