'Don't Duck It'— VCCP Vice Chairman, IPA President and BRiM Chairman Julian Douglas' Message on Industry Assault and Harassment. Interviewed by Stephen Lepitak for Adweek.
British agency membership body the Institute of the Practitioners of Advertising (IPA) has a recently installed president, and in Julian Douglas they have someone who is straight speaking and realistic about the issues ahead following the impact of the pandemic. More importantly, Douglas is also vocal in the continuing battle to stamp out sexual assault and harassment faced by women in the industry.
The advertising sector has so many problems to face, which is why Douglas, who also serves as vice-chair of agency VCCP, has chosen “incrementalism” as his “enemy” to battle during his 2-year term.
Douglas, who was named the successor of Nigel Vaz at the IPA, chose to deliver his inaugural address to the British industry from his hometown of Manchester, despite the country being under complete lockdown at the time, allowing him to show his pride in his roots as well as making the point that there was more to the U.K. than London.
“There are these perennial problems that have always been there… I think we know what the issues are in within the industry and whatever we’ve done so far, a lot of brilliant things have been done by people way better than me… the progress overall has been glacial,” he says. He adds that during the Covid-19 lockdown he began to believe that now was “the biggest opportunity” to create change.
With the digital acceleration experienced by society during the pandemic, Douglas saw 10 years of technology adoption take place in the space of 10 weeks, during which he even saw himself talking to his parents through Facebook Portal and saw them using Google Pay to pay for groceries. But having seen the advertising industry overcome arguably its greatest challenge, he’s now questioning why it’s been unable to overcome the same issues it has faced for years.
A can-do attitude
“For me, there was a sense of ‘let’s just get on with it,’ so let’s bottle up some of that spirit, that can-do attitude that we’ve all proven that we can do collectively, we’ve all changed our entire way of work our way of life,” he continues, asking why the industry hasn’t moved forward if it was able to achieve so much during the pandemic.
“At that rate of change, the improved number of Black people in C-suite positions will probably happen by 2080. Ridiculous.”
Let’s bottle up some of that spirit, that can-do attitude that we’ve all proven that we can all do collectively. Julian Douglas, Vice Chairman of VCCP, IPA President and BRiM Chairman
As an example, the self-described optimist also reveals that since he made his inaugural speech, the IPA has increased the numbers who have joined the IPA MBA Essentials, a short online program set up by his predecessor to introduce more people to advertising and increase the value of the industry 10-fold after a “pitiful” initial response.
Douglas also believes the pandemic has forced “a new age of collaboration” across the industry, something he wants to encourage by bringing industry bodies together to talk.
He is also part of Black Representation in Marketing (BRIM), a cross-industry collaboration to create meaningful change at every level and improve Black representation.
“People do want to change, but that has to happen from the top,” he states, adding that at VCCP he had witnessed younger staff members being “extremely active” in demanding more change happen. “They are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to do stuff about it.”
Pitching and talent retention are other concerns of the industry, with Douglas believing that clients must take more responsibility when reviewing, while the industry needs to unite to drive change rather than operate individually.
“If you can get the big advertisers to say ‘okay, we will reserve the right to pitch and have a roster’ then once you’re on a roster, you don’t have to pitch again.’ I want to get there but I haven’t got the answer on this one… but that has to be a collective effort.”
His top priority however is talent. With an eye on the growing interest by advertisers in gaming, he hopes the industry can become more attractive to young recruits who might view it as an industry they can move into and work with brands on developing campaigns in the gaming field.
“If you grow up wanting to make stuff, well, you can do it all day, because you love it and you can get paid for that. And we can help train you up and make sure you don’t get ripped off.”
“Your wellbeing is absolutely crucial and that is part of the full package.”
And one of the more alarming but prescient industry issues continues to be numerous tales of harassment and assault, which is seemingly widespread and has been for decades. Douglas does not avoid the conversation and takes the invitation to send a message to IPA member agencies: “Don’t duck it!”
He advises agencies to create safer environments internally or work with industry organizations such as charity NABS or the IPA to have those conversations. And so that those who are affected have somewhere to turn that they can trust.
“It is also important it is on the agenda of the management team and that the management team talks about it. At VCCP we talk about it a lot.”
He advises people not to be afraid to address issues, including conversations around race, simply because they feel uncomfortable.
“The most important thing is to take it on and create a safe space for everyone to talk about it,” he says before adding his thoughts of anyone involved in criminal behaviour. “We should find them and sling them out and get them in front of the police,” he vents in a moment of clear frustration.
His reasoning for the lack of movement on the problem is “a paralysis” by the industry in knowing how to deal with it. But it begins by acknowledging it and addressing it, Douglas states.
“There are multiple bodies who are there either for the people in the organization or for management, but you’ve got to put it as an absolute priority on your agenda. And you know, we got to sort that sort of stuff out.”