Rahat Kapur
May 6, 2024

'Hire women: They do all the work and take none of the credit’: Cindy Gallop gets candid with Campaign

In a no-holds-barred conversation ahead of her headline appearance at Campaign 360 on May 14, adland veteran Gallop gets real about 'radical simplicity', women-led industry change, why the agency model is devaluing itself, and her sex-positive venture.

Cindy Gallop
Cindy Gallop

Remember when advertising leaders used to tell it like it is?

For Cindy Gallop, that ethos has never wavered.

In a world where every image and tagline are meticulously polished, Gallop has stood out as a figure of distinct clarity. Her formidable career took off at Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), where her leadership helped to catapult the London-based agency into the global market. As the founder and chair of BBH's US operations, she not only oversaw expansive growth, but also cultivated a creative powerhouse known for its daring and effective campaigns.

Beyond her achievements at BBH, Gallop is also recognised for founding MakeLoveNotPorn, a one-of-a-kind platform designed to normalise real-world sex and challenge the myths perpetuated by traditional pornography. This initiative is part of her broader effort to foster open conversations and promote sexual health and positivity, reflecting her commitment to tackling societal taboos head-on. Her thought leadership extends beyond advertising. Instead, Gallop has been key in influencing discussions about gender equality, diversity, and corporate responsibility—being one of the most vocal and impactful voices to do so.

With decades of experience, Gallop has witnessed the inner workings of advertising from every angle, recognising its power to inspire and influence. She frequently critiques the industry’s tendency to fall into comfortable patterns that dampen genuine creativity. These critiques aren’t aimed at stirring controversy however, rather driven by a passion for the industry and an earnest desire for its evolution. Gallop firmly believes that advertising can transcend its traditional confines of sales tactics—if the industry embraces its full potential.

As she gears up to speak at Campaign 360 next week, her message is clear: The future of advertising hinges on empowering the female voice, fostering innovative thinking, and dismantling outdated models that undermine the industry’s value. Her upcoming headlining keynote, 'How to Own the Future' also promises to deliver actionable insights and challenge attendees to reconsider their roles within the industry. Cindy's approach to this talk is emblematic of her overall ethos—direct, impactful, and unapologetically forward-thinking.

In a pre-event conversation with Campaign, Gallop offers a glimpse into her anticipated talk, discussing the transformation of the agency model, the pivotal role of women and people of colour in shaping the future of advertising, and why she's unwavering in her advocacy for authentic expression.

Tell us a little more about your Campaign 360 topic of how to ‘Own the Future’. What made you choose it and what makes this interesting for you?

To be perfectly frank, I have pinned to my LinkedIn profile, a 13-year-old talk that I gave here in London at The Guardian’s Media Summit back in 2012, which is called ‘Redesigning the Business of Advertising’. And the reason I have a 13-year-old talk pinned to my profile is because to this day, nobody in the industry has ever done anything about what I talked about 13 years ago. And they should. It's worth saying, I do a lot of championship and advocacy work for our industry and that is because I bloody love advertising and I bloody love our industry, and I really want to see it own a better future for itself. This is my attempt to really give people new ways of thinking about the future and reframing it.

Everything I'm going to talk about is really actionable and anybody can absolutely do it. It's just that unfortunately—and this is true of every other industry—it is very easy to get mired in the old-world-order in a way that makes it very difficult for people to see a way out of it. So, I’m just trying to provide a way.

So, what are some of the key things the industry can do to change their model and embrace a better future?

I'm a big fan of radical simplicity. I like to keep things very, very simple. I was at Cannes Lions two years ago and every year they run a series of Cannes Lions meet-ups where throughout the week, industry leaders run 30-minute sessions on a topic of their choosing, which is designed to inform, educate, and entertain the Cannes Lions audience. They invited me to do this on redesigning the agency model. I've done one of these meet-ups before and I'm a great believer in making them as interactive as possible.

