Anne Miles is an entrepreneur, founder of the Suits & Sneakers agency, an industry mentor and outspoken advocate for big issues in marketing and society more broadly. In this wide-ranging discussion, David and Anne talk about everything from professional and personal experiences that have shaped them both, to why Anne believes that the ShEqual movement is misguided, and the importance and relevance of conscious capitalism in business.
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Okay, welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
And today, I’m sitting down with Anne Miles. And it’s difficult to describe you, Anne, in one sentence. You have so many strings to your bow; entrepreneur, founder of Suits&Sneakers, industry activist, mentor, podcaster, broadcaster. I could keep going, but I should probably just let you say hello.
Hello. Thank you so much for having me. I do a hundred per cent agree. I’m a bit of a complex person and I worked out the other day that I actually have 22 certifications in different things. And some that I just won’t even talk about here. So, I am very much a complex, multi-talented, weird person.
Yes, I remember when I first met you actually, you were talking about the most recent certifications, and I remember thinking, well, I’ve got some VCEs and a degree and that’s about it. You put me to shame in that regard.
But look, it’s great to have you talking to us today. Let’s start with Suits&Sneakers rather, your Suits&Sneakers operation. Talk to us about the proposition and why did you create it?
Yeah, it’s funny. So, I was one of these people in the advertising industry that hit 40 and started to go “Hang on a minute, why aren’t I as busy as I used to be?” And started to wonder if something was going wrong. And weirdly, I feel even more so now (I’m 57 now) … and I go, “I’m at the absolute top of my game.” And I’ve never been better at my job or better as a person, and yet in the advertising industry, I’m pretty invisible.
And then what happened was I saw JWT and I’m saying it because it’s publicly said, they were retrenching creative people in different offices around the world. And there was like five in each office. And I looked at the photos of everyone who was retrenched and they were all with gray hair and older … and then JWT did get in a lot of trouble about this.
Because there was this, “We’re getting rid of white pale style” kind of stuff, which is horrible. So, I just was watching that in the press. And I went to myself out loud, sitting in my room all on my own: I went “Right, that’s it.”
I’ve had it.
“I’ve had it, I’m just really sick of this.” And so, I thought someone needs to build a business that has all these amazing people where you can find them under one roof. And that’s the moment the business started.
It did actually start as a different name first. It was the International Creative Services. And then I’ve learned things about trademarking and whatnot. So, I had to change the name and it’s more appropriate too, because Suits&Sneakers, some people go, “Is it shoes and socks?” No, but it’s like the suits are the account service strategists, those people, and the sneakers are creative tech, production people.
And so, now, I’ve got my database I’ve been collecting for many years, it’s up to 17,000 of amazing talent. And so, I just hand pick people. So, a virtual agency differs to me; in a virtual agency it is just an ad agency that uses freelancers. Whereas, I can connect you up with the people, but if you want someone to supervise the job and keep everything on track, then we act totally as the intermediary.
So, we’re not an agency, but we could pull all the team together to make you do an in-house agency, for example. And then everyone’s accountable to Suits&Sneakers, including the client. So, that’s been a rattle of the industry’s models, I guess, yeah.
Yeah. And look, there’s a couple of parallels, I guess. I’m in my forties and I noticed some of the things that you’ve spoken openly about there. It’s obviously all about balance and not discriminating. And that’s something … and we’ll come on and talk about broader forms of discrimination a bit later on.
But there were parallels at TrinityP3, we are all very experienced people. And the reason is that experience is extremely valuable. And some of the areas you touched on there, not just being a virtual agency, but managing and running these kinds of projects and in-housing, I mean that takes gray hairs, that takes experience. That’s where a lot of agencies fall down, right?
Definitely. And the other thing I’ve learned over the years is both sides don’t do the right thing by each other, always. And sometimes the inexperience of people — they mean well. I always think the best of people, which has got me in trouble too, but I do think people mean well.
But I’ve had clients who wouldn’t pay for really inappropriate reasons. And then freelancers who have also pissed off with the first 50 upfront and those things. So, I thought, no, we need another way to work as an industry. And definitely, you can see I’m very purpose-driven about fixing bad stuff.
And so, one, I feel like it’s an inclusive environment. So, people are being chosen for talent, regardless of age, regardless of gender, country, whatever. And Suits& Sneakers is also moving into a tech solution so people can see the talent, but they won’t know what gender, age, race, any of that. So, you can choose people yourself, because I’m just having to sort of clone myself now.
So, I’m going, “Okay, we’ll make it into a tech thing, so there’ll be one offering and if you need the supervision and you can still have that.” But everyone can find the talent without that bias. So, I feel like it’s solving that. It’s solving people running off with each other’s money and not doing good jobs. I used services like 99Designs and Freelancer and there are some good things about those if you know what you are doing, but in the early days, I’ve had people who’ve made me apps and then all they were doing it for was to take my password and use my Apple ID and whatever.
And then I’ve wasted all my production time. And even though … whichever it was, one of the platforms, at the end, they can mediate. But once you’ve spent your money and you’ve missed your deadline, you’ve missed it. So, I’m going, “We’ve got to have better than that.”
So, I’m pulling all these problems that I found and going how can I make the world better?
