Ad Industry Can’t Quite Agree on the Value of the Chief Diversity Officer

By Patrick Coffee 

Today in Things We Pretty Much Have to Aggregate, the biggest topic of conversation last week beyond the (allegedly) unprecedented demands made by one Ronald McDonald concerned Deutsch’s decision to part ways with Felicia Geiger and eliminate the head of diversity/inclusion position she filled.

The issue, really, was whether the move would ultimately be in the best interest of the agency’s core business including its ability to attract both new talent and new clients. Quite a few people shared their opinions on our subsequent post regarding Geiger’s comments to Campaign, and the publication (which coincidentally began its rebranding today) ran a trend story on the topic this morning.

That piece is worth a read if you can get past the paywall, and it’s notable for the fact that pretty much every executive agrees CDOs are here to stay and that Deutsch’s decision was fundamentally a cost-cutting move.

For example, Tiffany Warren of Omnicom counters the claim that every employee contributes to diversity efforts by saying, “If creativity is everybody’s responsibility, then why do you have the chief creative officer?”

From CEO Rob Schwartz of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York:

“What I like about it is that it’s official that we’re taking diversity seriously. It’s unambiguous our point of view on it. We actually have someone who thinks about this when they wake up and dreams about it when they go to sleep. It’s opening up avenues to talent that, had we not had Doug here, we might not have thought about.”

It’s not unsurprising to learn that the CDOs who spoke to Campaign disagree with Deutsch’s decision and that they don’t seem to think an HR director can handle all of the duties previously entrusted to someone whose primary responsibilities concern both hiring a more diverse group of employees and enshrining such practices on a cultural and organizational level.

We do not have an opinion on this matter because we are third party observers. But we do feel like it might have been constructive to have a contradictory opinion in this mix like the ones voiced by some of our readers and the 40 percent of participants in a recent Campaign poll who said companies don’t necessarily need CDOs in 2016.

Most of the people who left well-formed thoughts on our posts (and there were some!) voiced some variation on the idea that chief diversity officer is a position that brings little direct value to an agency despite Heide Gardner of IPG telling Campaign that “it’s ultimately about enhancing shareholder value” for holding companies.

As IPG CEO Michael Roth told us in a February interview: “We’ve moved beyond quotas. Our industry has to move toward inclusion because the marketplace demands it.”

Few would disagree with him outright, but a significant minority of people who work in the business seem to think the act of satisfying those market demands doesn’t require an internal chief diversity officer position.

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