Canada’s ‘Call for Equity’ has more than 100 signatories; WPP announces steps to combat racism

More than 100 Canadian marketing and advertising professionals, including several agency presidents and CEOs, have signed the “Call for Equity” letter issued this week calling for an end to the “injustice and inequality” faced by Black, Indigenous and other people of colour within the country’s marketing industry.

Led by a group called People of Colour in Advertising, the letter asks the country’s agencies and marketers to commit to a 15-part action plan aimed at addressing and erasing systemic racism.

Twelve of the 15 points are intended for all employers in marketing and advertising, while three additional steps are intended solely for marketers/clients and are related to agency selection. There are also two signatory lists: one for individuals and another that asks employers to sign on behalf of their organization.

As of Wednesday morning, the two lists had collected more than 100 signatories, including Zulu Alpha Kilo CEO Zack Mroueh; SickKids Foundation vice-president of strategy and brand communications Lori Davison; One Twenty Three West founder and CEO Scot Keith; McCann Canada president Ryan Timms; McCann Worldgroup Canada CEO Simon Sikorski; No Fixed Address co-founder and CEO Serge Rancourt; and Arrivals + Departures partner and president Mike Bevacqua.

Agencies represented on the list include Arrivals + Departures, Zulu Alpha Kilo, No Fixed Address, McCann Worldgroup Canada, One Twenty Three West, AV Communications and Barrett and Welsh.

“Our industry has been terrible at all levels at being diverse. We all need to band together to create the pipeline for diverse talent,” said One Twenty Three West’s Keith in an e-mail statement to The Message. “I see first hand that the more diverse we are, the smarter, the more insightful and creative our work is. So not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the right business thing to do.”

McCann’s Sikorski told The Message that they reviewed the letter as soon as they heard about it, and found the recommendations closely reflected initiatives the agency was already working toward.

“We are committed to addressing racial inequality and take real action,” he said. “Becoming a signatory of such an important initiative felt like a tangible way to not only demonstrate that commitment but also hold ourselves accountable.”

“We are encouraged by the initial response and believe that this a first step, but an important one in defining what allyship and leadership need to look when calling for equity within our industry,” said Julian Franklin, president of Franklin Management Group and one of the co-founders of People of Colour in Advertising. “We encourage many more to get involved, sign the pledge, and engage in making a change.”

However, the Canadian call to action also comes as industry employers around the world start to outline concrete actions aimed at tackling systemic racism within the industry, including a pledge issued by WPP on Wednesday to take “decisive action.”

The world’s largest holding company said that it would invest $30 million over the next three years to fund inclusion programs, as well as the formation of a Global Inclusion Council and committing to only participating in events or panels where people of colour are represented.

The company also committed to taking action on each of the 12 points outlined in the recent “Call for Change” issued by more than 1,200 Black advertising professionals in the United States. The Canadian “Call for Equity” borrowed heavily from the U.S. version, though it asked for employers to publicly endorse it and included three steps specifically for clients.

“This is the moment to fight racial injustice and embrace change,” said CEO Mark Read in a Twitter thread on Wednesday. “WPP must support and elevate Black employees and those from other underrepresented groups, not as a diversity and inclusion initiative but as a business and moral imperative.”

WPP also pledged to use its voice “to fight racism and advance the cause of racial equality in and beyond our industry,” committing $30 million to fund inclusion programs within the organization and support external organizations.

While many of WPP’s individual agencies are already taking or are in the process of taking action, the company said that it will implement all 12 steps outlined in the “Call for change” letter throughout the organization on an “accelerated timescale” that will include setting targets, tracking the progression of under-representing groups and publishing its racial diversity data.

“This work will be underpinned by a comprehensive review of our policies, processes and practices so that they elevate Black talent and never stifle it,” said the company’s formal statement. WPP’s board of directors does not currently include a Black or Asian member.

WPP is first among the major global holding companies to outline concrete actions to combat systemic racism, although the heads of rival organizations have previously acknowledged the need for change within their organization.

Last week, Publicis Groupe CEO and chairman Arthur Sadoun said that the Paris-based multinational it is taking steps to “reimagine, design, and execute” new ways it can fight racism and provide opportunities for minority employees.

“I am well aware of my limited perspective as a white male CEO in Paris,” said Sadoun in a video sent employees and quoted by MediaPost. “So as we work through this, I will need your help. It will take all of us. We need to make right what has been so wrong for too long.”

In a June 1 open letter to employees entitled “Standing together against racism,” Interpublic Group CEO Michael Roth pledged that the company would make its offices around the world “places that are welcoming, that are supportive, and where people can feel safe, respected and protected. Where we promote understanding, and certainly never stoke the flames of intolerance.

“As a company that creates advertising and marketing messages, we have an opportunity to make a difference,” he wrote. “More than an opportunity, a responsibility.”


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Chris Powell