And with the clients, it’s a pretty consultative model, I guess. I mean, you’re not doing account servicing, right? You’re doing account leadership or you’re bringing this together in a very consultative way.
It definitely is that because I think that in the world now outside of agencies, agencies are very siloed. So, people sit in one little box each and that also adds lots of cost to the job because every single seat has to be touched. Whereas, in the world, outside of it, there’s lots of really multi-talented people.
So, the art of putting multi-talented people together is quite a challenge as well, and going “Well, okay, well, we’ve got that person so they can do those two jobs and this person can do those three, but we’ve got this other funny gap.”
And I really love that. That, I feel really is a challenging part of the job. And I’m lucky because of the discrimination I’ve personally experienced. I could always get to a certain point and then they’d go, “Oh no, sorry, there’s no room for women in this agency, as managing director or CEO, because this is an automotive-led agency and we don’t have women here.” And I’d go, “Okay, well I’m out of that agency.”
So, to get my intellectual stretch over the years, I would go as far as I could in each company, even when the management trainers would say, “Your next CEO is in this room,” there was no way I could ever get up. And so, I just went sideways. So, I’ve been in research, in marketing client-side, in agencies, in strategy. And I’ve had a long career in creative and production.
And so, now, it’s giving me this unique ability to see what the little jigsaw puzzle needs to look like. So, I feel like it’s making sense of a lot of the things in my experience. I’ve really enjoyed that.
I’m always faintly astonished when people relate that kind of experience… I was told that “there’s no room for a woman in an automotive-led agency”. And that’s just my own blinkers. I mean, I don’t see it because I’m not female. I don’t see it enough, at least. I don’t participate in that as an individual, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
But I’m interested in, I mean, we’ll come back on … we’re going on a tangent here a little bit, but is that as much to do with clients’ preconceptions as to the agency. In other words, the client, an automotive client wouldn’t necessarily want a “woman” working on their account. I mean, where does that even come from?
Yeah, it’s a really important, good question. And I thought that the problem was all in agencies originally and maybe even a bit spoken out about that. But I did go client side at one point and I’ve got to say, it’s in there so badly. And especially in the automotive industry because that was the specialty for me.
And when I got there, the worst thing about it is that they have in those companies much more stringent HR policies. So, luckily, in an agency, someone said it out loud to me, and then I’ve had things like the creative director putting his penis on my shoulder and people sexually abusing me and those things, but they were obvious. Do you know what I mean?
When I went on the client-side, being blanked in a meeting and someone else raising your point when you left the room and pretending it was their own, is so much more insidious or having a meeting without me on my own project, and making decisions they would never have even bothered having the courtesy to tell me — that is much more insidious and harmful.
I feel like I’d rather have the penis on my shoulder because I can go “Piss off.” How sick is that?
I’m not going to make any comment on which of those two scenarios is worse, but I do understand what you’re saying. I think people do experience that at various times, that kind of insidious, passive-aggressive exclusion. And I’ve experienced that, but I haven’t experienced it because I’m a … I mean, there’s a fine line, but it’s a very distinctive line, right?
But you are raising a good point though. And I’m as much about equality across the board. And so, I do agree that it happens to men too. And I do think that maybe I’m jumping here, but when you get feminist activism out there, it does put the focus on just one gender and the problem. But I feel like it would be better if we could be dealing with the problem for everyone. And we’d have more success across the board.
Partly hold that thought because we’re going to come on and talk about that. But I mean the line of distinction is people experiencing that kind of passive aggressiveness in the office for reasons of they’re not liked as a person or … I haven’t experienced that kind of thing in the office because I’m a man.
Whereas, you have experienced it because you’re a woman. And so, based on that kind of exclusivity based on gender, is the cross over point.
That’s right. It is very hard to know when it is and when it isn’t. I think it would be good to track more of that. Like it’s also difficult in companies because they have a criteria that they’re working to, which is bullying. So, bullying is a certain criteria and it’s repeat behaviour that impacts a single person exclusively and not others.
But no one protects people from just being a bad manager and doing it to lots of people or just to one gender. No one’s really tracking that. So, I feel like that is opening a broader thing about whether this is just a gendered problem or not, but it’s definitely not to be dismissed, you can tell when it’s just an ass hole, and when it’s someone who thinks that you won’t know because you are a woman or they don’t see your place here.
I think I’d have to test some of what you’re saying. I’d have to go and work on like a lingerie brand or a cosmetics brand or something that would traditionally be a female and then see if that happened to me because I’m a guy.
And it’s very possible. And as much as I’m all for fighting for equality, I do think that we’re talking here about males against females a bit. At the same time, I think females are just as bad at perpetuating this problem for other women, and also, for ourselves.
The worst person who harmed me the most overall of my adult career, and I’m talking about also at home where I lived in a relationship with domestic violence involved. So, I look back and the common thread is also me. So, I was brought up that it was not your job to ever overshadow a man, was also, you sit back and be quiet and be the behind-the-scenes kind of person. And if you step up, that’s inappropriate too.
And also, in an environment where someone else has bullied you when you were young, and you were told, “Just ignore it, just ignore it.” You know, those things also perpetuate you to put up with behaviour because you think it’s normal. So, I’m not the only one. So, whilst I’m saying, I think there are some challenges with men behaving a certain way, I think it’s a societal problem and I perpetuated it too. So, it took a while for me to go, “Hang on a minute, I’m doing this too.”
