ith the launch of NDA’s Media Pride, we talk to leaders across the industry to understand the opportunities and challenges within our industry’s LGBTQIA+ community. Next up is Michael Murray, Head of Programmatic Delivery, Mindshare.
What is the biggest challenge for members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the digital industry and how is it being overcome?
My initial answer to this question was pretty straight forward – why ask about challenges facing a certain community of people at a time when there’s so much facing so many right now in this industry – cost of living, inflation, job insecurity, maybe let’s talk about the absurd cost of childcare in this country and how it holding back so many of our brilliant colleagues, and where would we even start with the property market eh.
Bleak times and it’s difficult to not be cynical about the way forward.
And then what started as a slow trickle of odd stories from the US has started to become a flood – and it hit a bullseye directly into our industry and the Queer people who work in it. It’s June – it’s Pride Month – we should be dusting off party outfits and getting ready to knock back some foul luminous bright cocktails at the company Pride party with our Queer colleagues. We should NOT be seeing the very violent and overwhelming reaction from anti-Trans and anti-Queer people and groups attacking Pride month campaigns.
Adidas, Starbucks, Calvin Klein, The North Face, Kohls to name just a few in the past weeks. Target has chosen to remove Pride merchandise and store signage to “protect staff” after transphobes went into multiple stores to smash stuff up and abuse workers. We all know we live in a constant global news cycle with information flowing constantly. Imagine what this is doing to those younger people trying to figure themselves out now, the impact it’s having on them. Imagine what it’s doing to that trans media exec who’s just joined the industry and is trying to find their place in the working world.
This isn’t a US problem, it’s truly global. Library staff in Ireland attacked in March this year for stocking LGBTQIA+ books. Look at the current national rhetoric in the UK on trans rights and the direction this can go in. A very real and targeting campaign is being launched against any company willing to put Trans+ people and Drag Queens into their adverts this Pride Season. These attacks have become so loud companies and agencies are questioning whether this year’s Pride campaign is even worth running.
Welcome to Pride Month 2023 folks – it’s terrifying.
What three things could employer companies do to make the digital industry better for the LGBTQIA+ community?
If only there was a ready-made off the shelf handbook for companies. I’m more qualified to speak of our experiences at Mindshare and the brilliant work the team here has done over the past number of years which quite rightly needs celebrating and can hopefully inspire.
First topic for discussion in the Mindshare weekly all agency all-hands meeting – every single time – is what the agency is doing for Diversity Equality and Inclusivity that week. This is not going to be specifically for any one community, and it’s that weekly mix that makes it relevant and interesting to all. In a world where we talk about flat company structures there still a power to the company CEO (Hi Jem!) highlighting a part of the business to illustrate the high level of diversity that makes up the Mindshare crew.
This small, regular slot in the weekly all-hands has created an atmosphere where people can feel empowered to bring their true selves to work – and I think that’s a little bit of fantastic right there.
Mindshare enables this DEI to run across the core of our business and to the work we do for our clients. It’s not a line on a company pitch presentation but a day-to-day reality those of us working here experience. Like most agencies we’re a business made up of incredibly passionate people.
Mindshare has no fear in harnessing that energy and letting it shape the campaigns we deliver for our clients. The most recent example of this is the brilliantly inclusive Marks and Spencer’s Bra campaign. Check it out – we’re insanely proud of it.
It seems basic but be sure your company provides that safe space. We’re living in a bubble that seems almost reluctant to challenge that of the 53 countries that make up the Commonwealth, 29 have laws that criminalise homosexuality. In 2023 it’s still illegal to be LGBTQIA+ in almost 70 countries -and you could be given the death penalty in 14. Through our HR policies and resource groups, and as part of the wider Group M & WPP network,
Mindshare has a commitment to allowing people to bring their true selves to work – with a zero policy on bullying and intolerance. This might seem like such am obvious step, but Mindshare has (quite rightly) set it in stone that it’s a protected safe space to work, and that does carry meaning for its Queer workforce.
What impact can a more inclusive approach to LGBTQIA+ communities in our industry have on society as a whole?
