An Open Letter to the AAF President on the Ridiculousness of All-Male, All-White Juries

Chicago ad awards panel includes no women or minorities

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Dear Mr. James Edmund Datri,

The year is 2016. Or it was, last I checked. Yet seeing the lineup that the Chicago Advertising Federation put together for this year's American Advertising Awards judging, I wondered if it might be 1955:

Eleven judges. All men. All white.

As Cindy Gallop so powerfully stated at the most recent 3 Percent Conference, we must "change the optics" in our industry. Every time an image of all white dudes or a list of all white dudes like yours appears, here's what it says: "I want a homogenous creative department. I want my creative department/leadership team to be all white men."

Kat Gordon Illustration: Alex Fine

Or, in your case, "I want a homogenous creative jury. I want my jury to be all white men."

In a year when many major creative awards have embraced the Art Directors Club's 50/50 Initiative, pledging for a gender-balanced jury, the Chicago AdFed's lineup shows a staggering lack of relevance. Ironically, two of the Chicago jurors, Todd Ziaja and Kevin Lynch, work for agencies—Razorfish and BBDO respectively—that are sponsors of the 50/50 Initiative.

You may wonder why I am directing this letter to you, the president and CEO of the American Advertising Federation, rather than to Patrick Farrey, the executive director of the Chicago AdFed. Farrey demonstrated his lack of sensitivity to this issue last year when the invitation to the American Advertising Awards gala, formerly known as the Addys, showed creatives gathered at a urinal, beneath the headline: "Who Measured Up?" (You can see the invite below.)

The Twittersphere erupted with criticism for this campaign, calling the work lazy and insensitive. Farrey did not apologize but issued this response to the brouhaha that ensued:

"Great advertising is almost always risk-taking, if not occasionally irreverent. There is no doubt that the promotional campaign for the 2015 CAF American Advertising Awards competition pushed the envelope. Our intent was not to offend anyone, but rather to inspire the Chicago ad community to submit their best work into our long-standing, highly respected competition."

This level of response isn't satisfying to key talent in the Chicago market. Jean Batthany, ecd at DDB Chicago, responded to this week's jury announcement by showcasing how embarrassing Chicago's lineup was compared with the Andy Awards: "While judging the 2016 International Andy Awards, Susan Fowler Credle, global CCO at FCB, shared a photo of Xanthe Wells, former CCO at The Pitch, in the jury room with her baby in her arms along with Mark Tutssel, global CCO of Leo Burnett. Led by Chairman Colleen DeCourcy, co-ecd at Wieden + Kennedy, six of this year's 26 incredibly talented judges were women, including Chicago's own Liz Taylor, ecd at Ogilvy. A stark contrast to the all-male jury of 11 selected to judge Chicago's 2016 Addys. 

"Why? Why is it so goddamn hard? Why is it six steps forward toward gender balance in creative leadership and six steps right back. Come on, Chicago Ad Federation. You're embarrassing us."

I agree with Batthany. I myself just flew home Saturday night from Orange County, where I judged the local Addys. Last year, I judged the Seattle Addys. There is no shortage of creative women ready and willing to serve as judges. In fact, the ADC's 50/50 Directory lists 373 women to invite.

There is no excuse or defense for this level of homogeneity. Homogeneity is the enemy of creativity. The more diverse people you have creating or evaluating work, the better the output. Ask Harvard. Or McKinsey. Or Catalyst.

Mr. Datri, you have a problem in Chicago. And Patrick Farrey should answer for it.


        The Chicago Advertising Federation's awards invitation drew criticism a year ago. 

Kat Gordon is the founder of The 3 Percent Conference, an event that strives to elevate and expand female representation in media and advertising. Follow her on Twitter at @KatGordon.