Yeah, because we started by talking about this in a professional context, but those kinds of comments — and seeing yourself and others raise these kinds of issues in the industry, it does … when I read this stuff, it makes me think about myself, not just as an individual and a professional, but as a parent, because these things do stem from how people have been raised.
I’ve got a 10-year-old girl at home, how do I want her to be? Do I want her to be the person standing back and never being overshadowing a man? Well, no. Am I even subconsciously directing her like that? Well, I have to always be conscious and think about that because that’s not what I want.
No, good for you. And I do think there are a lot of people like that too. And frankly, I actually have put a parenting course together now.
Oh, there you go. See, I should have thought of this stuff …another string to the bow.
Which is hilarious because I am actually trained as a life coach. There’s like six qualifications just in life coaching type stuff. So, I thought if I’m solving this problem in the world, I do need to make it impact parents in the next generation too. So, I do agree. And it’s not just in the workplace, it’s coming because this is in life everywhere. So, good for you.
Well, how successful I am, I don’t know, but it’s sort of a semi segue because you just touched on societal issues and let’s change gear a bit and talk about something else that you’ve been involved in aside from Suits&Sneakers.
You’ve become known as an advocate for several causes. Many of which are intrinsically linked to the concept of conscious capitalism. Now, probably, I’m going to need some education on this, but the vision of which as I understand it, or if I had to describe it in one sentence, is to move to a world in which commercial enterprise is a primary driver of the social impact of many types on the planet.
And so, that’s a very wide-ranging vision and as well as being a world away from a corporate social responsibility document written on a piece of paper, which has been a tradition where companies have come from.
Where did your passion for conscious capitalism begin? Where have I gone wrong in my description just then, and what do you see as the most powerful levers of change?
Yeah, they’re really deep, wonderful topics, my favourite thing to talk about. So, I think conscious capitalism came to me probably through like really good old fashioned Christian values and being brought up in a country town and really running that way. And a farm business is more than just a job anyway. And so, I guess those values came through generally me as a person.
And then having been in an industry that was just so capitalist for so long, I just didn’t feel like I fit all this time. And then I went to Grey Worldwide. Oh gosh, I’m trying to think it must be in the early nineties now. And they had the TAC account back then. And that was like … like the world over … I went, “Wow, okay, this sort of work, you know.” And so, that gave me the first taste of it.
And then after leaving agencies in whatever, I started to look more into what made that so good. And the concept of purpose came up, and just researching more about purpose, I stumbled across conscious capitalism, which was at that time, an American actual organisation; Conscious Capitalism with capital Cs. But the idea of conscious capitalism, little Cs is a concept and it sort of is a movement. So, I really dug into that. And I did even run the Australian chapter here for about 18 months as well. So, I did dive in. So, that’s the journey of me getting there.
So, conscious capitalism, I think you’ve actually said it really well. And I do think the nuances in those things between social impact and corporate social responsibility get muddied sometimes. So, you did say it well, but I wouldn’t mind recapping so everyone else gets the nuance.
So, conscious capitalism has four main things that drive it. So, it’s purpose-driven, it’s culture, leadership, and also they call it stakeholder alignments. So, pretty much that means everyone in the chain of communication is looked after. And so, that’s suppliers, it’s your people, it’s the society, it’s everything.
So, corporate social responsibility, for example, as you know, charity work and all of that would fit with stakeholders. It could be also you’re purpose-driven and whatever, but it is separate, and it’s not enough to say it’s everything. So, I think that’s where a lot of people get mistaken. And I’ve even heard really well-regarded people in our industry mistake what purpose is. And they say it’s just social responsibility.
And I go, no, it’s like why are you doing what you’re doing as a brand? And how’s it impacting all of your people and your internal workflow? How’s it is impacting the suppliers and has everyone been kept honest. And then the corporate social responsibility may be a part of that or it might not be. So, for me it just covered everything.
Okay. And so, in terms of where we are … I mean, to avoid making this conversation too broad, let’s focus on Australia. Out of 10, where are we on a conscious capitalist journey? Are there any shining lights in this country that you would point to?
Yeah, that’s actually a really topical and great question because there are some brands that are really leading the way in that way and it’ll be great to acknowledge them. And Unilever is doing a particularly awesome job. Then there are brands like Intrepid Travel. They’re like flagships, I would say, in Australia. Unilever’s of course got international ownership, but they are really standout.
And then there’s a bunch of businesses that are B-Corp classified that I consider living and breathing evidence of the conscious capitalist movement. And they’ve got a certification that’s very aligned. So, those two industries, two businesses even are very good. So, if anyone’s looking for a shortcut, look for a B-Corp.
And someone like Intrepid, that’s a very big company now, it’s very difficult to get a B-Corp certification. And I’m under the impression, I could be wrong, that Unilever’s attempting to as well … and they seem to be operating that way, but to get the certification, it’s really, really hard. So, I think that’s a really good measure for everyone to see where they’re at.
