As civil unrest unfolded across the U.S. in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the outpouring of support came from not only millions of people across the country but also from brands.
Agencies of every size lent their voices too, with creative work designed to support the protests and encourage people in the industry to act. In addition to that output, holding companies publicly pledged financial donations (both direct and in the form of employee-matching) as well. On June 4, CEO Michael Roth announced that IPG was making “significant monetary contributions” to Amnesty International, Campaign Zero and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
A representative explained that IPG made the selections after consultation with chief diversity officers and targeted “nonprofit organizations that were on the ground doing direct work to help protestors, like providing legal assistance to those arrested during marches.” Bail-relief programs were also considered, and IPG looked into supporting organizations focused on voter turnout.
On June 17, WPP pledged to donate $30 million over the next three years to internal initiatives and external programs addressing systemic racism. The holding company also pledged to donate up to $1 million to charities selected in collaboration with WPP’s internal Roots network. WPP has yet to determine how the donations will be spread across different organizations, according to a source with knowledge of the company’s operations.
At the beginning of July, Publicis Groupe announced it had pledged to donate around $45 million across diversity, inclusion and social justice organizations over the course of the next three years. Organizations were selected in collaboration with Publicis Groupe employees, stemming from its June 17 Pausing for Action event.
A representative for MDC Partners said that MDC Partners CEO Mark Penn is personally matching donations from MDC corporate employees to the following organizations: Communities United Against Police Brutality, National Police Accountability Project, Lake Street Council, My Block My Hood My City, Black & Brown Founders and The Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
While Omnicom as a holding company didn’t donate to Black Lives Matter-affiliated organizations, individual agencies pledged donations to Black Lives Matter, Color of Change and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Omnicom svp, chief diversity officer Tiffany R. Warren explained that the agencies chose the organizations because they were “national and reputable,” adding that some agencies donated to additional groups beyond those three and citing a personal connection to Color of Change. “They have a deep impact and have been doing the work over the long haul,” she continued.
She explained that Omnicom agencies were also investing in industry organizations such as Adcolor, which have “laid the foundation for a lot of the talent that is on the front lines of fighting the fight. … If those organizations didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have half the talent that’s out there making an impact.”
Warren said that the momentum for change at agencies following George Floyd’s death has delivered “a sense of urgency at the doorstep of the advertising industry” that feels different from past efforts for change, citing a shift in conversation to include retention, promotion and recruitment and hiring, coupled with enhanced accountability.
While the current state of demand for action may feel different, Maya Beasley, founder of consultancy The T10 Group, pointed out that she reminds people that the civil rights movement is nothing new. “What I hope is different is that the movement’s leaders will hold people’s feet to the fire and make sure that it remains a prominent issue, instead of accepting money and letting it go away,” she said.
For her part, Warren believes that there’s been awareness around D&I programs and contributions to external agencies, but that “the accountability piece is wholly different” now.
According to Beasley, who works primarily with technology companies, putting money toward internal efforts around D&I and external organizations is a plus. However, for the latter, she said, “some of the donations are useful, but I think a lot of them end up being small chunks that don’t have a profound impact. But the organizations are willing to take the money out of desperation.”
“The first mistake is thinking that there’s a blanket solution,” added Elisha Greenwell, co-managing director of the consultancy Brand Citizens. “Yes, donate, but in a way that ladders up to a unique plan and a company’s impact goals. If that doesn’t happen, then next time something starts trending, you’ll be right back to the same conversations about what to do.”
Organizations Agencies Are Donating to
- Campaign Zero: Focuses on research-based solutions on the local and national level in an attempt to end police violence.
- Color of Change: Civil rights advocacy organization formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which claims to be the largest online racial justice group.
- NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: A leading civil rights group and law firm founded by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1940 during his 25-year association with the NAACP, the organization became independent of the broader NAACP banner in 1957.