Interactive Advertising Bureau
08 December 2022

IAB Europe’s Programmatic Trading Committee Diversity & Inclusion Blog Series: A Q&A on Diversity & Inclusion in Digital Advertising Partnerships

As part of IAB Europe’s key focus on topics of corporate responsibility in the digital advertising industry, The Programmatic Trading Committee has set up a mini-series to discuss diversity and inclusion in 2022. The latest blog post dives into the theme of partnerships in digital advertising.

In this blog, our contributors explore the biggest challenges when it comes to digital advertising partnerships, they look at what has worked well and what more can be done to ensure diversity and inclusion under this umbrella. 

A Q&A with:

Phil Tolliday, VP Marketing Science, EMEA, Xaxis 



Sara Vincent, Managing Director, UK & IE, Index Exchange



Shez Iqbal, Director of Publisher Partnerships, Criteo 



Q1. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges when you think about diversity and inclusion in digital advertising partnerships today? 

Phil -We need to put huge effort into unpicking systemic bad practices.

Whether it's renaming the use of terms like Blacklists, or blindly repeatedly using the same content block lists without revision; inadvertently denying diversely owned publications and creators ad revenue.

Lazy practices like these need overhauling through active management, training, and education across a variety of disciplines, otherwise, the endemic problems travel with individuals from company to company as careers are progressed across the industry.

At Xaxis and in wider GroupM, we aim to equip managers and business leaders with the education they need to truly understand the disparity and ultimately make them accountable for progress towards our need to reflect the diversity of society in the people that we employ.”

Sara - “An important Cannes Bias and Inclusion report highlights how, while characters of colour are well-represented at the Cannes Lions winning ads (38%)--a significant improvement since 2006–huge gaps remain, such as LGBTIQ+ characters being virtually nonexistent (1.8%). It showcases how systemic the issue is, but also how crucial representation in advertising is for influencing diversity in the culture at large. 

Through the positioning and prioritising of these advertisements both in display and omni formats, digital advertising can play a crucial role in helping change this representation. Strategic partnerships and private marketplaces have exploded in recent years in digital advertising–and with good reason, as they strengthen human relationships while promising cost savings. But cost efficiency can't be the only metric of success and reason for building these partnerships. Rather, companies should prioritise partnerships with organisations that take diversity pledges seriously in order to ensure that advertisements appearing–across all digital channels–accurately reflect the diverse worlds we live in.”

Shez - “D&I is not just focused on one action or program, it is an ongoing effort to change historical standards that have been in place over many years.

To add some context, the All-In survey from the Advertising Association found that non-white representation in London (17%) is still a long way off the general London population (38%). Furthermore, nearly a third of Black respondents and over a quarter of Asian respondents report that they are likely to leave the industry due to a lack of inclusion and/or discrimination experienced.

Helping the situation requires a mindset and behavioural change that challenges some of the systemic structures that exist throughout the digital advertising ecosystem. For instance, the industry needs to deliver a larger piece of the pie to publishers catering for diverse audiences.

At Criteo we are making a conscious effort to use more inclusive language with our tools. Keyword and publisher exclusion lists are a constant battle, with the continued effort not to throw the baby out with the bathwater each time a significant news event occurs.

There’s also the challenge of accountability for driving and sustaining improvement in diversity and inclusion. I think brands have it tough in this regard. Representation within advertising receives a mixed reception and I’m pleased to see brands are riding out the negative commentary and sticking to their values.”

Q2. Are you aware of how your partners recruit, support, and develop diverse talent? Have you seen any examples where this has worked well?

Phil - “I’m not aware of specific recruitment policies but at Xaxis we aim for roles to be both equitable and attainable; equality is the goal, equity is how we get there.

In the wider industry, many businesses still mandate that entry-level roles require a degree. That immediately rules out certain backgrounds, which then also establishes an elitist stigma that the industry is hard to break into.

The upshot of this is that more talent needs to be recruited through alternative pools that have not been traditionally prioritised.

A significantly noticeable increase in the last five years has been through the public support shown.