I imagine the larger and more complex you are as an organisation, the harder it must be to get a B-Corp. And I don’t fully understand exactly what’s entailed. I know there are some agencies going back to our own industry — and Benedictus media is one I know, and there’s All or Nothing is another one. They’re both B-Corp certified.
But they’re both relatively small companies. Intrepid Travel is of course relatively small compared to Unilever, is that right? Does it just become more complicated? Because you’ve got so many other things; so many suppliers, so many different levers in your business, right?
Definitely. And look, for full transparency, I’ve done the first part of the B-Corp certification myself and they’ve gone, “Whoa, your score’s like super high. You’d do really well.” But for me to be spending the money it takes to be B-Corp certified, I’m going, I’d rather finish my tech right now and get more people working than I would have for sort of a superficial badge when I live and breathe those things.
So, there are others that are like me where we do this but we don’t have the badge, but it is a good shortcut for people and I a hundred per cent endorse the B-Corp thing. So, it’s very-
So, you’ve gone positive there. I mean, I asked you for a score out of 10, I guess. But you’ve mentioned some interesting examples and-
But I’ll be honest, I do think there’s a long way to go.
I think so too. I mean, let’s be honest, yeah. But you’ve highlighted some really interesting and different … if I had to guess who you were going to highlight, I would never have said Unilever honestly, with all due respect to Unilever. It’s not a company I would’ve thought of that would be that far advanced, but-
Yeah. And they did it as an initial experiment on only certain brands within their portfolio. And then they’ve realised that it has such a commercial advantage that now, they’re running it across others as well. So, they’re really serious about it. And I think they need commendation more than anyone, as it’s not just one brand with them. There are so many.
I think the ultimate thing, even though I’ve talked about conscious capitalism is specific things. The overriding principle is you can still make money as a business, but do good for the world while you’re at it. That’s the summary of it. And that’s what I feel like drives me every day. Surely, there’s a way we can still get business in the door but do something good and protect people and do the right thing.
So, one of the many ways of doing the right thing is using the power of your marketing or using the power of your advertising to try and rid the world of discrimination or lack of diversity in how you present yourself as an organisation. And obviously, the consumer-facing part of a business is often represented by its marketing and advertising, and too much marketing/advertising still contains stereotypes still contains bias, either conscious or unconscious.
I think the jar’s not just with industry observers or experts, but with a consumer base that’s less and less silent and more and more powerful. People are just noticing this stuff or having more voice actually; probably not noticing — they’ve always noticed it, but now, they’ve got more of a voice.
What are the biggest challenges you see with marketing and advertising? And do you think the application of ethical advertising, which is kind of what I’m talking about here — not just what a business communicates, but how messages are communicated and the removal of bias from those messages; does that have a laddering up role to play to support these broader ideas that we’ve just been talking about, like conscious capitalism?
Yeah, I definitely think it’s a part of conscious capitalism because ultimately, my belief and the research and all the data I have around this, is that businesses that actually respect their customer properly and are talking to the right people in the right way, they’ve outperformed businesses that are just on good old rote fashion using demographic profiling and things like that.
So, I feel, yeah, it’s totally conscious capitalist because one, businesses can perform better with it. And two, you’re finishing harming people. But the topic generally is actually quite deep. And I’m lucky because I have done these jobs in lots of different parts of the industry. I can see that the depiction of stereotypes is still happening in media, marketing, and advertising. And we now know that there’s evidence that says that that is causing harm to society.
So, we’ve got evidence now that says it’s creating domestic violence, bullying, and mental health problems (proven). The UK believes that study so much that they’ve changed their laws and they’ve changed the self-regulation system. So, there’s actually a pathway between the self-regulation system and the laws being upheld.
So, that’s how serious they are about it. And when I learned that and having my own experience with domestic violence and other things, I became all the more passionate about this topic. And so, I feel … well, I know our self-regulation system is a really big problem for this, is the first step back. And the general public doesn’t know how to complain, typically.
And I think 51% said if they complained, they didn’t think anything would be done with it anyway. So, the self-regulation system is not just an AANA, ABS problem, it’s also the fact that if anyone wanted to make a complaint if it was on an outdoor billboard, they’d have to go to that person. If it was in the radio, they’d have to go to that one.
And if it was TV, then it’s ABS. If it’s in packaging, nobody is handling it. So, we don’t have a place and a safe and easy place for anyone to complain, even if they wanted to. So, they’re only complaining and making a voice now through social media and through their wallet, which if you look at the Edelman Trust Barometer, you can see some evidence around their beliefs about that. And also, there is a gap at the end of the day, they still are buying when they don’t want to.
So, we’ve got those problems. And then if you go back a step, if we did get the self-regulation system worked out, then the creative teams and the marketers and all the people that create campaigns, they’re still operating on their own bias. And I think a lot of people mean really well.
Like even in the gym yesterday, I had somebody say to me, “Oh, you really should dye your hair” because my hair for those listening, it’s fully gray and I’ve embraced it. And I just wear it all completely grey.
And this woman said to me, “Yeah, you really should dye your hair blonde, you’d look so much younger.” And I said “You know that’s ageist, like what are you doing?” And she just wasn’t getting it.
It’s also sexist in a way, kind of, because would she have said that to a man? I’m not sure.
