Tearing down hierarchies and fighting racism with WPP and Droga5 at Cannes’ ‘Lions Live’

In the absence of the real thing, Cannes is putting on a series of live talks this week, bringing out the heavy hitters for a candid discussion about coronavirus and racism.

On the panel were Mark Read, CEO of WPP; David Droga, founder of Droga5; Lorraine Twohill, CMO of Google; Jean Lim, Dentsu Creative CEO; and Steve Stoute, founder of New York agency Translation.


Droga offered a mea culpa. He said: “I thought, because I have a bi-racial family I was on the right side of stuff, but unless you change the systems it’s fleeting… I’ve assumed that everyone in the agency has the same reality and as a result, we have attracted but not retained diverse talent.”

Read expressed his frustration that, despite being well intentioned, WPP “hadn’t moved the needle over the last five years.” He did add that, by setting up an online internship over the summer, the group had attracted a much more diverse set of candidates than usual.

Stoute said: “The part that upsets me most is the companies who act surprised that the topic of race has come up, as if they’ve never heard about it before. I can’t allow for the industry to have this ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality.” He added: “The whole idea of the chief diversity officer has failed; getting blacks not because they are best in class but because they are black. No one who’s talented wants a side door.”

Virtual working

Life on Zoom might be wearing people down, but it is also tearing down the chains of command. Read said: “Hierarchy disappears on Zoom because the normal meeting protocols are gone, so it encourages a flourishing of collaboration.”

Droga said that the crisis had “snapped our industry out of our lazy convenient stupor” but misses the “alchemy” of the office. He said: “Creativity is a collision culture so I worry that the jousting and ricocheting off each other might be compromised.”

Marketers have long complained that ad agencies are too slow, and it’s taken a lockdown to show they can work a lot faster when they put their minds to it. Lim said the crisis had sharpened innovation and problem-solving skills, giving examples of a “touch and go” coffee app in Japan that allowed people to order and pick up coffee at unmanned stores; and systems that allowed KFC to make faster deliveries to key workers, and pool orders for more efficient deliveries.

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