Graeme Atha: Gender equality focus at marketing festival

One of the big changes since the golden era of advertising is the role women now play in the industry, says Graeme Atha

Can gender equality improve the performance of marketing firms?
Can gender equality improve the performance of marketing firms?

Amplify is the day during the Edinburgh Festival when The Marketing Society turns up the volume on key issues in our industry.

This year gender equality in business is one of the key themes.

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The Badger Debate has the motion “Gender equality quotas lead to better performing boards”.

Speaking for the motion are Clare Smith from the Scottish Government and Garry Lace from the University of Stirling. Against the motion are Roisin Donnelly from P & G and Chris Marsh from RBS.

The Badger Debate is named in memory of Kenny Harris, one of the great characters in the marketing community and a passionate and champion debater who with his black and white beard was affectionately known as “the badger”. Kenny believed debating was a key skill for marketing professionals who need to make more of an impression in the boardroom, especially when challenged by MDs and FDs.

The debating motion is topical this year, with the Scottish Government promoting 50-50 male/female representation on boards by 2020.

The Amplify Festival starts with the Ogilvy Lecture, named after David Ogilvy, the legendary Scot who remains an inspiration to many in the industry. It will be delivered by another Scot and one of most highly regarded women in advertising – MT Rainey.

MT (Marie Theresa) was founder and CEO of the leading agency Rainey Campbell Roalfe/Y & R. In 2015 she founded the social enterprise, an online social network for informal mentoring with 30,000 members. She is also Chair of digital agency Th_nk which launched Pottermore for JK Rowling. The lecture will be introduced by Fiona Gordon, Group Transformation Director at Ogilvy & Mather.

Later in the day there is the annual Clients vs Creatives Challenge when a team of marketing directors take on a team of creative directors pitching award-winning campaigns to be judged by the audience. The Client team includes Steve Borely, SQA; Petra Cameron, RBS; Jo Coomber, Dobbies;Michael Doran, Sainsbury’s Bank and Beth McMillan from Edrington.

The Creative Team is David Guy, Guy & Co; Pete Martin, The Gate Interactive; Eilidh McDonald, Frame; Marie Storrar, Spring Corp and Neil Walker from Whitespace.

Last year the Creative Team won 3–2 so the Clients are looking for revenge. The challenge we set both teams is to identify campaigns that have a big idea and then convince the audience why they should vote for it. This represents another key skill for marketing professionals – to recognise big ideas and then assure others on why they will be effective.

The ideas are selected from the Marketing Society Pioneering Spirit Award initiative which identifies inspiring marketing ideas from across the world that are showcased in the major international awards programmes from the Cannes Lions to the Clios in New York.

At a recent event – Pioneering Spirit Award – campaigns that promoted gender equality in different countries and cultures were judged on the basis of an inspiring idea.

The winner was #sharetheload campaign by P&G’s Ariel soap powder brand in India which included the copy line “can also be used by women and men” in the washing instructions on the pack and was promoted with a video that went viral. It was a simple idea which started a major debate online and in the media as well as leading to a significant increase in sales.

David Ogilvy is credited for creating the expression “the big idea” in advertising and he used a number of criteria to judge them. These ranged from checking the idea “fits the strategy like a glove” to if the idea had a physical effect on you, eg gets you excited and makes your heart race.

The other test he used was if he wished he had the idea first.

To end the Amplify Festival day the movers and shakers in the industry network and share ideas over a cocktail or two in the way David Ogilvy used to on Madison Avenue in downtown Manhatttan in the 50s and 60s.

This was the golden era of advertising which is the backdrop to the hit TV series Mad Men.

One of the significant changes since those days is the role women now play in the industry and which we celebrate at our legendary Mad Men and Women Drinks Party.

• Graeme Atha is a director of The Marketing Society @graemeatha @MarSocSco and the Amplify Marketing Festival takes place at the University of Edinburgh Business School and Assembly on 26 August. Details at