In the freebie bag given to every delegate at the Cannes Lions advertising festival last week was a book, The Case for Creativity. Cindy Gallop sat down to read it, saw that in the list of advertising experts quoted there was not a single woman and tweeted her dismay. The book’s author James Hurman responded apologetically, saying his “heart sank” when he saw Gallop’s tweet, and that he had “never thought about it”. He added it was “a case of unconscious bias. And that’s the problem, huh.”
Or one of them. Gallop, former president of the global agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) in New York and once one of the most senior women in advertising, now adds unconscious bias to the list of barriers she goes through when she gives talks on the ad industry’s gender gap. “Every female creative arriving at Cannes is given this book which basically says ‘don’t even bother because we don’t want to hear from you even if you manage to get to the rarefied heights’,” she says, rapid-fire and direct.
Gallop is back from Cannes and in London for a few days, before returning to Manhattan where she lives (but no longer in the wild all-black apartment that appeared in a Notorious B.I.G video).
We meet the day after Unilever announced its intention to drop sexist stereotypes of women from its advertising, following a global study which found just 2% of adverts featured women who could be described as “intelligent”; just 3% were shown in leadership roles. Gallop says it is “fantastic” Unilever have committed to this, but a more radical transformation of the industry is needed. “Nothing is going to change at all unless they do one crucial thing which is ensure there are gender-equal, or more female than male, creative leaders in agencies,” she says. “I guarantee that unless that happens, you will not see anything change in terms of gender stereotypes in advertising.”
A study by Campaign magazine and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising this year found that at the top, fewer than a third of chairs or chief executives are female, and in creative departments women make up less than a quarter. “I’m enormously frustrated with the incremental rate of change,” says Gallop. “Our industry is dominated at the top, as every other industry is, by a closed loop of white guys talking to other white guys about other white guys. We have to break that loop. As long as it is in place, nothing is going to change. Why would it? They will talk diversity, put initiatives in place, appoint a head of diversity. You can talk about diversity so much you think you’re actually doing it, but you’re not. Fuck talking about it, fucking do it.”
Gallop never wanted to be in advertising. Her first love was theatre. She grew up in Brunei, where her British father was a teacher and her mother, who is Chinese, set up a kindergarten. At Oxford, “all I wanted to do was work in theatre for the rest of my life. I did everything – acting, directing, stage managing”. She made theatre posters and promoted shows, and enjoyed the selling side. After university, she worked for several theatres, including Liverpool’s Everyman, and then “got fed up with working every hour and earning chicken feed”. Someone suggested she would thrive in the commercial world, “and I thought it was time to sell out and go into advertising”.
In the London agencies where she worked in the 80s, overt sexism was rife, but Gallop says she didn’t notice “because that was the way things were. I was ferociously ambitious and I kept my head down and slogged my guts out. I was lucky enough not to encounter the kind of sexism that was a barrier to me achieving the things I wanted to achieve.” Not that there weren’t horrendous examples of harassment: “I remember a client drunk in the back of a taxi forcing my head down into his lap and trying to get me to give him a blow job. There was a whole lot of stuff like that you just dealt with.”
She quickly rose through the ranks, becoming president of the New York arm of BBH. She says she took diversity seriously. “I had male creative directors so I would say I want to see more female creatives, and I would always get the pushback ‘Cindy, they aren’t there’. But look around you. Our industry is jam-packed with brilliant creative women, but if all you do is ask your closed loop of white guys for recommendations, you get white-guy recommendations.” Men, she says, are hired and promoted on “potential; women are hired and promoted on proof. As women, we are subject to a whole different set of standards: have I done the job before, have I done the job long enough, have I done the job well enough.”
Gallop left BBH in 2005: “my own personal midlife crisis”, she says with a laugh. On her 45th birthday, she took stock and decided it was time for something different. She resigned without any real idea what she would do next. “It was the best thing I ever did in my life,” she says. Gallop became a consultant, and is a sought-after speaker. Being a free agent means she can be vocal about issues within the ad industry such as sexism and sexual harassment, which she describes as “endemic”.
She set up the website If We Ran the World to encourage people to make small changes that, she hoped, would fuel bigger action, and her interest in social change led to her founding another company, Make Love Not Porn. “It came out of personal experience, dating younger men,” she says. She started noticing they were asking her to do things they had seen in online pornography, and had certain expectations of how women should look. “I was experiencing what happens when two things converge – when today’s total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society’s total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. It results in porn becoming, by default, sex education.”
The site originally debunked porn myths but she later launched a streaming service, where couples could upload their sex tapes. It currently has around 700 videos, curated to ensure they are “real” enough, and not just people performing “porn” for the camera, and she is trying to raise investment to support it.
Gallop says she wants to make “real world sex and talking about it socially acceptable and therefore ultimately just as socially shareable”.
She doesn’t see the difference between sharing, say, pictures of a romantic supper during a weekend in Paris and what you do in your hotel room at the end of the night. Is she serious? “The motivations are exactly the same as they are when we share every other part of our lives [on social media], including many aspects you might have once thought would never be shared – naked selfies, childbirth, breakups, personal struggles … It’s simply doing what you do on every other social platform – capturing what goes on in the real world as it happens in all its funny, messy, glorious, silly humanness.”
Gallop sounds so sure of it, but it might take all of her considerable selling powers to convince the rest of us.
Education Wadhurst College, Kent; Oxford University
Career 1981 theatre promoter 1985 account executive, Ted Bates 1987 account manager, JWT; account director, Gold Greenlees Trott 1989 board account director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty 1996 deputy MD, BBH AsiaPacific 1998 president BBH New York 2006 launches consultancy 2009 CEO IfWeRanTheWorld and founds MakeLoveNotPorn