Oregon’s School of Journalism Researched Ad Agency Diversity and the Numbers Are Bleak

Close to 1,800 shops were represented in the study

Graphic from addatabase.org
Data at addatabase.org outlines the lack of diversity at ad agencies in the U.S. University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications

Over the summer, the advertising industry was forced to confront its own shortcomings about race. Most notably, 600 & Rising’s founding aggressively refocused the mission to bring more diverse talent into advertising and marketing.

In a short period this summer, agencies and holding companies began proactively trickling out their diversity numbers. Some used EEOC data, while others went deeper.

While inconsistent data can be troublesome, even getting some perspective on where the industry sits remains a positive. 600 & Rising will be critical in the drive for greater understanding and progress, as will the 4A’s and others looking to positively impact change.

Today, the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications (SOJC) published the data from its research of close to 1,800 agencies in 65 U.S. locations, representing more than 20,000 employees. This research, which the SOJC claims is the “largest database quantifying the diversity of advertising agencies across the United States,” was researched by eight students (seven from diverse backgrounds) and faculty members.

(Disclosure: Doug Zanger is an instructor and advisory board member of the University of Oregon’s Master’s in Advertising and Brand Responsibility.)

The results focused on three areas: the number of non-white employees, women employees and non-white women employees. The methodology uses publicly available information on agency websites and what’s called “standard social scientific coding procedures.” In its shortest form, teams of two looked at photos and names on websites to make judgments on gender and whether or not someone was non-white.

Nearly 62% of agencies are less than 50% women, almost 75% of agencies are less than 25% non-white and over 90% of agencies are less than 25% non-white women, based on the research.

University of Oregon SOJC

University of Oregon SOJC

University of Oregon SOJC

The project was funded by Oregon alum and retired agency executive Colleen McCloud, who was at Foote, Cone & Belding in Los Angeles for 25 years, exiting as evp, creative media director at the agency in 1992.

“We see this project as a much-needed resource for the advertising and marketing industry,” she said. “Diversity, especially in today’s world, is one of the key elements in recognizing the power of ‘we.’ You must know where you are to get where you are going.”

An open conversation and opportunity for change

Dave Markowitz, assistant professor at the SOJC who led the project with Dave Koranda, a professor of practice, noted that other aspects of diversity, such as sexual orientation, were not pursued due to the methodology. Starting with gender and race are more inferable from pictures on agency websites, according to Markowitz. While the method has limitations, the goal was to build a starting point to work from.

“We want to collect the data in a social scientific way and have a conversation with the industry,” Markowitz said. “If there’s a discrepancy, let’s talk about it, rather than relying on the data that [agencies] give us. What we see is exactly what prospective employees see, so that’s the representation [in the industry].”

The project’s methodology.University of Oregon SOJC

“There’s no question that there may be people who feel they may have been misrepresented,” Koranda said. “The opportunity is to show us where we were wrong, and let’s have a discussion to work on changing it.”

Critical to the research’s efficacy is having more than one set of eyes on each photo, and two people must agree on its rating. Markowitz said the student researchers—known as coders—came to an agreement 80% to 90% of the time. Having seven of the eight researchers coming from diverse backgrounds was another essential component of the project.

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.