So, I planned it out as a 30-minute workshop around this theme. It was anticipated that 30 to 40 people would attend, and 150 people turned up to mine, and that demonstrates the appetite within our industry for finding out how to reinvent the agency model. I said ‘I want you to divide yourselves into groups of six, so make new friends’. When they did, I said, ‘Congratulations, you've just met your new agency co-founders, and in the next 30 minutes, you are going to start your own agency’. They had to start their new agency around the answers to three questions: How will we be more creative? How will we make more money? Lastly, how will we be happier? They planned for 10 minutes and they presented back to me their ideas of how they would be more creative, more profitable and happier. And then I wrapped up with some guidance on what they could do next to actually make this reality. The format of it and the simplicity of the questions were what helped cut through all of that complexity and just made it possible to really think about innovation in an actionable way. 

Creativity needs room to breathe. Creativity needs room to mull things over. How can you be inspired by random stimuli when your calendar is back-to-back meetings, which is the case as much for executive creative directors as it is for CEOs? Reinvent your process. 

If we look at modern agency models at a glance, it seems like they're starting to converge, and some legacy agencies like J Walter Thompson for example, now cease to exist. Is this where our industry is heading?

I really strongly disagree that this is where our industry is headed. I am horrified that an industry that claims to be about building strong, sustainable brands for our clients is failing to do the same for itself. As a J Walter Thompson alumnus, I am horrified at the deliberate death of some of the most important names in advertising. This wrong-headed appetite for merging for cost-efficiencies above everything else is not the direction we should be heading. The reason I say that is not the direction the industry is going in is because, as you just heard me say about my Cannes Lions session, I have been exhorting specifically for women and people of colour to 'start your own industry'. And when I say that, I don't mean to start an agency like the ones you see around you. Start something that gives you agency. I've given up trying to drive change within the system. The only way change is going to happen is outside the system.

Secondly, there is so much opportunity to reinvent what we do through the lens of women and people of colour and again, it’s something I've been saying for a very long time. I still get interviewed where people allude to as the 'Golden Age' of advertising, and by that, they mean Mad Men. I am here to tell you that the Golden Age of advertising has not even begun because we have not even begun to see what this industry can be when it welcomes in the lens of women and people of colour.

Cindy Gallop will be speaking at Campaign360 on May 14-15 at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Click here for the full agenda and how to attend. 

Do you think the level of disruption could ever get to that point where a large holding company would want to move from their inertia and shift their perspective? After all, they do hold most of the so-called ‘power’ in the industry.

Honestly, in every industry sector we've seen the fall of companies that people thought were too big to fail. So yes, it is entirely possible.

Is that something that's foreseeable within the next 10 years or will it will be a much longer journey?

Oh, no, I think it's entirely foreseeable within the next 10 years. And I'll tell you something else that that factors into that, which I will also be talking about [at Campaign 360], and again, something I've been saying for years. We, as an industry, have colluded in our own devaluation for decades. People value you at the value you are seen to put on yourself. Clients value you at the value you're seen to put on yourself and we have, as I say, been colluding in our own de-valuation.

And it isn't even that the industry has lost sight of this. Somehow, the industry never really understood this to begin with—which is that we are the business model for the Internet. You know TikTok, you know Google—all of their billions are derived from advertising. We are the business model for the Internet, and we've given that power away because astonishingly, of our industry's pursuit of the new shiny thing over the years. It's been, 'Oh Facebook, please allow us to work with you!' Oh, TikTok, please let us in!' You know, the industry has spectacularly failed to realise that we are in a position to call the shots.

We are in a position to decide how we want to leverage these platforms and how we would like to do it in a way that benefits us and we've completely given away that power. I think that there is huge opportunity going forward to completely change that as well. Not least because I'm going to be talking about how huge an opportunity there is around reinvention through the female lens. And it’s a special opportunity, because it is one of the gigantic ironies of our industry, that we as women are the primary target for all advertising because we are the primary purchasers, and the primary influencers of the purchase of everything. And yet the advertising industry is dominated by men. That is utterly ridiculous.

Would it be fair to say from what you’re describing, that while room has been made for women to exist within the industry, space hasn't truly been created for them to thrive?