That’s right, probably not. Yeah, because women are only defined by their looks in the population. So, we’re not even present in some of the media as an older woman either. So, that’s definitely a two-edged sword. Thank you for reminding me.
So, I feel that people are not educated and those people are responsible for campaigns that are not just one person in the gym talking to me — this is millions of people being impacted by the work that keeps sneaking out the door. I think a lot of agencies are meaning well, but I just personally think people don’t know what the rules are and there’s nowhere for them to have any guide on it at the moment.
And if you go back a step, then the market is too. I coach agencies every step of the way, on what can be done. My challenge is sometimes they come to me and say, “Well, the clients just come and tell us this is our market, and we don’t argue with it.” And I’m going well, we’ve got a bigger problem. Then it’s going back to strategy, it’s going back to sales data; to me, this is the most insidious, nasty problem that we’ve got because all that data’s been collected in a condition where the bias is likely involved, not always.
And the creative that was created to support that is just further embedding it. And the media that it goes to is further embedding. Even media, which is your cup of tea — the media companies have this data saying we’ve got this robust data for the last 20 years that tell us these are what these people want, but that data has got all this bias in place and they’re so hanging onto it.
So, what I’d love everyone to do is just draw a line in the sand and go, okay, what does the future customer want? Fresh start, you know; it’s pretty impossible to ask.
Well, so there’s a couple of things that occurred to me as you were talking there; firstly, it’s a direct line back to what we were talking about before. Agencies are saying, “Oh yeah, it’s just what the client wants so we have to do it.” There’s an experience gap there surely. I mean it takes an experienced person and agency to stand up to a client and lead as opposed to following. So, there’s that.
But also, it strikes me when we were talking about campaigns and creative, but I think we’re up against much more insidious forces now. When you think about it… it’s obviously not just on TV anymore, it’s not just online anymore.
I’m thinking about things like influencers, where the messaging they’ll be briefed, but the messaging that goes out can reinforce … when you said before, the study showing mental health problems, my mind immediately went to people being affected by the way power influencers are portraying things.
And I, by the way, have nothing against influencers per se. It’s more how is it regulated and what is that kind of messaging doing?
For sure. I mean, I can say there’s a little bit more interest in the influencer area now. And funny enough, I’ve had so many people approach me to be an influencer for them on age now, which is interesting. But I feel, yeah, if there’s any kind of declaration happening it is saying, yes, this is a paid sponsorship and all those things.
So, it’s transparency, but what they say and how they’re saying it, it’s running amok. So, I do agree and that’s part of the whole self-regulation system and what’s good and bad, but it takes societal re-education.
Well, I just think it needs such careful handling because part of what marketers are paying for when they use influencers, it’s one step removed from their brand and it’s the influencers’ brand that is doing the work. And of course, that influencer’s brand is outside of the marketer’s control. So, does the marketer have to make more conscious choices in who it’s choosing or does it have to reign in the messaging more? Like there are different tensions there, right?
Yeah, I do think it’s a really interesting question because ultimately to me, I should have been born a strategist. I feel like in all these years in the industry, the one thing that I would’ve … if I knew, that’s what I really love so much, I would’ve done it from the beginning rather than I started in production, which is hilarious.
Anyway, so I’m going …as a strategist, this is a strategy problem. So, even the choice of influencer and really checking what kind of content they do and who their market is, that’s an important strategic role. But I think a lot of people forget to do strategy in marketing and they just go straight for a tactic or rinse and repeat the last brief that came through, this is the demographic profile from the media agency, so we are just going to target that.
I’m going surely, you can break those habits. You don’t have to go and buy off the shelf, demographic-based profiling. I just do not believe it’s not possible to just target by programming or by attitude or things people are interested in; values or life stage problems. So, life stage to me is very different from age and it’s very different from demographic issues.
So, I’m just going, yeah, I think that would be solved partly if people were just more strategic in the beginning.
I think, yeah, but I also think it takes courage in that strategy and courage in execution as well. And I know from my own agency’s experience that we’ve all gone wrong there, lacking the courage to really stand up and be counted on this kind of stuff. Certainly, I’m not on any high horse there.
A lot of the clients I’ve worked with just weren’t courageous in that regard. And so, when you talk about conscious capitalism, ethics in advertising, and the fact that we now have proof points to say that you can still make money as a business, you can still be commercially successful. That line is drawn because consumer sentiment is positively affected by companies who are adopting these kind of things.
That’s really interesting because that starts to go somewhere to solving this bravery issue of, “Oh my gosh, if my sales results aren’t right … we have to do this because for the last five years, we’ve always advertised like this and it’s always produced this result.”
I reckon you’ve hit the nail on the head there. To me, it has to be a capitalist result that gets the sort of conscious drive. And there are really great case studies that are showing us … Tourism Australia for example is a really fantastic case study. I nearly fell over myself with excitement because they moved from typical demographic profiling to attitudinal and they did some fresh research to define who that market was.
And so, instead of going 35-year-old woman living in the UK, white-collar earning this much, they were wasting so much of their media money because only half the women who were that profile wanted to even come to Australia. So, then what they worked out is the customer is interested in adventure travel specifically, and whoever’s interested in adventure travel, that’s who they’re going to target.
