2019 Talent@2030 Post-Event Report


The fifth Talent@2030 conference assembled marketing experts on talent, diversity, inclusion, equity, and people and culture to talk about how to make marketing a brighter, bolder career choice in an era of accelerated change.

Thirty speakers challenged their audience on leading change, transparency, succession, A.I., creative consciousness, living your vision, and leading difficult conversations about sexual harassment, bullying, and bias.

This year’s conference, featuring emcee Jean-Rene Zetrenne, Ogilvy USA’s Chief Talent Officer, was the last Talent@2030. Next year, Talent@2040 will acknowledge that changing an agency—and the industry—requires looking a generation ahead.


Opening Remarks


No matter how sophisticated an agency’s tools or strategies, its most important asset for growth and change, according to 4A’s President and CEO Marla Kaplowitz, is its people.

“Some days, it feels like the marketing environment is changing almost too quickly to keep up,” Kaplowitz said. “That’s the challenge we have as we think about the future of work at agencies and the entire industry. And the purpose of Talent@2030 is to help you think about your role as a leader today and into the future.”


Values Are Not Enough: The Keys to Unlocking Enduring Agency Transformation

“It’s easy to try to change but hard to find a way to make it stick.” Keynote speaker Jack Skeels, CEO of the productivity training and coaching firm AgencyAgile, discussed how people work together as central to an organization’s ability to adapt and lead in a time of change.

Culture is powerful—and when that culture is dysfunctional, Skeels cautioned, it can easily overpower processes, strategies, even stated goals and visions. “New values, tools or processes without strictly defined new behaviors are defeated by existing behaviors,” Skeels said. “The walk is more important than the talk.”

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You: Designer, Change Agent, Leader

In a practical session aimed at guiding talent professionals to lead change at their organizations, Publicis Groupe Chief Inclusion Experience Officer Renetta McCann, noted that the organizational design of a workspace closely informs not just its business strategy but its work culture.

That also goes for nomenclature. “I would think about changing the name of what you do,” McCann said. “Rename your departments—call it ‘People Strategy’—so you can be more connected with where the business sees itself going.”

I reject the “employee” word. I think we’re people who choose to come to work.
— Renetta McCann, Chief Inclusion Experience Officer, Publicis Groupe

Reframing: How to be a Change Agent and Craft Stories that Move People to Action

Before he became immortalized for the Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel was notorious for peddling dynamite. The lessons of the drastic brand makeover of Nobel, “The Merchant of Death,” still apply, Bree Groff, CEO of NOBL Collective, noted in a session about reframing the story to solve a seemingly intractable problem.

In her interactive session, using a Mad Libs–style exercise, Groff led attendees to identify blockers to achieve agency goals this year and reframe any problem as a set of achievable objectives.

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Organizational change is individual behavior change, at scale,” Groff noted. “If you can try to change one mindset of the story people tell, you have a pretty good chance of changing them all.
— Bree Groff, CEO, NOBL Collective



How HR Needs to Evolve

One found her job eliminated illegally while on maternity leave, after she had endured her male CEO’s complaints about her pregnancy making him feel uncomfortable. Another, the family’s sole breadwinner, left a toxic work environment voluntarily without another job lined up—and she counted herself fortunate, at least at first.

Nickolett Hocking, Director of People & Culture, and Rebecca Weaver, Head of People & Culture, at Rational Interaction, co-founded HRuprise after realizing gradually stories like theirs weren’t isolated incidents happening in a vacuum but the results of systemic dysfunction in human resources, an environment intended as a sanctuary, but one regarded at many organizations with distrust. When the #metoo movement gained traction, Weaver said, “I had no idea how many women in my life have been affected—and yet none of the women in my life were surprised by the magnitude.”

Following the general session, Hocking and Weaver led two workshops, “Breaking the Silence in HR” and “Stop Doubling Down on Traditional Harassment Training and Do This Instead,” featuring ground rules including “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” “move out of problem-solving mode,” and “listen and be present.”

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We had our own whisper network within HR, where we had a couple people say, ‘Don’t leave me in this room with this person.’ That’s wrong. My experience has made me look back and realize the things I didn’t even realize I’d been taking for granted.
— Rebecca Weaver, Head of People & Culture, Rational Interaction, and co-founder, HRuprise
Why doesn’t harassment training work? Because it’s mandatory, and participants can say, ‘I don’t harass people, so what does it have to do with me?’ The case studies are obvious, the content’s kind of insulting—and real-life situations are more nuanced.
— Nickolett Hocking, Director of People & Culture, Rational Interaction, and co-founder, HRuprise

Applying Agile Processes to Agency Operations

“Seventy-five percent of primarily senior decision-makers want to be ‘agile,’ but they don’t know what it is,” Robyn Tombacher, COO–North America of Wunderman Thompson, told her audience in a session on elevating agile principles—a methodology born out of software development—within agencies.

For agencies and clients who expect innovation to take place within quick turnarounds, collaborating and removing silos is key to success, and that may require a change in mindset to accepting and advancing the minimum viable product. What stands in the way of agility? Often, it’s leadership, Tombacher noted. Achieving an agile mindset may mean changing the mindset from the top.

