Diversity and gender inequality kick off 2019 Cannes Lions meet

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

The lack of diversity and gender inequality in the creative industries were among the topics kicking off the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity at a panel debate and discussion led by The Economist Group.

In its first daily Wake Up With The Economist At Cannes Lions panel, Rosie Blau, Editor of The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, Diego Scotti, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Verizon Communications, Syl Saller, Chief Marketing Officer of Diageo and Nina Bibby, Chief Marketing Officer of O2 had a conversation on the implications of the huge ongoing changes to the marketing landscape.

Cannes they do it?: Industry leaders try to address key issues

Gender pay gap 

Speaking about the gender pay gap and Diageo’s challenge to its agencies to improve diversity, Syl Saller, praised her agency partners, and pointed out that that almost half of her agencies have female leadership. 

However, she pointed to female creative leadership as a worry, it’s sitting at 12% in the UK, and at 39% for Diageo agencies overall, but only 24% for their lead agencies.

Syl Saller also spoke about maternity and paternity leave: “More broadly, we need to change the conversation from women having babies to people having children. We made maternity and paternity leave equal in the UK and we made a very broad policy of 6 months maternity leave across all markets.”


On diversity, Nina Bibby, Chief Marketing Officer of O2, spoke about the importance of inclusion, arguing:“Diversity is being invited to the party, equality is being asked to dance.”  

Diego Scotti seconded this point, saying “The start is bringing diverse talent but then you need the inclusive environment. 

“We’ve just finished a study - and we all have a bigger retention problem than we think, women are twice as likely as men to leave their company in the next year. 

“For people of colour they are more likely to leave the industry in five years.”

Moving on to stereotyping in advertising, Saller reminded the audience that the statistics around stereotyping in ads had essentially not changed in a decade. 

Therefore, Diageo has introduced a global framework, which allows them to test their ads for gender stereotyping. 

She spoke about the importance of collaboration: “As individual companies, there is very little we can do, but together we can have a massive shift of society. That’s why we joined with other companies and shared our framework with them - the collective work is the most important.”

Meanwhile, Bibby spoke about a simple change: as sponsors of England Rugby, they created adverts for women's rugby. A simple move, but one which hadn't been done before.

Consumer issues 

Moving on to discuss how the industry is changing due to consumer behaviour, such as ad blocking, Diego Scotti said “As advertisers we have become really lazy”, pointing out that with people paying to have an ad free option, if advertisers end up bombarding people more in the limited space available we will antagonise the consumer further. 

He argued: “If we don’t get more creative, we have no business.”


On the future of the agency model, Syl Saller compared the business model of agencies to Diageo: “We don’t need to break our model to grow, there are good margins on premium alcohol. Agencies will need to really rethink their structural economics.”

Diego Scotti echoed this, saying that the business model of agencies is outdated. However, he also pointed to the role of clients, pointing the finger at their push to squeeze budgets, saying: “I only want one thing in the world. That is that the talent my agencies have is the best talent in the world - the best talent requires budget.”

Moving onto the role of data and creativity, Syl Saller spoke about how data allows you to see what is working but emphasised the need to keep experimenting and take risks. 

She highlighted Diageo’s, £150m investment in their distillery visitor centres in Scotland as an example of such a move.

The promises and risks of data were also discussed by Diego Scotti who said, “I’m most excited about the best work coming out from the intersection of data and creativity. But equally I’m worried about the industry becoming too dependent on data and only experimenting on things that we have data for, we need to continue to take risks.”

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