In this year’s Ogilvy Lecture to the Marketing Society at the University of Edinburgh business school , Jan Gooding, chair of Stonewall, the LGBT+ rights pressure group, lambasted our political and business leaders and appealed to marketers to tackle what she described as a “crisis of trust”.
The lecture is given annually in honour of David Ogilvy, the Scot who founded the Ogilvy global advertising network in New York. The vice-chairman of Ogilvy UK, Rory Sutherland, introduced Gooding and stressed her credentials for the task. As well as her campaigning role at Stonewall, she is president of the Market Research Society, and has just stood down from a decade working at Aviva, where she was global brand director. Here is an edited version of what she said: “We are in a world swirling with fake news, fake facts... and leaders who are shameless in peddling their falsehoods.
“Too many leaders in positions of great power and influence have colluded with, and contributed to, the undermining of evidence-based, truthful discourse. Thousands of small decisions, driven by commercial imperatives and short-term profit-taking, have got us to where we are today.
“I am taking the opportunity of this platform to share my concerns, because I feel it is something this industry is uniquely placed to do something about.
“It is not too late for a new generation of brave marketing leaders to grab hold of the situation and start turning back the tide. In fact, perhaps our professional understanding of the dynamics, makes us particularly well placed for making the correction.
“Lack of trust is the consequence of poor and dishonest leadership but as chair of Stonewall I have seen the positive impact of brands and business as a countering force for good. Telling the truth is powerful. People respond positively to it. They don’t like being lied to. And I believe they don’t easily forget, or forgive, lying.
“The Marketing Society makes much of encouraging leaders to be brave. For me that means that we have to find the courage to speak our minds, and act accordingly. We need our marketing leaders to be fearless activists, who are able to accommodate dissenting voices. To be an inclusive leader requires us to hear the diversity of opinions, based on different life experiences and outlook.
“I think perhaps those of us who work in the creative industries, understand more readily than others the power of divergent thinking and genuine debate. We know that all ideas are enriched and strengthened if they are developed collaboratively and built on by people from different disciplines and perspectives.
“We will judge our leaders by how they navigate the trade-offs between the demands of shareholders, staff, customers and the community in which they operate. I would hope they have a transparent framework of principles, to underpin the way in which they make difficult decisions as they strive to reach their goals,
“It is an imperative that marketing leaders are accountable for what they do, and perhaps increasingly important, what they choose not to do. This is what will help us know whether our leaders can be trusted.
“We need marketing leaders who are much more than brave, we need leaders who are trustworthy. That means leaders who tell the truth and say what needs to be said. Who demonstrably do what is right for their staff and customers. Who speak up for others who are less powerful than they are. Leaders who educate themselves deeply on issues, bothering to understand the facts before coming to an opinion. People who are prepared to step forward and lead, and not just slavishly mimic or follow.
“I hope you will all join me.”
You can read the full transcript of Jan Gooding’s Ogilvy lecture at www.marketingsociety.com/events-review/jan-gooding-marketers-and-crisis-trust
Hugh Burkitt was previously chief executive of The Marketing Society.