Many Xaxis partners show support through events and panels, all the way through to representation through their products. Google stands out in this regard with its excellent ‘I Am Remarkable’ initiative. This aims to empower women and other underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond.

This is also true in broader GroupM. A recent example that stands out for me is Channel 4's ‘Black to Front’ initiative with its efforts to improve Black representation on-screen and more widely in the TV industry.

But this is also culturally innate for Channel 4 - it would be good to see similar efforts from those without the same mandate”

Shez - “There is certainly more focus on the attraction, development, and internal support mechanisms across the industry towards under-represented and diverse talent pools. We’ve had a number of partners ask us about our DEI initiatives, including one large and reputable retailer. We were rightly grilled about our policies during the RFP process and we’re expecting this to be the norm. I should add, we won that RFP.”

Q3. Are D&I objectives incorporated into briefs you share with your partners or that your partners share with you? What more do you think can be done to encourage/adopt this?

Phil - “A great example in GroupM is that inclusivity is systemically built into Mindshare's Orchestration System, the Good Growth System. This is available to all employees worldwide.

It replicates the entire planning process in a digital environment to break down silos and encourage collaboration.

At every stage of the process, there are prompts to reflect and consider diversity in planning to overcome any biases, investigate inclusive innovation and outline inclusive investment plans. 

It also holds all resources in one place for easy access at each stage, including a partnership with the Diversity Standards Collective.”

Shez - “We have built DEI focussed deals and curated marketplaces to help brands and agencies target inventory based on context. We are also currently working on a pilot in the US across our supply and publisher partnerships team to build an offering that supports incentives for black-owned partnerships.

Of course, I’d always like to see more. As experts on their audiences, publishers can be a fantastic help to brands unsure of how to bring their ideas to market when they’re in the planning stages. Sam Ajilore, the founder of That Grape Juice, a premier Urban Pop Culture website, told me he has yet to be approached by a brand looking for his consultation on how to engage his readership.”

Q4.  What are the biggest opportunities available today for more diversity in digital advertising partnerships?

Phil -

  1. "Consciously working with more diverse talent to reflect audiences/ users and solve problems more effectively
  2. Systemically supporting businesses with ad revenue that have a focus on elevating diverse talent, representing and engaging with diverse communities.
  3. Similar to how ASBOF exists in the UK to support the industry, the same should be done to support both talent and businesses surrounding DEI.

In a more direct and practical sense, there are areas of governance that can be elevated more directly to the agencies and publishers;

  • Revising brand safety operations and providing blanket governance across the industry.
  • Improving inventory pool classification
    • Removing the friction to integrate suitable pools into suitable and specific Private Marketplaces to fulfill our Intentional Investment proposition.”

Sara - Collaboration is crucial to start seeing real industry transformation. Cross-industry initiatives–like the BRiM, devoted to improving the representation of Black people in marketing in the UK–can deliver frameworks and focus areas that might be less of a priority for individual companies. Meanwhile, industry bodies like the IAB offer platforms to highlight achievements in the industry to inspire other organisations. Partnering with these industry bodies will help to build a culture of change that will help make the industry more diverse, with the sort of coordination and encouragement that will also ultimately ensure that those changes are lasting.”

Shez - “The biggest opportunity as we see is elevating the voices and visibility of people that are generally under-represented. There is a significant benefit to reflecting the diversity of the populations and the markets we engage in; McKinsey research proves outputs are 35% higher on average among businesses that embrace diversity in the decision-making process. Through this, our industry has opportunities to become more creative and reflective of society in general.

Pharmaceutical companies are something of a benchmark here. They’re acutely aware of the discrepancies in healthcare provision and as such depend on building teams able to speak for each key audience. Whether it's the specialised hair and skin requirements or something universally relevant like common cold remedies, representation is woven into every creative.

As we look at our brand at a consumer level, our priority is to connect with our audiences, and this isn’t just about ticking a ‘diversity box’, it is about supporting a companywide ecosystem where we are aligned with the values of the partnerships we engage with.”

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