Five Elephants, One Room

Five Elephants, One Room

On an unusually warm Fall morning on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a packed house of curious marketers convened to listen to a panel of senior marketing leaders talk taboos.

The occasion was The Marketing Society’s “Elephant in the Room” session, part of Advertising Week New York. In line with The Society’s Brave agenda, I led an honest and open conversation with these leaders about significant societal and cultural topics.

Here are some of my takeaways from our five panelists. 

Workplace Diversity
Doug Melville, Chief Diversity Officer, TBWA\North America

First up was Doug Melville, who discussed equity and diversity in the agency workplace. As we move towards a project-based economy, we rely more and more on talented creators and makers. In a world of freelancers and project-based teams, which are ever-growing in the life of a modern agency, Doug pointed out diversity isn’t being considered holistically—all of the focus is on full-time employees. The missing part of the conversation is about what we are doing for the people who aren’t full-time. Doug also emphasized that we’re at a moment of intersectionality, where issues such as diversity, mental health, and women in the workplace are all connected.

Financial System
Chris Villareal, VP Integrated Marketing, Marcus by Goldman Sachs

Chris Villareal of Marcus by Goldman Sachs tackled the stigma that surrounds debt, highlighting the irony that people are more comfortable talking about erectile dysfunction than they are their own financial woes. He pointed out that the current financial system is not helping most Americans: 40% of people have less than $400 in their savings account, and both credit card and student debt are at an all-time high. Chris’ solution is for us to take action—not merely as marketing leaders but as leaders in the true definition of the word, to help our employees, our customers and our communities thrive. Because when people thrive, they’re better employees and they make better decisions.

Marketing Culture
Jodi Harris, VP of Marketing Culture & Learning, Anheuser-Busch 

Whereas Doug and Chris examined external “elephants”, Jodi looked within. Feeling unfulfilled in her previous role in Anheuser-Busch’s Insights department, she needed to find a way to replenish her waning creativity. Her solution was to change paths and form an entirely new department. Jodi now leads a team tasked with changing the face of Anheuser-Busch’s marketing culture. Jodi encouraged the audience to be brave enough to create a new function within marketing. Sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and take care of the person that really matters—ourselves.

Cognitive Diversity
Jason Chebib, VP Consumer Planning, Diageo

Diageo’s Jason Chebib’s “elephant” was about the most influential form of diversity: cognitive diversity or simply put, how people approach problems. He pointed out that teams comprised of people with different thinking styles solve problems quicker and better than less diverse teams. Diverse backgrounds mean employees bring varied life experiences to the table.  At the end of the day, companies innovate more from a diverse workforce. 

Mental Health
Gemma Greaves, Chief Executive, The Marketing Society 

Lastly, The Marketing Society’s Gemma Greaves explored the topic of mental health in the workplace. She indicated that the majority of corporate brands are not equipped to deal with people bringing their whole self to work. Conversely, 12% of employees feel unable to share mental health issues with their employers. With depression estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year, at a cost to employers of $17-$44 billion, it makes commercial sense to look at our well-being. Happier teams are more productive and therefore more successful in delivering business growth. The time has come for leaders to create a safe space to remove the mental health stigma. 

This “Elephant in the Room” panel provided a gateway to help us understand the context in which we as marketers practice our craft. There is no single key; we can’t corral these different elephants. However, it’s too easy to leave these issues unexamined. While it is tempting to focus on the visible, our collective contribution is to bring a marketer’s voice to an uncomfortable conversation—to make the invisible visible. 

By Margaret Molloy Global CMO, Siegel+Gale & Chair of The Marketing Society New York