But what they worked out is that’s anyone at every age and any financial income level. And the results presented by Lisa Ronson who runs … she’s like a superstar in diversity as well. She showed that it was a 300% uptake on their brand sales. That’s a massive change. In our industry, scale like that, like Australian tourism, if you got 2 or 3%, you’d be over the moon, because the value of that’s huge, but 300% is massive.
And then you look at Unilever, I am uncertain exactly of their numbers without really being accurate. But my memory was, it was like 30% uptake for a giant company like that on those brands that have had more of a purpose-conscious level. So, to me, it’s just a no brainer. There’s some really good books that have case studies all through them.
There’s one called Firms of Endearment. So, firms as in the company. That book was written by Raj and I’ve forgotten his surname. He invented the conscious capitalism concept. He was actually a marketing researcher and then he started the movement as well. But the book is great and it has some really good case studies of other businesses that have adopted this and the success stories, like actual numbers around it. So, I feel that’s the answer.
When you say it has to be a capitalist answer, you’re spot on because otherwise, we’re all in Cuckoo land. Of course, businesses still have to make money and there’s nothing wrong with that. But anything that attracts the board or the CEO, like a 30% sales increase or something like that, that’s like a massive key to unlocking some of this stuff.
And like you say, you don’t have to be as brave to do this kind of stuff anymore if you know there’s a direct route to commercial return, which is what everybody wants at the end of the day. You’re going to think I’m the worst interviewer in the world because I want to return to something that we talked about earlier on; you need to give me some lessons on how to do this podcast.
But look, you did touch before and let’s stop laughing because some of the story, you said it almost with a smile, but of course; that sexual discrimination particularly or actions like that in the workplace and bias within our industry, it’s a hot topic, right? And it’s a broad topic, but it stems from gender bias or discrimination against women particularly, but also unhealthy working conditions, long hours for younger people, particularly in the industry.
We’ve had suicides in agencies caused by that sort of thing in recent times. Not in Australia, admittedly, but even so. The level of the opportunity afforded to indigenous people, where are they? The asserted rights of individuals identifying as LBGTQI+, ageism.
So, we’ve touched on some of this already, but focusing for a minute specifically on agencies, various agencies, large and small have been vocal about “new initiatives” in these spaces. But of course, no one, I think with any sense would’ve claimed to fix things. You know, that things are fine now.
Thinking about the agencies and their initiatives and their publicity and their leadership, how much do you think is real and how much do you think is lip service? And is there any agency.… because you are happy to call people out? Is there anyone that you call out as a role model in this space or otherwise?
Yeah, a hundred per cent. I loved that you were so inclusive in how you say those things and I didn’t mention it earlier, but having a transgender child and kids on the spectrum. So, for me, those things like being completely inclusive and that there’s more than one gender and more than two genders as well — there’s like, 20 actually.
And that’s the spectrum, I know, yeah.
Yeah. And also, having neurodiverse children too, there’s a whole avenue of things that we’re probably not even touching on yet.
I also didn’t mention people with disabilities. I should as well.
That’s right, yeah. Agree.
There’s so much to pack into this, but yeah.
Yeah. And I do have each that I focus on because I believe that they’re doing harm. So, it’s everything we’ve talked about, but I also add in socioeconomic bias. A lot of the agencies are just people who are very well off and they come to work and think that their customers understand their world and they’re so far from it.
And also, the rural and urban difference is very distinct as well. And there’s a bit of misunderstanding between each, having gone from the country to the city. You know, I have people say things like, “Oh, you’re so stylish for someone who lived in the country.” Oh my goodness. Or “You talk fast for a country person”
There’s no more back-ended compliment than that! But yes.
Yes, terrible. So, yeah. Those things do matter. And I think it’s great. And I think, yeah, generally, we’re missing the mark with lots of those things. I think calling out people, I would say right now, I feel Thinkerbell has what I would call hands on the ground making an impact. So, they’re actually employing people and they’ve got a program.
Yeah, the 55 plus program.
Yeah. And they’re, I guess, addressing diversity in other ways too. So, I think that’s, to me, the kind of program I would love everyone else to do, is actually employing people who can have a voice for other communities is one way of solving it. I would also call out Big Red. I think they have been very bold and they’ve engaged me to train all of their staff and to sit there and be a counsel. So, I can see that they’ve progressed in the work that they’ve produced and it’s very tangible.
Dan Ingall was actually a guest on this podcast a few weeks ago and nothing you’ve just said surprises me based on my knowledge of Dan, he’s a great guy.
Really good, great leadership, very inclusive. I think they’re doing their best to make actual progress. So, I commend people who are really doing things. At the same time, there are also people who’ve done some shitty things in the past that are trying to make amends and moving towards it too. So, I think there are some good things there and I won’t name them.
But generally, I feel that there are a lot of people who are campaigning though, and I’ve been a bit vocal about one campaign, in particular, the ShEqual movement. I very strongly believe that’s doing more harm than good. Number one, it’s got a bias in place from the first get-go because it’s all female-focused and fighting for female rights. And yes, we need more equality that brings women up into the mix as well.
