Is agency giant Omnicom really a white boys’ club?

That’s the implication of a dispute going on in New York where the city’s $118bn public pension funds have asked the investment banks and ad agency groups they invest in to disclose information about the racial and social gender of their employees.

So far financial giants Goldman Sachs and Met Life have acceded but Omnicom, owner of BBDO, DDB, TBWA and media buyer OMD, among many others, has refused. The issue is set to be debated at Omnicom’s AGM in San Francisco on May 22. The resolution put forward by the pension funds cites an academic study claiming that “racial disparity is 38 per cent worse in the advertising industry than in the overall US labor market.”

As the world’s second-largest marcoms group after WPP won’t supply any race and gender information (or not yet anyway) it’s hard to come to a firm conclusion although studies from all over the place, including the UK, have shown that most people in advertising (including new intakes) are white, middle class and mostly male. New York’s agency heartland of Madison Avenue seems to be a worse offender than most, not that different from the Mad Men days of the 1960s.

A cursory look at some of the upper levels of Omnicom shows that there are three women on the main board out of a dozen or so but none of these actually work for Omnicom. Mind you, neither do the male directors. The only one who did is Bruce Crawford, former BBDO boss, who’s now 82. It’s not difficult to see why chairman and CEO John Wren (left) gets his own way and rumours occasionally surface that Brit Andrew Robertson, boss of hyper-successful BBDO, might not be averse to a move guaranteeing a real top table seat.

BBDO itself is little better in the race and gender stakes. The two leaders of AMV/BBDO in the UK, Cilla Snowball and Farah Ramzan Golant, sit on the worldwide board but that’s about it. And BBDO is really run by an all-male New York-based group of execs.

BBDO prides itself on its creativity with its mantra ‘The Work.The Work.The Work.’ It’s funny how rarely you see women (let alone black people) at the top of such agencies. Women are dotted around in all sorts of high positions at WPP for example but you don’t see that many (if any) at DDB, TBWA, even Wieden+Kennedy. Back in the great days of British creative advertising the only jobs women seemed to get at BMP and CDP were in the planning department, the office librarians in a way. As far as the creative department was concerned, forget it.

Is it because the boys running the creative department thought the girls didn’t get their (often laddish) jokes?

Anyway, we digress. Sooner or later Omnicom will have to spill the beans on race and gender and very interesting it will be too.

Update 11am

WPP, Interpublic and Publicis Groupe have also been asked to supply data. So far only Interpublic is reported to have done so.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.