The industry needs to hold onto the truth that sexuality is a single facet of a person’s overall identity. Inclusion and representation are vital, but there are always multiple considerations to consider. WPP’s recent Consumer Equality Report has shown that media which reflects a sense of community is more trusted. Consumers are increasingly expecting brands to be ever more courageous and forward facing, laying down the challenge for any brand to get this right. T
his industry is about enabling brands to communicate with audiences with authenticity, and LGBTQIA+ people are – quite rightly – expecting to see themselves reflected in the advertising served up. Those big brand moments will capture the headlines, but there’s also a power to those quieter moments that can engage an audience. Personally, the gay proposal in the Lloyds For Your Next Step (2016) ad was the earliest brilliant UK example of this, I can remember and was genuinely quite moving at the time.
I cannot think of another time a banking ad was discussed in a Soho pub over a weekend! We should not ignore that authentically engaging with LGBTQIA+ audience makes practical business sense. A quote I came across recently described “a free-spirited and free-spending community with a strong voice, big heard and an open mind that demands authenticity but rewards with loyalty” which resonates. At a time when a community is under attack, those brands who were so visible in supporting Pride parades in recent years will be expected to step up and authentically support, and will be enjoy dedicated, long-term brand loyalty.
What support structures and organisations are most important and effective to the LGBTQIA+ community in the digital industry?
Like a winning Oscar speech, I’m going to get in serious trouble if I forget to name-check a group already in the space doing brilliant work for the community. I want to give a shout out however to the fantastic crew at WPP Unite, who not only won the Outstanding Employee Network category at the 2022 British Diversity Awards but harnessed the Queer creative power across WPP to deliver an amazing campaign for Pride last year – well done David. Alys & Co.
But this question could be asked differently. What does someone do if reading this and curious about how to support the LGBTQIA+ community now. How to you as an agency, a media buyer, a creative or a brand do more? Not just for this Pride month but across the year to help support the LGBTQIA+ community? How do you do this now in the face of the horrible upswing in anti-Trans and anti-Queer protests and violence that are the backdrop to Pride 2023?
It’s simple actually – use your influence and get involved. Call up Craig, Tom, Joanna, and Darren over at Attitude and book a campaign with them. They’re lovely people – they’ll be delighted to take your call. Learn from the experience and then show up AFTER Pride month and do the same thing again and again.
Call up Linda Riley and ask her to come into your organisation and educate everyone on LGBTQIA+ rights and then book a campaign or 6 with Diva. My point is there are strong, established media LGBTAIQ+ brands with committed audiences who constantly deliver creative, innovative campaigns with real business results and are more than willing to help you navigate the space – and they need your funding. So use your influence and get involved.
How effective are trade bodies, industry awards, and the industry press at supporting and promoting LGBTQIA+ inclusivity?
They play a vital role and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so enthusiastic to be involved in Media Pride. When I joined the industry almost 20 years ago (how!) there was a real limit on any out Queer people. Reflecting on that time it was still for the most part intentional. Our leaders at the time did not speak of DEI in company meetings and Company Pride Parties didn’t exist. I’ve lost count of the number of stereotypical “jokes” I’d have heard back then– it’s cliched, and yet it was the reality. My own experience was to not come out at work for the first 2 years of my career, as I genuinely believed it would “hold me back”.
Now I work with a team of the most incredibly smart & driven media buyers and traders, the wonderful team that motivate me into work daily – all some 15 to 20 years younger than me. These brilliant people are the most fun to be around and what how they learn, adopt and harness Programmatic tech to deliver for our clients would make your head spin.
And this is a generation for whom labels are “just not as important”. Their openness about their identity and cool acceptance of individuals is inspiring, and this is only to be celebrated as they grow into more senior positions and go on to manage teams, departments, and business of their own. So, I came to suspect the battle was won in our industry, equality was here and what a great time to be around. But what about my privilege as a cis gender white guy in a relatively senior position?
One lunch recently (old habits die hard!) I was struck by a conversation with an out 20 something queer-man and the absolute similarities to his situation – decades on from mine. The brilliant Beyond the Rainbow report from WPP recently showed that more than HALF of LGBT+ people are not out at work. What we might have thought of as bygone times or irrelevance is as important now as it was then. I strongly believe there is an obligation on those of us who’ve been around a bit longer, to play it forward and make it that little bit better for the next group coming along.
This is why I’m excited to work with Justin, James and the team for Media Pride and how the collective influence of our Media Pride group can make this wonderful industry just that little bit better 🌈