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Sorrell sparks a rare talk about the benefits of a more diverse workforce

Something unexpected happened at Newsworks' Shift event last week. And it was not the news that John Lewis spends twice as much on press ads than it does on TV.

Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week

Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week

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Nor was it when Adam&Eve/DDB's James Murphy revealed the retailer was using "geo-climatic targeted banners" – meaning items displayed within its online ads are determined by weather forecasts for where the browsers are based.

It was not the stunning photojournalism produced by the Telegraph’s drones either, although Lewis Whyld’s demonstration paves the way for a new era of coverage.

And it was not even the presence of The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, passing through on his way to New York, where he would accept the highest accolade in US journalism, the Pulitzer Prize, for work on the National Security Agency’s online surveillance.  

More surprising than those examples of innovation: the event actually had an impromptu debate on cultural diversity. It happened in an interview between WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and The Independent’s editor, Amol Rajan.

If there were no immigrants in the UK, you would have to cross out Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson

Drawing on Harvard Business School’s competitive indices, Sorrell noted that stimulating immigration is always flagged as an important factor for economic growth. It was said, half in jest, that, if there were no immigrants in the UK, you would have to cross out Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson, as well as the Indian-born Rajan and the half-Ukrainian Sorrell.

Sorrell recalled that, when his then new company took over JWT in 1987, his grandparents were amazed when he was acknowledged on the front page of The Times.

He noted that, even today, minorities are treated differently: "You get written up for being the son of a wealthy, north-west London Jewish home. It’s very rare you see a ‘north-west London Catholic home’ or ‘Protestant home’ – so that probably pushes you a bit."

Progress on diversity in media and advertising remains slow. The IPA’s The New Britain report this month highlights challenges for marketers trying to connect brands to a culturally diverse Britain. Hason Sandhu of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity noted that marketing still lags behind other industries in attracting talent from minority backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy warned last week that UK broadcasting has gone "backwards" over the past 20 years and is now calling for positive discrimination to be embraced.

Progress has been sluggish, but open debate can only help nudge it along.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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