Sean Cummins: ‘It’s almost my responsibility to redress areas in advertising that aren’t quite working’

Sean Cummins says he is using the New York office of agency Cummins & Partners to take aim at the lack of female leaders in the industry, adding he sees it as his “responsibility” to redress “areas in advertising that aren’t quite working”,.

The New York office of the agency,which was founded in Melbourne four years ago, was launched in May and has picked up project work for Perrier-Jouët Champagne as well as the launch of Heidi Klum Intimates globally, work which is expected to be seen locally.

Speaking to Mumbrella from New York Cummins said the agency was created because he wanted to “redress” what he thought was “wrong in advertising” including the separation of creative and media within agencies and the lack of a strong female presence.

“I’m excited there is an opportunity, and it’s almost my responsibility to redress areas in advertising that aren’t quite working. Other agencies are brilliant but they are perpetuating myths and I’m trying to reflect reality and trying to reflect what is going on in the world,” he said.

In May a study by Mumbrella found women make up just a quarter of creatives in creative agencies and 70 per cent of client facing roles. Communications Council figures claim women make up just 13.5 per cent of senior positions, whilst at a conference last week Clemenger BBDO Melbourne chairman Jim Moser said it was up to management to address the issue “from the top down”.

Cummins said he collected pictures of all the agencies launched in New York in the last eight months as part of his research into the market.

“And every picture you see of the foundation partners are a conga-line of blokes,” he said. “It bothered me.”

“It’s concerned me for many many years that the industry has had this subconscious male gaze and I just really wanted to tackle it head on.”

Tiffany Coletti Titolo has been appointed as president of the New York office, Arwa Mahdawi as chief innovation and strategy officer, Chantal Smith as art director, Vanessa Quincey as creative/planner and Mireille Guiliano as chairwoman.

On the team Cummins said: “Hiring people is not about trying to mirror who you are, it’s about trying to extend your repertoire of experiences and extend your view on the world.

“In Australia we’ve done that already, it’s just not something I was consciously aware of. Over half the partners at Cummins & Partners Australia are women and I really do think that’s one of those secret ingredients that make us kind of special.”

When quizzed on any client concerns about women taking time out of work for family or working part time, Cummins said the idea that women are not as focused on the job as men is “one of the most corrupting train of thoughts going on”.

“That’s an easy cop-out,” he said. “That’s just not evident with the experience I’ve had not only over the last four years since I made my new agency but over the last 17 years. I’ve seen brilliant, dedicated women who’ve never dropped the ball and never let those pressure-points or life stages get in the way of their work.

“Any client who wants to get to the main decision maker and main purchase decision maker will find us as attractive as any other agency and in fact I hope more so because there’s not the usual male lens that’s put on somethings,” he continued.

“For too long a lot of creativity has been like frat boy humour and I think there’s more nuanced, deeper and different styles of advertising that can come about when you have different people in creative decision making.”

Looking back to the Australian operation, and the agency’s upcoming Sydney office launch, when asked if the industry could expect his return for it Cummins laughed “I think they probably want me to stay away, but buckley’s chance.”

“They’re having a great time, I come in for cameos,” he added.

“I have a superstar group of partners I’m just one amongst equals when it comes to that. I’m getting back every eight weeks or so.

“The Sydney operation is very exciting, Melbourne is booming, Adelaide is a challenging market but we’re very patient and we have great people there.

“I couldn’t be more proud or excited about what’s going on in Australia. I just want to do my bit and fly the flag over here.”

By Mumbrella.