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“Too Old” for the Job? How to Tackle Ageism in Advertising

In an industry that values the culture of youth, organizations sometimes lose sight of the advantage of experience that comes from employing a multigenerational workforce. A panel discussion featuring Fjord and Accenture Digital, PX Strategies, marketing search firm Grace Blue, and the retirement association AARP explored how to break down age-related biases about millennials, seniors, and everyone in between that can impede diversity and inclusion efforts.

Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes: ‘I know I know this thing. What does that person know that I might not?’ It’s about being humble enough to recognize you don’t know it all. It takes empathy on both sides.
— Lori Muszynski, Global I&D Lead, Fjord and Accenture Digital
There’s a shame around aging when there should be celebration of accomplishment. There’s a competitive advantage to having multigenerational teams.
— Claire Telling, Co-CEO, Grace Blue
The notion of freshness is a relative term. My perspective is fresh to you if you haven’t had it yet.
— Heather Tinsley-Fix, Senior Advisor, AARP
Every time you see some type of advertising, you’re looking at someone younger than you, and you’re so immune you don’t realize someone’s trying to sell you something who’s not in your age bracket…When you look at advertising, ageism has to stop internationally, across all platforms.
— Barbara Schiola, Principal, PX Strategies


Leading Talent Through Moments of Change

In 2018, when Essence doubled its size and brought in a thousand employees, the challenges of this nail-biting experience included keeping its agency culture aligned, educated and inspired. Essence’s CEO–Americas, Steve Williams, and Global Chief Learning & Culture Officer, Dan Dobson-Smith, met in an intimate cafe-table setting to discuss their strategies for facing an era of seismic change: having a plan and delivering it obsessively, and caring for their staff.

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It’s about being a decent human being, being positive, having empathy. We won’t put that on our walls, mouse mats, squeezy stress toys or whatever, because it has to be lived…Culture is how we behave particularly under stress, and in moments of conflict: That’s when your true colors come out.
— Dan Dobson-Smith, Global Chief Learning & Culture Officer, Essence
I was worrying and continued to worry throughout the year. And what you and I have in common is a belief that culture can trump anything. And that helped us get there.
— Steve Williams, CEO, Americas, Essence



Succession Stories: What to Do When Your CEO Asks, “Do You Want My Job?”

When an organization elevates the next generation of C-suite leadership, succession should feel both inevitable and unexpected. Creating Publicis Health’s CEO transition plan required the strong partnership of its talent leadership to identify the right mix of experience, skill set, gender and race.

In a fireside chat moderated by Shannon Boyle, Chief Talent Officer of Publicis Health, the agency’s previous and current CEOs discussed how they planned and set up a successful succession.

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You have to have the mental toughness for taking a beating, because when you’re at the top, most everything that falls to your plate is either really good shit or really bad shit. You don’t live very often in the middle. Very good CEOs know how to follow it up a bit and come down, and how to follow it down a bit and come up.
— Nick Colucci, Chairman, Publicis Health & COO, Publicis North America
When my then-CEO asked ‘Do you want my job?’ I was taken aback. I started to wonder how should I answer this question: if I answer too quickly, maybe I’m too aggressive…I asked a question too many women ask: ‘Why me?’ Even though I’d been very successful and had great client relationships. But Nick asked an even more important question: ‘Why not you?
— Alexandra von Plato, CEO, Publicis Health


Work Meets Real Life: A Fireside Chat

Workplace culture is about more than free food and ping-pong tables: It’s about how staffers feel supported in tackling challenges, growing professionally, and leading better lives. In a fireside chat, Simon Fenwick, 4A’s EVP–Talent Engagement and Inclusion, and Eileen Benwitt, EVP–Global Chief Talent Officer of Horizon Media, spoke about how agencies can lead their cultures to support staffers’ performance and productivity—because individuals’ well-being benefits the entire business.

No matter what we do, if you have a shitty manager, none of that matters. So we’re trying to figure out how to hold our managers accountable. We have a lot of great training programs to teach our managers to lead better.
— Eileen Benwitt, EVP–Global Chief Talent Officer, Horizon Media

Succession Stories: Predecessors and Successors

“No one wants to talk about succession, because it’s acknowledging your own death, or that someone can be as good or better in your job than you,” said Greg Stern, founder and co-chairman of BSSP, a 25-year-old independent agency in Sausalito, California. Stern gave a candid look into his agency’s methodical management-succession plan, currently in progress.

Stern, board chair of the 4A’s, spoke about identifying internal and external talent and preparing his loosely structured agency for continued growth amidst growing pains and economic headwinds. One key insight: For some leaders, stepping back takes commitment.

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When I was in the room, people would keep their mouths shut. It wasn’t that I was involved—just that I was there. So [co-founder] John Butler and I have moved from the center of our space to a former conference room, where our presence is not felt, and the inadvertent paternalistic notion is no longer there.
— Greg Stern, Founder & Co-Chairman, BSSP, and Board Chair, 4A’s


MAIP Alumni Panel: “My Professional Journey”

Three graduates of 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program, a 45-year-old initiative with more than 3,000 alums, shared their professional experiences in an industry working to improve its retention and growth of entry-level talent with diverse backgrounds. Saneel Radia, EVP–Global Head of Business Transformation at R/GA, moderated the conversation.

