Canadian ad industry ready to talk harassment

A number of groups will meet to take action against a longstanding black mark on the industry.

A number of Canadian marketing industry associations are set to hold a meeting dedicated to tackling sexual harassment and assault on Friday.

Scott Knox, president of the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) sent an email last week to 23 trade associations with connections to the industry, asking them to be part of a formal discussion around the topic.

The widespread nature of sexual harassment and abuse have come to the fore over the past month following allegations against major celebrities – including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis CK, among many others. As stories have come out about such prominent people, more and more women have shared their stories online through the “#MeToo” movement.

The ad industry, like many others, unquestionably has a sexual harassment and abuse problem. Industry consultant and IfWeRanTheWorld founder Cindy Gallop issued a call via Facebook for the industry to “name names.” She says she has since received an overwhelming number of heart wrenching stories from people who have experienced unfair treatment and violence. Prominent women in the industry also have since been sharing their personal experiences publicly, including at the recent 3% Conference.

“Like many issues in our industry, we do a lot of talking about what we should do, what could be better,” Knox says, but now, it’s time to take action.

The focus for Friday’s meeting is twofold, Knox says. It’s first is aimed at finding a way for the industry to better support individuals facing harassment. One specific proposal  is a confidential and independent hotline for people seeking counselling and legal advice, funded by the various trade associations.

But the discussion will also focus on tackling a culture that allows harassment to take place.

Knox says he has so far received 14 responses to his meeting request, with seven groups overall (including the ICA) currently set to participate. The Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and NABS will also both attend. ACTRA, which represents actors and performers, is not able to attend but Knox will be representing the ICA at the union’s own similar summit for the Canadian film and television industry, being held Nov. 23.

NABS’ executive director Jay Bertram will be attending the meeting alongside counselling and allocation staff to ensure it’s prepared for handling the issue going forward. NABS offers confidential support to the industry, but it does track issues for which people seek help, and harassment has been relatively low, he says (though people do reach out about work-related stress and job loss).

Scheduling conflicts were behind both non-attending organizations, but Knox says he did receive one disheartening response: “Thank you for reaching out. Given our mandate, priorities, membership and sphere of influence, this is not a current topic of interest for us.”

“I was so taken aback by that response that I didn’t quite know what to say to it, apart from that president and CEO needs to have a serious word with himself and decide how or not to adjust,” Knox says.