Our good friend Alan Brown of the fine small agency DNA recently shared this story with us over coffee: a recent industry survey was suggesting that an exceedingly small percentage of agency employees were self-identifying as LGBTQ+. We were terribly surprised by the data. It just didn’t seem to fit in the bubble we were living in.
The absolute numbers were striking and disturbing considering the progress we had thought society had been making. 99.983% of the respondents self-identified as heterosexual/straight. In a universe of just under 300,000 agency employees in the US, this would translate into only 46 LGBTQ+ staffers in the agency community.
Alan and the folks at Come Out to Work (a team committed to ad industry actions supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion) have devised a solution to help improve the situation: The Project 47 Pledge. This pledge is a crucial step forward for agencies – and we believe CMOs will be well served if they expect their agencies to sign up for the pledge.
The Project 47 Pledge
Alan explained the effort this way: LGBTQ+ inclusion at work begins with having someone who has your back – who will listen, guide, mentor and advise. Someone who is committed to helping individuals have the best chance for success by creating an open, safe culture.
The Project 47 Pledge is intended to create that safe and welcoming environment by asking agency industry leaders to commit to mentoring one LGBTQ+ employee for one hour each month for one year. The hope is that with visible leaders supplying support and mentorship, more LGBTQ+ people will be comfortable raising their hands to be seen.
You can read more about, and take, the pledge here.
To better understand how important The Project 47 Pledge is to agencies and their clients, we asked Alan to elaborate.
Why did your agency sign on?
Alan Brown: People who self-identify as LGBTQ+ have doubled in the past decade, with this growth being driven by Gen Z and Millennials. In fact, 20% of Gen Z currently self-identifies as LGBTQ+. Younger people are the future of the advertising industry, and we cannot overlook the importance of making advertising a place where LGBTQ+ people want to have a career. But it seems that today, we are missing the mark.
The 4A’s conducted a diversity survey in 2021 among 90 independent agencies and 42 holding companies, representing almost 40,000 employees, reporting that 99.983% of employees identify as straight/heterosexual. Based on current employment our industry, that would be 46 people in advertising are LGBTQ+. And we know that isn’t true. While the survey is solid, the results tell the story of an industry that either is not open to collecting self-identifying information, or we are not creating cultures in our agencies where LGBTQ+ people feel safe to come out. This is a call to action.
As an LGBTQ+ and Black owned and led agency, we felt it was important to make it clear that we are invested in the LGBTQ+ community – that we are putting our time into mentoring and providing a path for LGBTQ+ employees to be successful in advertising. The Project 47 Pledge is a visible and real commitment to that action.
Why should other agencies sign on?
Alan Brown: It’s in the best interests of their staff, their business and all of society.
There is strength in numbers. The more agencies that get onboard with the Project 47 Pledge, the more impact we can make in supporting and encouraging LGBTQ+ people to be out at work, to be successful in advertising, and to create future demand for talented workers that find advertising as an attractive career choice. Also, the commitment is so minimal – mentor one LGBTQ+ employee for one hour per month for one year. That’s only 12 hours per year.
Why should CMOs and marketers care?
Alan Brown: CMO’s should be engaging agency partners who bring diverse perspectives, experiences and ideas to the table – diversity in ALL areas, because when they do, they will get work that is more creative, effective and impactful. They should also want to work with agencies who are walking the talk of their diversity commitments – taking action that support their statements, demonstrating that they are DOING as much as they are saying. The Project 47 Pledge proves to CMO’s a real commitment to invest and support LGBTQ+ talent.
How can an agency get started?
Alan Brown: You can sign The Project 47 Pledge here.
The Come Out to Work website also has fantastic suggestions on how agencies can better engage with the LGBTQ+ community:
At Mercer Island group, we believe every agency should sign on to the pledge. Many fine agencies have jumped in already, like FIG, Mekanism, Miller Brooks, Pavone, Copacino Fujikado, Barrett, Cornett, Hydrogen, Tether, Green Rubino and others. It’s time for many more to join the pack.
Here’s what Mekanism Managing Partner Mike Zlatoper had to say:
- Why your agency signed on? “One of our core company values is “inclusivity”. As soon as we heard about the statistics of LGBTQI employees in the industry, we felt compelled to sign up.”
- Why should other agencies should sign on? “The more agencies that pledge and contribute, the more of an effect the program will have. We are a community after all.”
- Why should CMOs care? “We think a diverse workforce makes for more relevant creative. More relevant creative means a greater connection to consumers. Diversity is not only a social issue, it’s a business issue.”
And, as Alan Brown eloquently stated, this issue goes well beyond agencies. CMOs and marketers should expect that their agencies take the pledge. How can an agency truly stand for a brand or its target audiences in 2022 with an employee base that may not feel comfortable being themselves at work?
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and many others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.