In Orbit With... Cindy Gallop

TMU: There’s some ugly shit going on in America right now. What’s the good news?

CG: The way I look at it, things have to get this bad for them to get better; you have to have breakdown to get breakthrough.

I think the good news is that what is going on is exposing many things which might have otherwise bubbled along under the surface without being uncovered, and what is being uncovered is making people sufficiently angry and concerned enough to take action.

TMU: Do you think that the role of the advertising industry changed in the last few years?

CG: There’s a whole ‘new world order’ of what constitutes advertising, but the industry has not kept pace with it. I would say the role of the industry has changed but the industry hasn’t changed.

TMU: In your opinion, who is serving up the advertising that the world needs at the moment?

CG: Every single female and ‘other’ founder who is starting their own business because they’re passionate enough about advertising to deliver the work that they believe the industry needs.

TMU: Do you think that the industry has strayed away from its historically male dominated paradigm?

CG: No.

I believe that change happens from the bottom up; not the top down. Every single one of us individually working to change what we want to see change cumulatively adds up at scale to enormous impact.

Don’t start an agency like the ones you see around you - start one that gives you agency.

In my closing keynote at the 2016 3% Conference I addressed women, people of color and ‘other’ (by ‘other’ I mean anybody who is diverse, not only in gender, race, ethnicity but also in disability, sexuality, and age) by saying that I’ve given up trying to get the industry to change, so I want you to reinvent advertising. I want every one of you to start your own agency. And I don’t mean start an agency like the ones you see around you - start one that gives you agency.

The people who are serving up the advertising that the world needs at the moment are the individuals who are ‘other’; who have a completely different lens on the future. Those who are passionate about advertising and reinventing it one tiny start up at a time: that is what the world needs right now.

TMU: What do you think the biggest current challenge for the advertising industry is?

CG: The biggest current challenge for the advertising industry is sexual harassment.

I’ve been speaking out publicly against sexual harassment for years, because nobody else would. When #metoo finally took hold, my thought was ‘at last the time has come to get the people of the ad-industry to actually name names’.

People have been writing to me about sexual harassment in the industry for years, but nobody has been willing to speak up because they’re terrified, because the men who are doing the harassing are the gatekeepers of everything: jobs, pay rises, promotions, briefs, awards... People are scared shitless of speaking up because they think that if they do, they’ll never work again.

I felt that with the whole Harvey Weinstein thing blowing wide open that the opportunity might have finally come. I put a post on Facebook calling on the women and men of the advertising industry to speak up and name names, and got an absolute avalanche of emails in my inbox. I’d always known that sexual harassment was bad in the industry, but I’d never known it was that bad.

The single biggest challenge facing the industry is sexual harassment, because sexual harassment keeps out of leadership and power the women who are the leaders who would make gender equality, diversity and inclusion happen.

This was late October 2017; I had a talk coming up which I changed at the last minute to incorporate talking about #metoo in the advertising industry. I told the conference that I’d changed my thinking recently - I had thought that the biggest challenge in the industry was diversity, but it’s not. The single biggest challenge facing the industry is sexual harassment, because sexual harassment keeps out of leadership and power the women who are the leaders who would make gender equality, diversity and inclusion happen. Diversity will never happen while sexual harassment reigns supreme in the advertising industry.

TMU: Do you think that the floodgates have started to open regarding that? We haven’t seen many names being named so far...

CG: You’re absolutely right, because people are still scared shitless. I include men in that because what has really struck me (separate to the truly horrifying stories that I’ve been inundated with from women) is the number of men who have written to me in a variety of different contexts. Men who have been sexually harassed themselves. Men who have seen what happens to their female colleagues. Men who didn’t speak up when they should have, and have wanted to get that off their chest.

Sexual harassment is an abuse of power. It is always the powerful men of our industry (in nearly a year and hundreds of emails I’ve not had a single instance of sexual harassment by a powerful woman) abusing their power with people in junior and subservient positions.

The flipside of this is the bullying and abuse that is meted out to the men in our industry. They feel equally incapable of speaking up, partly because their jobs are at stake, but also because our societal construct of masculinity is such that they don’t know how to speak up, because this is not what people expect to happen to men.

TMU: What would your advice be to the victims of sexual harassment and abuse of power in the industry?

CG: Our industry pays white men millions of dollars to keep women out of power. Nobody is paying me anything to get them into it. What I’ve been trying to do is telling people to contact me and name names, and I will pass that on to empathetic journalists who have committed to covering these stories with the sensitivity they deserve. My inbox is global; I have been liaising with people around the world, and in every region we have found the same issue: people are too afraid to speak up. This in itself is a huge indictment of our industry.