But I think people are also misunderstanding the data. So, I’m telling you I’ve been discriminated against as much as anyone. So, I’m not discounting the terrible things that happen to people. At the same time, I think there are things that we’re not even counting, like.… even one of my friends outside of work, she is absolutely abusive to her partner and no one measures that, and her husband has no voice to even say it.
And I’ve seen other situations, even in the media, there was someone the other day on a talk show and someone said, “Oh, if my husband was cheating on me, I would cut his balls off or I’d punch his head in or whatever.” I’m going, if that was a man, imagine — and there was just not even a blink. So, I do think there are problems on both sides.
But having a movement that’s all “she” focused, I think is just going to polarise. And so, there are studies that are showing us that there’s a backlash to these types of feminist activities and that more people in these later years believed that the woman’s job is in the home, and the man’s job is in charge of that house as the breadwinner.
There are more people thinking that now than in 1991. Far out, it was bad in 1991 because I was experiencing the worst of it back then. So, we are really messed up if that’s what it’s taking. So, to me, all of those campaigns, which are just talk and awareness and I haven’t seen any actual improvements and there’s no evidence to say it’s working either. So, I’m like, no, we’ve got to do something else.
I mean, we could talk all day about this. But for what it’s worth, I think it’s brilliant that you spoke out. I mean you wrote an article recently to that effect and it’s like to me, integrity balances everything and it works. It doesn’t just run one way. And a movement that’s all about equality and raising awareness, that needs to be balanced. It can’t be polarising.
What you just said is interesting when you were talking about, well, more people believe that a woman’s place is in the home than they did in 1991; what ran through my head actually was funny enough, and bear with me on this; but was Donald Trump who won the election by deliberately driving very, very polarising views and opinions.
So, that the right, for want of a better term, would come out and vote in ways that they’d never done before. But in driving that, you just forced everyone else into a corner. And so, they have to strongly stand up for the opposite.
So, bear with me, because it’s a longbow I’m drawing, but I’d love to understand — I don’t have data to back this up; but feminist movements are actively stridently driving for things that no one should disagree with necessarily, but the way in which they’re driving it, is forcing others to disagree more and more, and become more and more entrenched in that because they feel under attack.
And maybe that is why suddenly you’ve got more people than in 1991, which is astonishing, really. It comes from people becoming more and more entrenched because they’re under attack. Now, all of that is just me thinking as I talk. I have no proof or anything else.
It’s actually a good hypothesis. And to be honest, a 50/50 report done by Canberra University a few years back now actually, validates exactly that. And they even mentioned Donald Trump. So, I would say you are right on track and there’s actually an academic thesis that proposes that that actually is the cause of the backlash from hyper-feminine stuff.
We’ve also got research that says that more men will support a cause that they’re included in as well. So, that means why would they support ShEqual if it thinks that they’re going to be taking jobs from them, and even ShEqual’s own reports and stuff are saying that there’s a lot of men in the advertising industry now who are feeling they’re going to be discriminated against.
But it would feel that way because JWT goes and fires five people in London and Sydney, and around the world, they’re getting rid of people who’ve all got grey hair or whatever. So, I feel like it’s not safe in that backlash and a lot of the people who were sacked were men, it’s also because there weren’t that many women in creative departments in the first place, but it’s complex. And to me, you can’t win this race unless everybody is being considered.
I just reflect on my own personal experience as a guy in the last three or four years, maybe five years, I have been turned down for two jobs. And the unofficial reason given to me verbally was because I’m a guy.
And ‘We’re two male partners down, we need a woman”. And that left me really conflicted because that’s discrimination against me based on gender. And obviously, I’m not going to name who these people are or were. And it was actually, it was done apologetically, it was done like… we have to.
Now, it’s wrong on so many levels. It’s wrong as it’s discrimination, it’s wrong that actually, that’s really patronising to women. You know, you’re tick boxing because you want to have a face in your photo.
But I was very conflicted because part of me is like, well, look, I’ve just been discriminated against, but at the end of the day, that’s what women have faced for the past 50 years. And so, if it’s only happening to me now, then, well, you know what? I sort of deserve it.
But the other way to look at it is, well… equality should be equality. The aim should not be the reverse of the discrimination so that women come out on top.
That’s exactly right. I’ve got a name for it.
You’re balancing things up as opposed to … so, I actually think the name ShEqual, like that, is great. Of course, it should be about equality, but the driving force and the way it’s presented is actually getting one over on … is strident like that, is self-defeating as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah, I have got a really big problem even with the word “feminism” to be honest, because even though the true meaning of it, everyone loves to fight and say, “But the true meaning of feminism …is actually equality.” I go, “Yeah, but it’s got the word feminist.” So, it’s actually a biased word. And people’s interpretation of it is it’s fighting for women’s rights.
So, the use of it, even if the ultimate meaning is biased, putting “she” in that word, and I even was the only person in that room of a strategic room, full of smart agency people; none of them got this and I was horrified. I’m going, “You are serious? You’re talking to yourselves.” So, the word “she” in it is only talking to women. And if it said “equal” with some cool logo on it, then to me, we were doing the right thing.
But yeah, it’s proven now. I’m like, okay, you go do your own thing; a room full of smart people, am I the only one fighting against this? I’m going “Here’s the data,” and the annoying thing was that there was someone from a university at the time who was running a research project around this. And I said there was research from other universities that were showing that this strategy of “she” aligned strategy was going to fail.