Oh yes, absolutely. Because women are still working within the male old-world-order model. Let's be really frank about this. Alongside my business, MakeLoveNotPorn, I support myself through consultancy, public speaking, and I have a personal coaching practice where I coach women and men across a whole range of different industries. But I do coach a lot of women in our industry, and I have to tell you, they’re brilliant women who have no idea how brilliant they are. Because for their entire careers, they've been held back by men, beaten down by men, and had their careers and confidence destroyed by men, so no, women are not getting the opportunity to lead in our industry. Where women are in leadership positions, they have to fall in with the way the men are operating. And that is why, as I say, we still have not yet seen what our industry can be when it's completely reinvented through the female lens. And I'm encouraging these women to start their own industry. 

What’s the incentive for men to change their way of thinking into hiring more women into our industry other than something that's monetarily hitting the bottom line? Why should men change their behaviour?

Well, ironically, I always say to women if we're trying to get men to change their mindsets [hiring women] is what they should be doing because honestly, it will make life so much easier for them. And when I'm saying this publicly, I say ‘women in the audience forgive me for this’. I don't want this to be the case either, but it is currently so. I go ‘men, women will do all the work and take none of the credit’. How much more perfect a solution for you could that be? You want to look bloody good? Hire women into equal power with you. A brilliant woman, someone you feel threatened by. Go ahead and hire her as the CEO, because she will do all the work and take none of the credit. And she will make you look really good. And I bloody hate that. But it's true, right? So, I'm appealing to male self-interest.

Going back to the topic of agency models shifting for cost-efficiencies, isn’t it true that from a demand perspective, more clients are securing agency partnerships based on cost-driven metrics? And if so, how do agencies differentiate their brands when it’s more important to a client whether they fit into their budget or not? Does it even matter to do so anymore?

Again, in this context, our industry has completely lost sight of doing for itself what we claim to be good at for our clients. I see this as a business syndrome I call ‘collaborative competition’. Collaborative competition is when everybody in a sector competes with everyone else in the sector by doing exactly the same thing everyone else in the sector is doing. Bad idea. I believe the future instead is what I call ‘competitive collaboration’, by which I mean when all of us come together and collaborate to make things better for all of us—on the premise of ‘a rising tide floats all boats’. That is what then allows each of us to be on the top of that wave to be uniquely competitive, leveraging our own individual skills and talents. One of the things that I would love for us to ‘competitively collaborate’ on as an industry is to refuse to pitch for free. That is the absolute killer in our industry. Another thing that I really wish we would compare and collaborate on is payment terms. Ninety days is out-bloody-rageous.

When I started BBH New York 26 years ago now, I said to my agency—a teensy weensy team as it was in the start-up days—our aim here in America is to make BBH New York so desirable, we will never have to pitch again. Now, rather frustratingly, nobody else in the agency agreed with me, including John Hegarty, who at the time was working with me as my executive creative director (ECD). He went, ‘Oh but Cindy, you know, pitching is the lifeblood of an agency. You know, it brings together new teams, and there's a real spirit of collective’. And I was just going, ‘F*** that shit, I don't want to pitch again’. I've been saying to entrepreneurs as general advice for years, never waste your time banging your head against closed doors. [Instead] engineer yourself into a position where doors open automatically as you approach. And if you make your agency brand desirable enough by doing the very best work for the best clients you can find and putting it out there, you will absolutely find that clients will come to you, begging you to accept them as clients without having to pitch.

Not to play devil’s advocate, but is it even possible in today's market, given it very much appears the balance of power has shifted towards the brands when choosing an agency?

That goes back to my point that the industry is colluding in its own devaluation. People value you at the value you are seen to put on yourself. [Going back to the prior example], when I started BBH New York, a year in, the Coca-Cola Company invited us to pitch for a soda that wasn’t Coke, it was another one in their portfolio. They came to us and said the brand is in trouble, which was very clear from the outside, by the way. [So they said], we'd like to invite you to pitch to us in two weeks’ time. I said to them, you know this brand has a lot of problems. It needs a complete strategic repositioning and road map, and we cannot do that in two weeks (they wanted creative work in two weeks, by the way!).  A few months later, they came back and said they really liked our conversation, and that they have this project for another brand without pitching for it, and they gave us that business. So, it is entirely possible when you know what you stand for, and you stand true to your beliefs and philosophy. You become enormously attractive in that context.