TMU: What’s your approach to feminism?

CG: As somebody put it: the radical notion that women are people. That’s it.

TMU: What’s the story with IfWeRanTheWorld? Is it still a thing? Or has it fallen by the wayside following the success of your other personal ventures?

CG: As I said earlier, I believe that change happens from the bottom up. Change happens through ‘micro-actions’ - people taking tiny actions to make the change they want to see, which cumulatively add up to an enormous impact. The atomic unit of IfWeRanTheWorld is the micro-action. IWRTW enables brands to take any goal, break it into micro-actions and invite audiences to co-act on shared values to create the results that everybody wants to see.

I was working on IfWeRanTheWorld when my little side venture MakeLoveNotPorn blew up unexpectedly - I launched MLNP at TED back in 2009 - and the whole world responded. I realised that I’d uncovered a huge global social issue, so I felt a responsibility to take MLNP forwards and turn it into a business in line with my belief that the future of business is doing good and making money simultaneously.

Unfortunately, I had to put IWRTW on the back burner - superhuman as I am I cannot run two start-ups simultaneously. So the plan is to go back and reactivate IfWeRanTheWorld after MakeLoveNotPorn is fully operational and profitable.

The great thing, however, is that in the intervening period the world has caught up with my thinking because IWRTW is all about my belief that the future of business is doing good and making money simultaneously. I believe that the business model of the future is shared values plus shared actions equals shared profit (financial and social profit). IWRTW is co-action software that allows businesses to interact with their consumers and walk the talk together.

I want to see a world where the more money we make the more good we do, and the more good we do the more money we make. The two should be inextricable. 

TMU: Part of the thinking that you’ve attributed to the inspiration of IfWeRanTheWorld was recognising the major gap between people having good intentions and actually acting on those intentions, i.e. turning them in to actions. What do you think the best method of bridging that gap is?

CG: Well [laughs] I’m biased - It’s what I created. The answer is micro-actions. The reason that they’re so powerful is that action is transformative: when you complete an action, however tiny, it makes you feel differently about yourself and what you’re capable of.

IWRTW is a manifestation of corporate social responsibility. There’s way too much talking and not enough doing - IWRTW is all about doing, and most importantly doing together. It’s about getting away from the ‘old-world order’ way that companies do good and make money, which goes: we make money and then write cheques to good causes to clear our conscience; and instead moving towards the ‘new-world order’ way of making money because of doing good.

Business and social responsibility should be entwined - I want to see a world where the more money we make the more good we do, and the more good we do the more money we make. The two should be inextricable.

TMU: Tell us a bit about what it was like to work with Dave Trott? What was the company culture like there?

CG: Fan-bloody-tastic. I joined GGT in 1987 as part of a very entertaining shipment - the guys at GGT one day took a look around themselves and thought ‘Oh my god, we’re all men. Better change that and get some women in’. They instantly hired three female account managers, and I was one of them. The moment I walked into GGT in 1987 I felt like I’d come home. The energy, the culture; I just loved the two years I spent there before I moved on to BBH.

It was absolutely a very male-dominated, macho culture. As they said at GGT “we like to stab you in the front”. But we thrived on that. Dave was an amazing leader and role-model to learn from, it was fantastic.

TMU: Dave doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of ad awards shows. What’s your take on them?

CG: I’ll answer this in two parts. As for awards shows in general I’m a big fan. I believe that the very best work in an industry - whatever the industry - should be celebrated and held up to public acclaim to set a gold-standard for everybody else in the industry to aspire to.

When it comes to our industry, awards have dominated in an inappropriately weighted way. Awards shows in our industry have historically been stuck in a rut, it’s a patriarchal rut with a vicious circle of male-dominated juries only awarding certain things that in turn male-dominated creative departments write for. I think that gender-equal and diverse juries celebrate different kinds of work. The more we can bring diversity and inclusion to awards shows, the more we will see awards shows turn into a broad spectrum of appreciation for a truly innovative and disruptive selection of work.

TMU: Given the chance, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

CG: Start your own business, ASAP.

Leaving the corporate world to begin working for myself was the best thing I ever did for my life. People think a job is the safe option - it’s not. Whose hands would you rather place your wellbeing in: those of a large corporate entity who at the end of the day doesn’t give a shit about you, or somebody who will always have your best interest at heart, i.e. You. It’s also a much quicker path to wealth creation.

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