100 Male Agency Staffers Read Heartbreaking Quotes From Their Female Co-Workers

In TBWA's Women's Day campaign

TBWA is using International Women's Day as a time to underscore the ongoing gender disparity in the advertising world, where women influence nearly 80 percent of purchase decisions yet produce just a fraction of the creative work.

The global network is launching a campaign featuring its legendary agency execs like Lee Clow and Jean-Marie Dru, with the twist being that they're reading comments from women about the double standards of life in the agency world.

TBWA's "Take the Lead" campaign coincides with today's International Women's Day and corresponding theme of "A Pledge for Parity." It is born of the idea that despite recent industry equality initiatives, women in marketing communications lack the critical mass of support from male colleagues to bring about true equality.

In addition to Clow (TBWA Media Arts Lab chairman) and Dru (TBWA Worldwide chairman), the campaign includes nearly 100 of the agency's male staffers who give voice to quotes the agency received in an anonymous global survey of female ad professionals. The women brought up issues and injustices they have faced or expect to face in their careers.

The minimalist campaign shows the men staring directly into the camera, their faces in focus as they share remarks from women in the industry. The pitch is built around a two-minute film, which goes live today in TBWA offices and on social media, as well as in physical and digital posters and banners. The company also created localized 15-second films.

Speaking up, or speaking for women?

Men speaking on behalf of women is a common creative device. In 2014, for instance, President Barack Obama, vice president Joe Biden and actors like Daniel Craig, Benicio del Toro, Dulé Hill, Seth Meyers and Steve Carell called for an end to sexual assault for a "1 Is 2 Many" PSA. Other pitches include the #HeForShe solidarity campaign developed two years ago by UN Women (earlier this year, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach stepped in to deliver the message), and the Clinton Foundation's "Man Up" initiative launched in 2009.

Such efforts usually get mixed reactions. Some say it's a patronizing approach to equality, one that suggests the message must come from a man's mouth to have real authority. Others applaud the way the tactic includes men in the larger issue at hand.

TBWA says its campaign "aims to emphasize both the irony of these sentiments coming from the mouths of men, and more importantly, to underscore the fact that the issues faced by women cannot and should not be challenged or changed by women alone."

Kat Gordon, founder of the 3 Percent Conference, said she appreciates how much effort TBWA devoted to a campaign that underscores its commitment to equality, and she added that it's impactful to hear women's words uttered by the men in the film.

"This [TBWA campaign] is a stark way to demonstrate different realities within an agency culture," she said. "In the wrong hands, it could come across as patronizing, but it doesn't here, which has a lot to do with the way it's executed."

The former agency exec also said she appreciates the recognition of women's issues as everyone's issues. That's something she strives for with the 3 Percent Conference, whose mission is to grow female ad agency leadership, an event she positions as a business conference—not a woman's forum.

"Take The Lead" is part of a larger TBWA initiative, Project 2020, which launched last summer with the goal of increasing women in leadership roles across the TBWA network by 20 percent before the year 2020. Erica Hoholick, president of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, leads the initiative.