The hot button topic of the moment is AI. There seems to be an underlying theme of fear emerging in the industry on whether to embrace AI or reject it, as well as figuring out how to navigate its benefits be it cost-efficiencies or creativity. What are your thoughts on this?

Honestly, just by asking that question, you've proved again how much our industry colludes in its own devaluation. There is no substitute for the power of human creativity. Now, AI can absolutely be a very useful adjunct to that. You know that there are absolutely ways in which AI can be a terrific tool. But nothing can replace the power of human creativity. And honestly, anybody suggesting that generative AI will replace our industry should be ashamed of themselves, because that means they have no understanding of what our industry does and is good at. I will obviously be talking about this as well at Campaign 360 and I'll be going into more detail about it. But I can promise you our industry is not remotely threatened by generative AI unless you allow yourself to be, in which case you deserve to go down.

So, the industry has nothing to fear?

Decisions made out of fear are always bad decisions. I’ve spoken about another element of this for years, which is about the downward fear spiral of 'Let's just do it for the money.' As an agency, you've pitched for a client that isn't right for you. But when the client congratulates you on winning the pitch, you might ignore the misfit because of financial pressures. This is when someone might say, 'Let's just do it for the money.'

Here's what happens when you do it for the money: The work that wins pitches never runs, so you're back to square one with creative development. The client rejects multiple rounds of creative, draining the budget you initially quoted, putting financial pressure on the agency. By the fourth round, your team is overworked, morale is low, and staff turnover increases, adding to costs.

Moreover, the work produced from this exhaustive process is subpar and both you and the client are dissatisfied. Despite this, you're up against a deadline and have to run the inadequate work. It fails to impress other potential clients or achieve the client’s KPIs. Consequently, the client ends the partnership, leaving you in debt with poor-quality work and no client. You then face the challenge of attracting new clients without quality work to showcase. That is the real cost of pursuing projects 'just for the money'—it's actually not profitable at all.

Speaking specifically of Asia, there’s often criticism around the feeling of a vendor-supplier relationship between agencies and clients in the region. According to you, what are the pros and cons of operating in the Asia-Pacific landscape?

Everything I've said equally applies, because here's the thing: Clients are human beings too. It's about the opportunity to reinvent aspiration. I'm very familiar with the Asian advertising scene. I lived and worked in Singapore for two years, and I’ve worked as a consultant to Hakuhodo for a number of years in Japan, and I've spoken to and worked with brands in an Asian context, as well.

Is there anything unique about Asia in terms of our industry?

Yep, it's even more sexist. I mean, look at Japan, heavens above!

Finally, let’s touch on MakeLoveNotPorn. What does the future look like for it, and what do you hope to achieve?

So first of all, I would like the future to have a great deal more support from my industry than I've had for my company. Which is that again, you know, we claim that the Holy Grail for industry is a big creative idea designed to solve a massive global real world problem in an extremely innovative and disruptive way, and designed to do an awful lot of good and make a lot of money simultaneously. And I've not seen enough support from our industry for that. Ironically, MakeLoveNotPorn is banned from advertising anywhere, and by the way, it's not just us. This is a gender-biased issue. Any [topic on] female sexual health e.g. menstruation, menopause is 'bad for advertising'. In the meantime, male sexual health and wellness are not a problem. Erectile dysfunction solutions are welcome everywhere.  

So, one of the things I'm doing is combining my belief in building solutions to my own problems with my belief in the future of our industry, and I'm funding-raising currently to build my own adtech product. And I'm not going to tell you any more than that because I'm going to preserve it for my talk. But I see the opportunity for our industry to help with what I'm doing in a way that I think will also help the industry.

Note: The above interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Campaign Asia

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