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It’s important to stand up for people. Our MD is a woman of color who’s very blunt and honest, and she’s also Asian-American. Sometimes it’s hard to see someone like her at that level who’s that outspoken and says what she wants to say. That’s motivational. She’s reaching back to people who don’t have the same privilege.
— Komal Charania, Assistant Account Executive, Mother New York
We’ve moved beyond respectability politics: We want to bring our true selves to work. These are new standards we expect from a company.
— Christina Amazan, Senior Freelance Copywriter

A Matter of Trust: Why Don’t Employees Speak Up When Things Go Wrong?

After a recruiting manager harassed her at her home—and blacklisted her job candidacy when she refused to cooperate—Neta Meidev decided the threat of his retaliation wasn’t worth the risk of her reporting the incident. (Her reasoning was sound: Of the estimated 30% of targets who report harassment, 75% face retaliation.)

As the #metoo movement began gathering steam, Meidev realized a confidential reporting platform would empower more people to speak up and help evolve work culture. Meidev introduced the audience to a misconduct-reporting mobile app she co-founded, Vault Platform, which permits individuals to report incidents securely and lets organizations identify and root out patterns of bullying, harassment, and other misbehavior.

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Cultivating ‘Creative Consciousness’ in the Modern Workplace


Havas’s CEO, Laura Maness, and Chief Creative Officer, Harry Bernstein, don’t look at mindfulness and work-life balance as mere perks but a way of life—embodied by their appearance with their Chief Meditation Officer, Sah D’Simone, and Chief Farming Officer, “Farmer Frank” Trentacoste of Bhumi Farms in East Hampton, New York. Both D’Simone and Trentacoste have concrete roles supporting employees with a meditation room and an in-house farmers market. (D’Simone led the conference in a mindfulness exercise that literally increased the flow of oxygen to its attendees.) In discussing these roles, Maness and Bernstein made a business case as well as the human case for supporting the pillars of creative consciousness—to inspire, cultivate, and celebrate.

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We’re all creators. If you don’t have ‘creative’ in your title, that doesn’t mean you don’t have these connections.
— Laura Maness, CEO, Havas
If you don’t have empathy with yourself, how do you make meaningful work for the world? We have to practice what we preach.…You win a pitch because there’s a connection.
— Harry Bernstein, Chief Creative Officer, Havas
I developed a weekly meditation class at the office for people curious about how to train their mind and become more compassionate with themselves. It’s a way for leaders to show their employees they matter, a real human connection, with tools to support their mental health.
— Sah D’Simone, author and Chief Meditation Officer, Havas
“The farmer’s market is a place for employees to refuel and reconnect with their food source. You can see the effects on the employees: It’s a much lighter atmosphere, a place to decompress quickly.
— “Farmer Frank” Trentacoste, Bhumi Farms, and Chief Farming Officer, Havas


“Break the Silence” around Disability 365 Days of the Year

When Rebecca Caruso was diagnosed in 1998 with multiple sclerosis, her doctor told her not to tell anyone at work. Fifteen years later, after joining the Diversity & Inclusion office at L’Oréal USA, Caruso learned she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But instead of sidestepping the topic, she discussed it right away, and her manager assigned her to lead L’Oréal USA’s diversity think tank.

Having experienced the benefits of disclosing disability, Caruso’s mission now is to “break the silence” on disability every day, building awareness and increasing her organization’s inclusivity. At least 2% of L’Oréal’s employees—12,000 in the U.S., and 83,000 worldwide—are individuals with disabilities. “The more we talk about it, the less daunting it becomes,” she said. “Silence is the biggest disability of all.”

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The law prevents employers from asking whether you have a disability. And an Invisible disability means you could go for years without saying anything or asking for help. It’s a blessing and a curse: When I tell someone, I wonder if there’s a little part of them that doesn’t believe me because they can’t see it.
— Rebecca Caruso, VP–Communications, Diversity & Inclusion, L'Oréal USA

You Can’t Do That at Work!

Workplace aggressions, whether deliberate or inadvertent, cost employers billions of dollars in lost productivity, arbitration fees, and lawsuits. Natasha Bowman, founder of Performance ReNEW and a former employment-law attorney and HR executive, highlighted common mistakes, including microaggressions, unconscious bias, cultural competency, and hiding issues from employers, to empower the audience to lead in the workplace with empathy.

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#metoo and #timesup have disrupted every workplace for the last two years.…The aftermath has awakened and empowered employees to demand better work cultures. We have to change the way we operate.
— Natasha Bowman, President & Founder, Performance ReNEW

Permission to Live Your Vision

“You not being in service to you is a disservice to the rest of us,” executive coach Stefanie Ziev, the conference’s closing keynote speaker, said in urging her audience to “clear the fear.” Self-empowerment in the workplace is infectious, Ziev said: When you live your vision, you empower others to do the same.

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