Female Consumers And Agency CDs: The Creative Mismatch
by Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa
When you take a look around the C-suite at a creative agency, you’ll probably see a lot of men. This is a head-scratcher, because, globally, females drive about $20 trillion in consumer spending each year — and that could rise to as much as $28 trillion over the next five years. Even married women earn their own money; 30 percent of working wives earn more than their husbands, and ladies bring in half or more of the income in 55 percent of American households. When it comes to deciding what to buy, women drive over 80 percent of consumer decisions.
And who’s trying to influence those decisions? Men. Advertising agency leadership is overwhelmingly male, and women account for a mere three percent of all creative directors,
This gender mismatch holds true at the agencies’ clients, as well. Companies in traditionally male-dominated industries need to realize that their target audience has shifted mostly to women. That means talking to women about what they care about, not what the men in the C-suite care about.
For example, men who are buying cars care about the horsepower of the vehicle; those who are buying computers want the best processing speed. Those are two features that don’t carry so much weight when she makes the purchasing decisions.
“The low number of females being involved as leaders or during the conceptual and developmental processes will surely result in delivering less marketable products and services for women,” says Stephanie Holland, president and executive creative director for Holland + Holland Advertising.
REACH WOMEN WITH WOMEN
If the majority of consumers purchasing items are women, companies definitely need more insight into female behavior and preferences. For too long, agencies used focus groups that included women, but having that perspective directly in the C-suite can make a huge difference in a company’s marketing approach.
“…Marketing well to women cannot be done with a 97 percent skew in creative directorships, yet that’s the reality in agencies today. And the true victims are the clients…and consumers,” says 3 percent Conference Founder Kat Gordon in Forbes.
To reach women effectively, agencies need to focus on women colleagues, as well as women consumers. Women in creative leadership roles can provide valuable insights that can help a company’s bottom line. “The future of advertising is the female gaze, not the male gaze,” said Cindy Gallop, speaking at this year’s 3% Conference. She means advertising to women the way they see themselves, not the way men see them.
And for that, you need women — women at all levels of the agency including the C-suite. (Not any woman will do, of course, because good creative work can come from either sex — and women have created plenty of poor campaigns geared toward women.) Involving women in advertising leadership empowers more meaningful dialog, ensures that the female perspective is represented and helps agencies create new paradigms in creative communication.
This can be done. Partners + Napier could be on to something that works for them—and for their clients. The New York-based agency has a management team made up of 40 percent women, and 50 percent of its creative directors are women. In all, 55 percent of employees are females. Another example: Hyatt is incorporating more feedback from women to improve their overall experience. This isn’t just a nod to appease women; it’s an example of how incorporating the female perspective can boost a company’s bottom line. It’s smart business.
BREAK THE BARRIERS
Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook , recently published the book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, which offers tips to help women get ahead in their careers. Call it advice from the trenches from a woman who successfully broke into a traditional “male field.” Sandberg focuses mostly on internal barriers: lack of self-confidence, wanting to be liked, fear of being seen as bitchy or aggressive. Is leaning into the cutthroat agency world the answer?
Sure, women need to speak up. But agencies need to step up.
For all of its edginess and staying-ahead-of–the-curve spiel, the advertising world needs to fix its back end to truly set a foundation for thought leadership and relevance in the future Female Economy. So, what can we in the ad world do?
Each one, teach one … no, teach five. Tiffany Rolfe, co-creative director at CP+B, says women who’ve made it to CD should make it part of their mission to bring others along. She says, “if every female creative in a management role could mentor and promote just five other women, each of those can help five more, and onward, and before long we’ll be in the hundreds. Call it a pay-it-forward meritocracy.”
Become just slightly more family-friendly. Kat Gordon, founder and CD of Maternal Instinct, says that if agencies would ease up a bit on their mad pacing, women with family responsibilities could contribute more, producing work that reflects an understanding of a female perspective.
Make a diversity plan. Men at agencies need to realize the importance of gender equality, and take an active role in helping all colleagues—including women—get ahead.
Link up. Conferences such as 3 percent and M2W seek to make sense of the female demographic and call attention to the lack of women leaders in the field. Show up, talk to people, pass your business card around and make it clear that you’re on the hunt for talented women.
To create great advertising that speaks to women, we need to make sure that all the talented, smart, female candidates in the agency world have a real shot at getting into the C-suite – on their terms.