And the researcher said, “Yeah, well show me that report and I’ll blow that shit up” like in front of everyone. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s supposed to be an ethical, unbiased research project. What the hell?”
This is a guy who said that?
It was actually a woman. She was out to disprove anything that didn’t back feminism.
The way she said it, it sounded like traditional alpha male bullshit, which is my own bias there. I mean, I just assumed it was a guy.
Well, it is interesting because I think a lot of women think to get heard and have power is to become masculine. And all of this that we’re sort of talking about, which is overcompensating for one or the other and not appreciating our difference, I call “Diversity Oversteer”. And so, you can become tokenistic, you can start to then have this backlash. You can start having over consideration of putting women in roles that they’re not right for, just for the sake of a number.
And I’m not saying these agency people won’t, but you would hope that the best person got the job, right?
Employ the best person in the best position.
Yeah. But I feel there’s definitely a lot of pressure to break those professional standards to it.
I love that. I’m going to steal that, sorry; diversity oversteer. That’s great. No one disagrees with the aim of society. Well, no one at this table disagrees with the fact that we should have more diversity and things should be balanced, but the oversteer thing, that’s really … it’s exactly what we’re talking about.
Yeah, I fight for that as much as I fight for equality, actually, because I do think it causes harm equally at the other end. It’s funny because someone asked me the other day, “What should we do for the LGBTQIA+ audience in our office?” And I’m going “To be honest, nothing.”
It’s not appropriate to make concessions for people’s sexuality in an office. They’re just people, so respect everyone for whoever they are and don’t single out this community and make them feel overly focused on. Just let them come to work and be who they want to be and go home and sleep with whoever they want to sleep with.
Perhaps transgender would be a different thing, which is not a sexuality thing. It’s an identity and gender thing, and there are some practicalities in the office that do get impacted. So, for example, there’s a safe place they can go to the bathroom without feeling that they have to choose the pink one or the blue one.
So, that’s something that could be impacted. And I know that trans is included in the T of the LGBT part. But to me, the way that LGBTQI, it’s actually about your sexuality, it’s not about your identity.
We’re getting into a whole different topic here, but yes, the history of that movement clearly was to do with sexuality. And I think there is … I mean, from what I can understand, there’s some division in that community anyway, with regard to trans particularly, and people have different views. And of course, it’s because it’s an identity thing and not a sexuality thing.
And we are getting well away from agencies and marketing but I just wanted to ask you quickly, because we’ve run way over, but that’s the sign of a good conversation. In the article that you wrote about ShEqual, what’s the response been? And I mean, we’ve sort of touched on this already, but what do you think the industry would’ve done if a guy had written it?
I do think that the industry would’ve gone berserk if a guy had said it.
Absolutely berserk, honestly.
And all the more reason I felt I had to because we could easily just sit back and go, “Oh, don’t rattle the cage with those loud women.” And that is just as much of a problem. So, I am in a unique position that I can. I’m also in a unique position because I’ve been impacted by the consequences of bias in the past.
So, you could use the word victim, which I don’t really like to use, but I’ve been through that. So, I’m in that doubly unique position. But the response has been amazing. I have been inundated with support and definitely a lot of men who are going thank goodness that someone’s being fair and reasonable here.
And even studies are telling us, most of the agencies and most of the people working in it want this fixed. My problem is nobody knows how to do it. And they are only seeing one little section so they can only have an impact on a very small level. So, this is why I think we’ve got to go back to strategy, then how does it move through into the brief to the agency? How does the agency take on the brief?
How does the creative department express it and where does the media put it? And then how does the consumer complain about it and how do people get charged for repeat offending? That’s like the whole flow and we haven’t got that focus on the whole thing right now. I feel like I’m the only one. It’s exhausting and I’m spending more time doing this than running my own business sometimes because it’s so important. But yeah, there’s just this huge gap.
So, it is a bit frustrating and individuals can only do so much just with their own little department, but I do think it’s possible for agencies to collaborate together and even pull their own workshop together and “Go, how can we impact this problem at every touchpoint?” I would love to see the industry rally together to have a more clear guide on how to interpret these things too.
And like we said before, start with the capitalist thing. So, start with the business performance goal, then the workflow that will reach that. And then I think we can actually then have more visibility and accountability to how we operate as agencies and businesses in our day job. I think with putting all the focus on people in the office and all that first, I think it’s the wrong way around.
So, I would rather make everyone understand the impact that they’re putting out into the world and then become more responsible and then learn as they go. And then the office will change too. So, this is back to the core.
Yes. But I’m glad you’ve pulled this conversation back to the core of our industry. I mean, it’s been, fantastic talking so broadly with you, but I think that’s a good place to finish. I agree that’s a really interesting concept, let’s look at it from the other end of the telescope and approach it from there.
I hear your frustration, but without people putting their heads over the parapet like you, nothing would happen. So, I really hope you continue and I wish you every success, let’s hope for more change in the industry and hopefully, try and action it as well.
And that’s right. Thank you so much for the support and for having a chance to share it. I do think everyone’s got to do their little bit, so I’ll just keep doing my bit. Thank you.
Let’s hope so, thanks a lot.
Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here